The Note: Black Arts

It's going to take more than a town in New Hampshire (even one with the perfect name and vote total) to make things right in Democrat-land.

It's going to take more than spiking a silly seal to kill the storyline of Sen. Barack Obama's arrogance. (Just ask Karl Rove.)

It's going to take more than a polite plea from Obama to get Democratic donors to pay back Mark Penn. (Though a Clinton-Obama phone call is certainly a start.)

It's going to take more than a $300 million prize to make gas prices Democrats' fault.

It's going to take more than James Dobson (and more than a little "fruitcake") to get the evangelical base energized for Sen. John McCain like it was for President Bush. It's going to take more than one ill-advised comment to get Charlie Black a ticket off the "Straight Talk Express" (but maybe not much more than that).

Just when we thought there might be a policy debate emerging -- here come Rove, Black, and Dobson to turn the page on the GOP playbook. This may not have been the way they wanted their messages to get out -- but is there any doubt now as to how Republicans plan on depicting Obama?

For all we know, all three men may be right (on the facts, and on the politics) for -- but that doesn't mean Obama should flee from this fight. (What shouts out for change more than a campaign that is itself a repeat?)

Start with Black, who may have been speaking the truth (ask Hillary Clinton about that) but nonetheless got slapped down by McCain after telling Fortune's David Whitford that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto "helped us" and that a terrorist attack would "certainly . . . be a big advantage" for McCain.

Said McCain (responding quickly): "I cannot imagine why he would say it. . . . It's not true. I've worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America."

"The comment reinjected the fear of terrorism into the campaign as both candidates had been shifting their conversation to the economy and $4-per-gallon gasoline," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post. "It also vividly recalled the 2004 contest between President Bush and Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry, in which Republicans repeatedly questioned Kerry's ability to protect the country from terrorists."

It's tempting (and maybe accurate) to cast this as a rerun of the GOP's 2004 strategy (Sen. John Kerry was even on hand to lead the Obama pushback).

But was this really the storyline that McCain wanted? On this day -- just when he was beginning to get some traction on his energy proposals? (Might this be the year that the time-honored I'm-rubber-you're-glue theory applies to presidential politics?)

"The McCain campaign is tearing their hair out over this this morning," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday, adding this to the list of recent "unforced errors" by Team McCain. "This is the kind of thing you just can't say -- it's too crude, it's too insensitive."

"An old-fashioned political blunder threw Sen. John McCain off message Monday, distracting from a well-planned effort to drive home his advantage on energy policy with a proposed $300 million innovation prize for the next-generation car battery," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times. "It was a distraction from what had appeared to be a promising line of attack from Mr. McCain on energy prices in the past week."

Next up purporting to help McCain is James Dobson, who's planning a radio segment Tuesday that takes it to Obama over biblical interpretation: "I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson plans to say, per an advance audio recording provided to the AP's Eric Gorski. "He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter."

And the corker quote: Obama is engaging in "a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution," Dobson says. (Is that a term taught in law school or divinity school?)

Then there's Rove, who in a pep talk for some GOP insiders at the Capitol Hill Club Monday morning settled on a quick way to define Obama: "coolly arrogant."

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy," Rove said, per ABC's Christianne Klein. "He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."

ABC's Jake Tapper: "Interesting that Mr. Rove would use a country club metaphor to describe the first major party African-American presidential candidate, whom I'm sure wouldn't be admitted into many country clubs that members of the Capitol Hill Club frequent. But the picture Rove paints is interesting. Who, pray tell, is Rove at this country club?"

Rove said McCain "needs to come right at him" -- and, we suppose, until such time, he has the likes of Rove (if not Charlie Black and James Dobson) to do some of his dirty work for him.

The Obama campaign pushes back at Black with a 10 am ET conference call with 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste.

For now, Obama is best positioned partially outside of this haze -- this week is about party unity (in addition to being about energy policy).

ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports that Obama and Clinton chatted by phone Sunday night, the first time they've spoken since meeting at Sen. Dianne Feinstein's house. "Clinton and Obama discussed retiring Clinton's over $10 million in campaign debt, a conversation Democratic sources called 'constructive,' " Stephanopoulos reports.

(Hillary Clinton makes her return to the Senate on Tuesday -- and ABC's Jake Tapper notes that the Clintons aren't exactly going out of their way to heap praise on Obama in public.)

The site of Friday's first joint campaign appearance was chosen for all the appropriate optics: "The two politicians, who thumped each other throughout a bitter marathon of primary battles, will make their debut in Unity, N.H., Friday as the political odd couple on the campaign trail," Tapper writes. "The location for their stumping ground was selected for its obvious name appeal, but also because New Hampshire will be a key battleground in the fall election. In addition, Obama and Clinton each won 107 votes in Unity during the state's January primary."

"Also under consideration was a possible New Hampshire visit by Michelle Obama on Thursday," "a campaign source" tells the Union Leader's John DiStaso. "The Obama campaign said that former President Bill Clinton will not attend the Unity rally."

"New Hampshire is also the state in which Clinton first demonstrated her strong connection with older, working-class women, a group that Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, is now working hard to attract by lauding Clinton and depicting Obama as inexperienced," Shailagh Murray and Anne Kornblut write in The Washington Post.

Obama knows it: "At a town hall meeting [in Albuquerque] on Monday, Obama praised the women responsible for his upbringing and outlined his record of pushing to address issues important to women. The only men in the room were reporters, campaign aides and Secret Service agents," Murray and Kornblut write.

Here's some offense: "Barack Obama challenged the women's rights record of his Republican rival, John McCain, on Monday as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee stepped up efforts to win over female voters," Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Opening a Southwest campaign swing here at a baked-goods business, Illinois Sen. Obama criticized Arizona Sen. McCain for opposing a bill that would make it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination."

The local coverage: "Obama, who has been able to draw crowds around the country of thousands, seemed focused on getting votes one at a time during the intimate, invited-only event," Kate Nash writes in The New Mexican. "His voice at times was absorbed by the giant bags of coffee beans from countries including Guatemala and Brazil, which were stacked on shelves almost halfway to the ceiling."

Yet for all the inclusiveness -- Obama seems interested in a big tent only so long as he can paint the sides of it.

The New York Times' Andrea Elliott has details of a canceled December Obama campaign event that was to be held at a mosque. The country's first Muslim congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., recalls the words spoken by an Obama aide: "We have a very tightly wrapped message."

Per Elliott: "When Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign, Muslim Americans from California to Virginia responded with enthusiasm, seeing him as a long-awaited champion of civil liberties, religious tolerance and diplomacy in foreign affairs. But more than a year later, many say, he has not returned their embrace."

"While the senator has visited churches and synagogues, he has yet to appear at a single mosque. Muslim and Arab-American organizations have tried repeatedly to arrange meetings with Mr. Obama, but officials with those groups say their invitations -- unlike those of their Jewish and Christian counterparts -- have been ignored."

Said Ellison: "A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way."

And liberal groups are starting to notice that some of the old Obama caution is presenting itself again (working on that voting-record ranking, perhaps?).

"Barack Obama's support of an overhaul of domestic-spying laws last week was the latest in a string of statements suggesting the Democratic presidential candidate is tacking toward the center to compete with John McCain," Susan Davis writes in The Wall Street Journal. "On foreign policy, national security, tax issues and even local politics, Sen. Obama has made some decisions lately that belie his ranking by the nonpartisan National Journal as the U.S.'s 'most liberal' senator."

"His recent strategy of political triangulation has already sparked a fight with, a powerful liberal advocacy group," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. " has challenged Obama for supporting a compromise on intelligence surveillance legislation that many Democrats oppose. officials have come close to accusing Obama of breaking a promise he made last year to fight a bill that would grant legal immunity to telecommunications firms that shared customer information."

As Obama guards his brand, Matthew Dowd thinks his rejection of public financing was a mistake: "The most important part of the campaign is not gross rating points, but the narrative in the free press," Dowd writes in his column. "Politically, on behalf of both his brand and the effective conduct of the campaign, it was an error for Obama to choose tactics over truth. By the way, isn't that exactly why most people in this country are upset at the current administration?"

Team McCain is up with a new Web video Tuesday with the greatest hits from Obama's greatest reversal to date. Obama gets the refrain: "Don't tell me words don't matter."

Obama's first big ad buy is, well, typical. "Barack Obama's first television spot of the general election campaign is so faithful to the comfy cliches of political bio ads that its appearance seems to be a statement in itself: The candidate who won the Democratic presidential nomination by emphasizing his difference from politics as usual is now calling attention to his sameness," Peter Canellos writes in The Boston Globe.

"There was a time -- just a few weeks ago, in fact -- when Obama seemed to be challenging the electorate to look beyond superficial expressions of patriotism," Canellos continues. "He sometimes declined to wear a flag pin. But that got him tagged as unpatriotic, and now he's sounding the expected notes."

At least the quasi-presidential seal won't be around to stick out as a symbol of arrogance anymore. "That was a one-time thing for a one-time event," Obama communications director Robert Gibbs told CNN (except it wasn't always going to be that way).

The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder: "Obama recognizes that it was a silly mistake, that the universal reaction at Wacker and Michigan was, 'Boy, was that dumb,' and that they don't think the seal staging will matter to actual voters."

Gas-Price Politics:

Energy and gas prices remain the policy subtext for the emerging Obama-McCain debate.

McCain aimed for a big-money approach Monday: "Sen. John McCain added an unusual twist to his emerging energy agenda Monday, promising to award a $300-million prize to the inventor of a next-generation battery that could power electric vehicles," Noam Levey and Ken Bensinger write in the Los Angeles Times.

"The prize amount is small relative to the billions of dollars the federal government spends on other energy industries," they continue. "But the Arizona senator spoke expansively Monday of the potential of American ingenuity."

McCain is "embracing a diverse array of positions that defies easy categorization," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. "He is for more oil drilling and also for alternatives to oil. He wants to drill off the coasts but not in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He supports subsidies for nuclear power and clean-coal technology, but has opposed them for ethanol, solar and wind power. He wants to lower gasoline prices by temporarily suspending the federal gas tax. But he wants to raise the price of gas with a cap-and-trade system that punishes polluting industries."

A turn too many for McCain? "His newfound support for allowing states to decide whether to drill offshore, announced last week in Texas, carries risk," Cathleen Decker and Michael Finnegan write for the Los Angeles Times. "Having spent much of his campaign trying to distance himself from the current President Bush and Republican orthodoxy, McCain has now changed his tune to theirs on a hugely symbolic issue that has long helped motivate the independent voters whose support he needs to claim the White House."

A turn too many for Obama? "Given that energy appears likely to be a dominant issue in this election season, Barack Obama's campaign may want to settle on a more consistent message when it comes to subsidies for ethanol," Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post. Obama, in April: "Look, I've been a strong ethanol supporter because Illinois . . . is a major corn producer."

Per MacGillis: "He went on to say that he was concerned about reports that ethanol was helping drive up food prices, and that he saw ethanol as merely a transitional option that would eventually give way to biofuels that were more efficient and has less of an impact on food prices, such as ones made out of switchgrass."

The Sked:

As Hillary Clinton makes her return to the Senate Tuesday, the presidential candidates head west.

McCain talks energy at a noon ET event in Santa Barbara with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., then raises money in Riverside.

Obama has a 1:15 pm ET energy-themed event in Las Vegas. Per the campaign: "Obama will push for a second stimulus package that will send out another round of rebate checks to the American people. He'll tax the record profits of oil companies and use the money to help struggling families pay their energy bills. He'll provide a $1,000 tax cut that will go to 95 percent of all workers and their families in this country. And he'll close the loophole that allows corporations like Enron to engage in unregulated speculation that ends up artificially driving up the price of oil."

Obame then heads to a high-dollar fundraiser in Los Angeles.

Variety's Ted Johnson has some of the boldfaced names expected to be on hand for the Obama event at the Los Angeles Music Center: Cindy Crawford, Samuel L. Jackson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jennifer Beals, Dennis Quaid, Heidi Klum, Sidney Poitier, Cedric the Entertainer,, Kal Penn, and Ari Emanuel, with a performance by Seal.

"The big question is just how many of Hillary Clinton's high-profile fund-raisers will show up at the event, as the sting of her loss is still hardfelt in some quarters," Johnson writes.

RNC spokesman Alex Conant isn't star-struck: "Barack Obama broke his promise to the public so that he could raise millions from Hollywood's rich and famous. He may have a few good lines, but Obama is a typical politician straight from a central casting."

The Veepstakes:

A coup for Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla.? "In a surprise move environmentalists call 'breathtaking,' U.S. Sugar Corp. plans to announce today a deal to sell the state 187,000 acres in the Everglades for $1.75-billion," Alex Leary and Jennifer Liberto report in the St. Petersburg Times. "If approved, it would be the largest conservation purchase the state has ever made, helping restore the ecosystem's natural flow and providing a quantum leap to the effort to clean up the Everglades."

A chink in the Jindal armor? "The reformist image of Gov. Bobby Jindal, considered by Republicans a top potential vice-presidential choice, has recently taken a beating after Mr. Jindal refused to veto a sizable pay increase that Louisiana legislators voted for themselves this month," Adam Nossiter writes in The New York Times. "During his election campaign, he vowed to prohibit legislative pay raises."

Does McCain want what he can't have? Time's Joe Klein: "The word in Republican circles is that John McCain is quite frustrated by the vice presidential selection process because he can't go with any of his top three choices."

"They are: 1. Former Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania -- McCain loves the guy, I'm told, and Ridge might bring Pa. into the Republican fold . . . but he's pro-choice. Fuggedaboutit. 2. Former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida -- Ahhh, Florida. But, oy, that last name. 3. Senator Mel Martinez of Florida -- Ahh, Florida. . . and brings Latinos, too! But born in Cuba, so ineligible for the office."

Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., talked up Obama at the ACORN conference in Detroit. Per the Detroit News' Leonard N. Fleming: "Edwards said Republican candidate John McCain will build a wall around progress to low-income people, but promised Obama 'will tear it down' as president."

Think this is fun for the prospects? "If God had shown me a video of the next five months of my life, I might've said, 'Do me a favor, give it to Dianne [Feinstein],'" Geraldine Ferraro recalls of her 1984 vice-presidential run, in an interview with Bloomberg's Indira A.R. Lakshmanan.


Do labor troubles await Obama in Denver? "The potential for labor strife at Denver's convention has been in the air since the Democratic National Committee selected it as the host site for the convention," Seth Gitell writes for the New York Sun. "Although convention organizers have worked through the problem of the DNC's venue not being unionized -- the Pepsi Center will use union workers for the event -- . . . major problems loom."

The Kicker:

"You're allowed to laugh at him." -- Jon Stewart, poking fun at Barack Obama on "Comedy Central," to the not-quite-delight of his audience.

"To all the not so kind words . . . I love you too. . . . It makes me push myself and want it even more. Hard times don't last . . . only strong people." -- Ashley Dupre, breaking her post-Spitzer silence on her MySpace page.

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