Forget the transition team -- that was so 2007 -- think he's hiring for the reelect yet? (We're not sure "yes, we can" works anymore -- what about "yeah, we did"?)
Somewhere between the new seal, a new Latin phrase, the shattered public financing pledge, and the not-happening town-hall forums, Sen. Barack Obama made clear that he's really, really sure he's going to win.
Nothing wrong with a little confidence -- Democrats like to be optimistic these days -- and the latest polls give him enough of an edge to quell concerns going into a week that will be defined by a big meeting.
But confidence is a tricky game for Obama, D-Ill., who is still busy defining himself to a skeptical public -- to say nothing of still-seething Clinton supporters (and an increasingly frustrated press corps).
In his rush to take advantages where they present themselves, Obama just may have eroded his central message -- as reformer, as change agent, as different-kind-of-politician. The question now is whether Sen. John McCain can do anything about it (and remember that he aims for those same qualities).
As things stand, there will be no public financing, and there will be no freewheeling town-hall forums. There's one candidate who's the main reason for both of those facts.
"By refusing to join McCain in these initiatives in order to protect his own interests, Obama raises an important question: Has he built sufficient trust so that his motives will be accepted by the voters who are only now starting to figure out what makes him tick?" David Broder writes in his Sunday Washington Post column.
Suggestions to the contrary notwithstanding, Obama did not plop upon us fully formed and ready to take his country into flight.
"For all his talk about change, Obama remains a product of a Chicago and Illinois political culture renowned for corruption and filled with characters who range from felonious to just outrageous," Bob Secter and John McCormick write in the Chicago Tribune. "Whether any of that will matter in November is an open question, but Obama clearly is betting he can benefit from Chicago's reputation for toughness without being tainted by its darker political side."
That's one way to cast his decision to jettison his commitment to public financing (though Republicans can think of a few other ways). "Perhaps people didn't know how tough he is. He's been saying all along, don't confuse hope with naivete," Obama friend and adviser Valerie Jarrett tells The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Anne E. Kornblut.
Write Balz and Kornblut: "If some Republicans rue the swift and calculated nature they say characterizes Obama's early steps, his campaign advisers say they have needed to move quickly to make up for the months spent waging the extended primary race. They cast the decision on public financing, for example, as motivated partly by timing, with just four full months left until Election Day to provide voters with the vision of Obama they hope to establish."
He's got name recognition -- but he's still coming into focus. "The problem [for Obama] is, many don't know much about his background or where he stands on the issues, and Republicans and groups working for his defeat in November are working to define him on their terms," Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times.
While he's at it -- why not try to win 48 states or so? "Senator Barack Obama is drawing up plans for extensive advertising and voter-turnout drives across the nation, hoping to capitalize on his expected fund-raising advantage over Senator John McCain to force Republicans to compete in states they have not had to defend in decades," Jim Rutenberg and Christopher Drew write in the Sunday New York Times.
"Aides and advisers to Mr. Obama said they did not believe he necessarily had a serious chance of winning in many of the traditionally Republican states. They said he could at least draw Mr. McCain into spending time and money in those places while swelling Democratic enrollment and supporting other Democrats on the ballot."
If that's hope, this is audacity. Your very own Obama presidential seal, complete with Latin inscription: "Vero Possumus" -- very roughly, "yes, we can."
"Audacity of hype," quips ABC's Jake Tapper. "No word on whether they played a remix of 'Hail to the Chief' as Obama walked in."
"Yes, he can. But, really: Oh, no, he didn't!" Michael Saul and Celeste Katz write in the New York Daily News.
There's still work to be done inside the party -- and some Democrats are looking for humility: "A Thursday afternoon meeting between Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus grew tense and emotional for a moment -- perhaps illustrating that weeks after Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., suspended her presidential campaign, some nerves remain frayed," ABC's Jake Tapper and Kate Snow report.
The three words at the end of an Obama sentence that rubbed Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., and others the wrong way: "get over it."
Obama will have to tread carefully this week, with Thursday bringing the most anticipated summit this side of Camp David: "The Democratic senator from Illinois will return to the reality of running a costly campaign by meeting with a new group of influential and well-heeled donors," Christopher Cooper writes in The Wall Street Journal.
"The presumptive nominee will arrive in Washington Thursday for a powwow with the 'Hillraisers,' the cadre of top-producing fund-raisers who propped up Hillary Clinton's run for the White House," Cooper writes. Key point: "Hillraisers say they have been privately assured by Obama finance officials that the senator himself will ask his maxed-out donors to help pay Sen. Clinton's bills, though many believe that effort will be a drop in the debt bucket, netting her only $300,000 or so."
"There remain raw emotions in both camps as the two former foes prepare to campaign together," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "People close to Hillary Clinton are frustrated that the Obama campaign has yet to propose a way to help her retire her more than $10 million in debt. Some close to Obama think the Clintons are being sore losers."
There is give, and there is take. "As the ex-foes are scheduled to sit down face to face this week and talk fund-raising, each needs to leave the table with the promise of riches," Ginger Adams Otis writes in the New York Post.
Warned Hassan Nemazee, a Clinton national finance chairman: "It's far more productive for Obama to have Hillary 100 percent focused and engaged on campaigning and raising money for him in the fall rather than having to do fund-raisers at the same time to retire her debt."
More than money is at stake: "This year's most-watched group so far consists of women so disgruntled by Hillary Rodham Clinton's loss in the Democratic primary that they vow to vote for Republican John McCain in November, a group dubbed the 'Nobama Mamas' by Slate magazine," Thomas Fitzgerald writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Both McCain and presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama have taken steps to court these women."
Clinton was back in public on Sunday, keeping a promise to deliver a high-school commencement address. (And she'll be back in the Senate this week, in advance of the Thursday joint meeting and some time on the trail with Obama Friday.)
"With flashbulbs firing and security guards working to keep the enthusiastic crowds back -- Clinton expressed no regret at being off the stump and back to her job as senator," the New York Daily News' Celeste Katz writes of her appearance in the Bronx.
Said Clinton: "I have just finished the most extraordinary experience that anybody could possibly have: being able to travel around our country, this great, sprawling, diverse country from one end to the other, meeting thousands and thousands of people who want a better life for themselves and their families, who believe in all their heart in the American Dream," Clinton said.
(She did not utter the word "Obama.")
Elizabeth Edwards is leaving no doubts about her support for Obama -- and sees the party coming together along the lines Clinton drew in her concession speech. "If we can keep that same feeling going, we have a great capacity to heal the bitterness," she said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Monday. "We'll go into the fall with a united party."
(On the veepstakes, Mrs. Edwards said: "This is not a subject of conversation at our house -- with two tonsillectomies and a lot of other daily life to take care of, this is not a topic of conversation.")
With bumps like these, why not feel confident? It's Obama 51 (yes, over 50 at last), McCain 36 in the new Newsweek poll. Per the write-up: "Obama is running much stronger at this point in the race than his two most recent Democratic predecessors, Sen. John Kerry and Vice President Al Gore. . . . In a July 2004 NEWSWEEK Poll, Kerry led Bush by only 6 points (51 percent to 45 percent). In June 2000, Gore was in a dead heat with Bush (45 percent to 45 percent) -- which is essentially where he ended up when that razor-thin election was finally decided."
Yet: It's 50-44 in the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll -- basically where it was just before Obama clinched the nomination. "Democrat Barack Obama begins the presidential campaign with some overwhelming advantages over Republican John McCain, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds, but voters also express doubts about the Illinois senator's experience and ability to handle the job of commander in chief," Susan Page writes.
For as far as Obama has gotten, we're still in the get-to-know-you-phase: "For all his sudden fame, most voters know little about the texture of his life," Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post. "Now, in ways large and small, he and his staff are trying to add some dabs of color to a gauzy portrait, using media coverage to convey the sense of a down-to-earth fellow."
Might the public-financing reversal be remembered as a media tipping point? "Scathing editorials in many top broadsheets characterized Obama's move as a self-interested flip-flop, dismissed his efforts to cast it as a principled stand and charged that Obama wasn't living up to the reformer image around which he has crafted his political identity," Kenneth P. Vogel writes for Politico.
"The fact that McCain has been willing over the years to take the lead on these issues, when it's arguably not in his self-interest, is one measure of character that over the years we've respected," Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, tells Vogel.
Did the Republican money machine make him do it? "We find that to be a large exaggeration and a lame excuse," FactCheck.org's Brooks Jacobson writes. "In fact, donations from PACs and lobbyists make up less than 1.7 percent of McCain's total receipts, and they account for only about 1.1 percent of the RNC's receipts."
But maybe Obama will have a reason to protest yet: "The same publisher that distributed the 2004 best-seller that took aim at John Kerry's Vietnam service is planning a summer release of what's scheduled to be the first critical book on Barack Obama," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "Conservative journalist David Freddoso's 'The Case Against Barack Obama' will offer 'a comprehensive, factual look at Obama,' according to Regnery Publishing President and Publisher Marjory Ross."
"But the book's subtitle makes clear its perspective: "The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate.' "
In case the Clinton events don't spell out the agenda for the week . . . Obama campaigns Monday in Albuquerque, where he'll host a town-hall meeting with group of women. On tap, per ABC's Jennifer Duck, are his plans "to stand up for equal pay, increase access to pre-K and after-school care, and dramatically expand paid and sick leave to help parents juggling a job and childcare."
From the Obama campaign: "Senator Obama will kick off the final week of the 'Change that Works for You' economic tour with a discussion on the unique economic challenges facing working women. The meeting will take place at the Flying Star Café and Bakery, a woman-founded and owned local business in Albuquerque. At this event, Senator Obama will sit down with female Flying Star employees to discuss how they are working harder and earning less while the cost of living keeps increasing—leaving them with fewer options as they struggle to balance work and family."
Michelle Obama is working that territory, too: "Michelle Obama climbed into her charter jet Friday and flew here from Chicago for lunch and a speech -- I clocked it at seven minutes -- before an influential women's group whose board includes key supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
"Obama's brief appearance before the National Partnership for Women & Families -- she turned around and flew right back home when she was done -- shows how Obama is shaping her role as a potential first lady and how the Obama campaign is working hard to build bridges to the women who supported Clinton over presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama."
Could it be possible that the Obama money machine is losing some steam? "For the first time in the presidential campaign, John McCain matched Barack Obama's monthly fundraising haul, as each presumptive nominee pulled in more than $21 million in May," Dan Morain writes in the Los Angeles Times.
If you toss in the parties: "John McCain and the Republican Party won a fundraising round from Democratic rival Barack Obama and his record-setting money machine in May, together raising a total of $45 million, some $20 million more than the Democrats," per McClatchy's Greg Gordon.
McCain keeps his focus on gas prices and energy, with a noon ET speech in Fresno, Calif., that chides the Bush administration over its relationship with OPEC and fuel-efficiency standards -- and chides all comers over ethanol subsidies.
"Instead of playing favorites, our government should level the playing field for all alcohol fuels that break the monopoly of gasoline, lowering both gasoline prices and carbon emissions," McCain plans to say, per excerpts released by his campaign.
More from his speech: "My administration will issue a Clean Car Challenge to the automakers of America, in the form of a single and substantial tax credit based on the reduction of carbon emissions. For every automaker who can sell a zero-emissions car, we will commit a 5,000 dollar tax credit for each and every customer who buys that car."
"I further propose we inspire the ingenuity and resolve of the American people by offering a $300 million prize for the development of a battery package that has the size, capacity, cost and power to leapfrog the commercially available plug-in hybrids or electric cars."
This lands just in time: "Mr. Obama is running as a reformer who is seeking to reduce the influence of special interests. But like any other politician, he has powerful constituencies that help shape his views," Larry Rohter writes in The New York Times. "And when it comes to domestic ethanol, almost all of which is made from corn, he also has advisers and prominent supporters with close ties to the industry at a time when energy policy is a point of sharp contrast between the parties and their presidential candidates."
Rohter continues: "Many economists, consumer advocates, environmental experts and tax groups have been critical of corn ethanol programs as a boondoggle that benefits agribusiness conglomerates more than small farmers. Those complaints have intensified recently as corn prices have risen sharply in tandem with oil prices and corn normally used for food stock has been diverted to ethanol production."
Obama also talked energy over the weekend: "The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee laid out a four-step program that would, among other things, close an 'Enron loophole' that protects some trading in energy futures from federal oversight, his advisers said," per The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut.
Bloomberg's Al Hunt sees a race on the economic low road: "McCain is placating economic conservatives in the Republican Party by promising tax cuts that would lead to a fiscal nightmare. Obama is pandering to labor with protectionist threats that would endanger relations with important trading partners," Hunt writes. "These stances run counter to major themes in both campaigns that seek to differentiate the two contenders from the unpopular Bush administration: McCain as a bipartisan leader, and Obama as a candidate out to change the my-way-or-the-highway approach to foreign policy."
If he could solve this, he'd win in a landslide: "Like most Americans, [one of my pet peeves is] sitting on the runway at an airport for an interminable length of time, taxiing back into the gate and then taxiing back out," McCain tells Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
More things you didn't know about McCain (proudly keeping the Reagan mantle): "I was on 'Saturday Night Live' a few weeks ago and did a couple of skits, and Usher was on. Very talented. Very good. And I'm usually not into that brand of music, but I watched him rehearse, and I watched him twice. And I was very impressed. I got one [Usher CD]. Actually, my daughter, Meghan, likes him, and she got it for me."
The DNC has some fun with McCain's economic team. A new Website up Monday takes aim at Carly Fiorina, Phil Gramm, and Douglas Holtz-Eakin.
Holly Bailey profiles Cindy McCain for the Newsweek cover: "Her tax records, her hair and clothes, even the authenticity of 'family' recipes posted on the campaign's Web site have become the subject of intense attention on the Internet and cable TV," Bailey writes.
"Recently, Cindy has set out to show the country that she is no vacant 'Stepford wife.' She has started doing more press interviews and can be surprisingly candid about her personal life and her feelings. Still, she clearly finds the confessional mode of American politics distasteful, and does not feel the need to overshare. 'It's more about . . . feeling comfortable . . . and not feeling compelled to do things that I wouldn't normally do,' she says."
A new kind of scrutiny for Cindy: "Hensley & Co., one of the nation's major beer wholesalers, has brought the family of Cindy McCain wealth, prestige and influence in Phoenix, but it could also create conflicts for her husband, Sen. John McCain, if he is elected president in November," Ralph Vartabedian writes in the Los Angeles Times.
"Hensley, founded by Cindy McCain's late father, holds federal and state licenses to distribute beer and lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety. The company has opposed such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving in fighting proposed federal rules requiring alcohol content information on every package of beer, wine and liquor."
From the department of worried Republicans: "Even as McCain's strategists claim tactical victories, Republicans outside the campaign worry that underlying weaknesses in its organization and message are costing him valuable time to make the case for his own candidacy," Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin write in the Sunday Washington Post. "Allies complain that the campaign has offered myriad confusing themes that lurch between pitching McCain as a committed conservative one day and an independent-minded reformer the next, while displaying little of the discipline and focus that characterized President Bush's successful campaigns."
Which strategy would you endorse? The Detroit News' Gordon Trowbridge sees "very different strategies" in the battle for Michigan. "Obama, who had boycotted the state for nearly a year, visited three times in May and June in an attempt to make up for lost time, and get his ground game going here," he writes. "McCain has focused more on building a national message -- going to Houston, for example, to talk about oil drilling -- rather than concentrating on battleground states."
Obama said Friday that he's ready for the GOP scare tactics: "They're going to try to make you afraid of me. He's young and inexperienced and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black."
But he can protest too much: "It is inaccurate to call Barack Obama a Muslim. Is it a slur? The Obama campaign suggests it is," Amy Chozick writes in The Wall Street Journal. "The characterization highlights a tricky balance the campaign is trying to strike: to tamp down false rumors -- intended by some to link the Democratic presidential candidate to radical Islam -- without offending Muslims and harming his image of inclusiveness."
Black is (electorally) beautiful: "Barack Obama's campaign strategists are quietly laying plans to draw African American voters to the polls in unprecedented numbers by capitalizing on the excitement over the prospect of electing the nation's first black president," Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Obama strategists believe they have identified a gold mine of new and potentially decisive Democratic voters in at least five battleground states -- voters who failed to turn out in the past but can be mobilized this time because Obama's candidacy is historic and his cash-rich campaign can afford the costly task of identifying and motivating such supporters."
"The strategy requires a deft touch and carries risks, however," Wallsten continues. "In large part, Obama, an Illinois senator who is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas, has succeeded so far by appealing across racial lines. Strategists say he cannot afford to appear to be exploiting race or running solely as a black candidate -- particularly as he courts moderate whites and blue-collar workers who did not support him in the primaries."
The Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg profiles McCain through the lens of two trips he took to Vietnam, in 1974 and 1985. "Those two trips -- one as McCain negotiated his reentry into American life and the other as he began his ascent as a national political figure -- helped ensure that Vietnam would remain part of McCain long after the war's end," he writes. "These legacies of the Vietnam war became signature causes of McCain's first decade in politics and helped to build his reputation as a conciliator unfazed by past antagonisms."
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., would consider an invitation from Obama. "If it would occur, I would have to think about it," Hagel told the AP's Anna Jo Bratton. "I think anybody, anybody would have to consider it. Doesn't mean you'd do it, doesn't mean you'd accept it, could be too many gaps there, but you'd have to consider it, I mean, it's the only thing you could do. Why wouldn't you?"
Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., would accept such an invitation. "Unlike most other people, I'm being straight with you. If asked, I will do it. I've made it clear I do not want to be asked," Biden said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Carly Fiorina probably wouldn't say no, either: "Anyone would be honored to serve John McCain, and I would as well. But he will have a long list of highly qualified people to choose from," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Tom Ridge, R-Pa., also wouldn't say no -- but won't make it easy on McCain. He said on "Fox News Sunday" that McCain will have to cope with his "pro-choice" stance if he wants him on the ticket: "I believe what I believe, and I've had that point of view before I got into elected office. I've had it when I served, and I have it now. . . . He feels very, very strongly about that issue, and that's why any conversation we have relative to that issue or the vice presidency is something that he and I have to discuss before I ever go down that path publicly."
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., gets a Chicago Tribune profile: "It is widely speculated that Obama will need to choose a vice presidential nominee versed in national security matters, perhaps with a strong military background, to attempt to blunt the edge his opponent, John McCain, carries in those arenas," the Tribune's James Oliphant writes. "Webb seems made-to-order for that, a character right out of one of his novels. His careers keep evolving. Lawyer. Defense analyst. Journalist. Pentagon bureaucrat. Novelist. Screenwriter. Emmy-winning filmmaker. Businessman. And now, politician."
Politico's David Paul Kuhn looks at three possible women for McCain's ticket: Fiorina, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska.
Odds & Ends:
A blow to GOP efforts to hang on to Rep. Vito Fossella's Staten Island seat: "Frank Powers, the most likely Republican candidate set to run for the seat of Rep. Vito J. Fossella, died of a heart attack Sunday morning at the age of 67," per CQ Politics. "His death leaves in question the future of the only Republican-held New York City House seat."
NBC does the right thing: Tom Brokaw will keep Tim Russert's big chair warm through the election.
"Maybe I have. Stay tuned." -- Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., mischievously asked why he "can't find one woman in all of Florida" by The New York Times Magazine's Deborah Solomon.
"It's definitely not an accident. The chance is less than one in a thousand." -- UCLA Professor Daniel Geschwind, on the fact that the 44th president will be left-handed, like Nos. 38, 40, 41, and 42.
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