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."

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