It's not about guns -- it's about ammunition.
Thursday's landmark Supreme Court may or may not have plopped gun control into the campaign. But it does place Sen. Barack Obama's careful, cautious, sometimes contradictory (and dare we say Clintonian?) approach to tricky policy positions squarely in the center of the race.
An appropriate day for Obama to wrap himself in the Clinton legacy: As Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton seek unity in Unity, N.H., the emerging portrait of Obama, D-Ill., is of a politician who is racing for the centrist approach, and choosing his words mighty carefully.
Name your issue -- on trade, taxes, guns, the death penalty, campaign finance reform, FISA -- Obama may well be taking the politically smart position for a Democrat in these early days of the general election.
But the point is that he's taking positions that are at least shaded differently than those he's taken in the past, if not outright flip-flops. These are political calculations that make a dangerous assumption for Obama: that he's willing to risk being called a "politician" at all.
"From the beginning, Barack Obama's special appeal was his vow to remain an idealistic outsider, courageous and optimistic, and never to shift his positions for political expediency, or become captive of the Inside-the-Beltway intelligentsia, or kiss up to special interests and big money donors," writes McClatchy's Margaret Talev. "In recent weeks, though, Obama has done all those things."
The post-primary migration is looking like a sprint: "In the last week, Mr. Obama has taken calibrated positions on issues that include electronic surveillance, campaign finance and the death penalty for child rapists, suggesting a presidential candidate in hot pursuit of what Bill Clinton once lovingly described as 'the vital center,' Michael Powell writes in The New York Times. "Mr. Obama has executed several policy pirouettes in recent weeks, each time landing more toward the center of the political ring."
"His reactions to this week's controversial court decisions showed yet again how he is carefully moving to the center ahead of the fall campaign," Massimo Calabresi writes for Time. "Politicians are always happy to get a chance to accuse opponents of flip-flopping, but McCain's team may be more afraid of Obama's shift to the center than their words betray."
This is audacity of a different variety: "Since securing the Democratic presidential nomination, when confronted with a series of thorny issues the Illinois senator has pursued a conspicuously conventional path, one that falls far short of his soaring rhetoric," Kenneth P. Vogel writes for Politico.
"Obama passed up opportunities to take bold stands and make striking departures from customary politics. Instead, he has followed a familiar tack, straddling controversial issues and choosing politically advantageous routes that will ensure his campaign a cash edge and minimize damaging blowback on several highly sensitive issues."
The arrogance tag -- from the seal flap to the reversals and the non-committal responses -- is set to be applied by the RNC. "We're going to argue that there's been significant damage done to Obama's brand this week," one GOP operative tells The Note on Friday.
"The truth about Obama is uncomplicated. He is just a politician (though of unusual skill and ambition)," columnist Charles Krauthammer writes. "When it's time to throw campaign finance reform, telecom accountability, NAFTA renegotiation or Jeremiah Wright overboard, Obama is not sentimental. He does not hesitate. He tosses lustily."
And another poll has it tight: Obama 43, McCain 38 in the new Time survey -- making Newsweek and Bloomberg/LA Times look like outliers, and making this race look close indeed.
On the gun case, Obama "is attempting to find safe political ground on an explosive issue for Democrats,"per ABC News. He "avoided taking a firm position on the gun-control measure tossed out by the Supreme Court, despite previous indications that he supported Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban."
"Obama may as well have strapped on his John Wayne chaps and holster yesterday to announce his support of the Supreme Court's decision that the Second Amendment guaranteeing gun rights actually means what it says," Charles Hurt writes in the New York Post. "Are the Democrats now the party of states' rights, gun rights and the death penalty?"
Obama's mayor and staunch supporter, Richard Daley, called the ruling "frightening," per the Chicago Tribune.
Obama, meanwhile, hasn't really said where he stands on either the D.C. gun ban or Chicago's.
"Does Barack Obama believe that the D.C. handgun ban was constitutional or unconstitutional? We can't tell, and Barack Obama won't say," says McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds, per the Tribune's Mike Dorning.
(Anyone else having flashbacks of Hillary Clinton's non-answering questions about driver's licenses?)
Team McCain won't let this one slip by: "It's one in a long series of reversals of positions . . . whether it be on his pledge on public financing or his position on the Second Amendment," McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday, per ABC's Bret Hovell and James Gerber. "So it's not surprising."
It may even be welcome: "If Obama's brand of authenticity is taking a bashing, his equivocation and hedging on this issue won't help much," Commentary's Jennifer Rubin writes.
It fits the emerging (de facto?) GOP strategy. "[The] McCain's campaign has apparently settled on a highly personal campaign theme that aims to differentiate McCain and Obama on both character and issues," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "The strategy: Paint Obama as conventional politician who always takes the safe and easy political road, then amplify the distinction by framing McCain as a patriot, somebody who has put sacrifice above self."
A new (rotting) piece of Obama's legacy? "The squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, in a dense neighborhood that Barack Obama represented for eight years as a state senator, hold 504 apartments subsidized by the federal government for people who can't afford to live anywhere else. But it's not safe to live here," Binyamin Appelbaum writes in The Boston Globe.
"A Globe review found that thousands of apartments across Chicago that had been built with local, state, and federal subsidies - including several hundred in Obama's former district -- deteriorated so completely that they were no longer habitable," Appelbaum continues.
The names connected to Grove Parc: Valerie Jarrett, Allison Davis, and yes, Tony Rezko. "Rezko's company used subsidies to rehabilitate more than 1,000 apartments, mostly in and around Obama's district, then refused to manage the units, leaving the buildings to decay to the point where many no longer were habitable."
And could there be one more policy move? "A health adviser to the presumptive Democratic nominee is signaling that Obama's plan could eventually go in Clinton's direction," per ABC's Teddy Davis, John Santucci, and Gregory Wallace. Regarding the individual mandate that's not part of his healthcare plan: "He has not said he is opposed to it," said Obama adviser Dr. Kavita Patel.
Friday brings the long-awaited unity appearance -- and we know all about the town name and the vote total in the venue that will host the late morning campaign event. "We'll see how much of 'unity' we get to actually see, and whether or not it's just the name of a small town in the Granite State," ABC's Jake Tapper said on "Good Morning America" Friday.
First, the easy part: "I wrote my check to the Hillary for President Committee," Obama said at the event for "Hillraisers" at the Mayflower Hotel Thursday night. (He and his wife both maxed out, at $2,300 apiece.)
"We are a family," Clinton said, per Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen.
"Sen. Obama did a good job of starting to bring the tension down, starting to court the Clinton voters. He paid attention to them," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday. As for the personal relationship: "They are starting to mesh."
He added that former President Bill Clinton is likely to speak with Obama for the first time since Obama wrapped up the nomination "within the next 48 hours."
"There's only one issue: winning," Clinton friend Vernon Jordan said, per The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. "No one likes to lose, but you know what? She's moved on," said Terry McAuliffe (now running Clinton's emerging campaign for Pope.)
But: McAuliffe "couldn't resist adding one of the now defunct campaign's talking points that the candidates each received millions of votes and Hillary actually got more," Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times.
As for the hard work: "Aides described a slowly thawing relationship in which many questions have yet to be answered," Anne Kornblut and Matthew Mosk write in The Washington Post.
"Bill Clinton's role in the coming months has become one of the main sticking points. Obama has not called the former president, and Bill Clinton has not reached out to Obama in the three weeks since the Democratic primary season ended," Kornblut and Mosk report. "They said the degree of the rift between the two men has been exaggerated, but neither side denied that the part the former president will play in the fall campaign is one of the jagged edges in a merger that has begun to take shape."
The reception did not heal all wounds. One attendee told ABC's Jake Tapper that the event felt like a trip to the dentist's office.
A top Clinton donor told ABC's Kate Snow that the event was "total dud" -- a waste of plane fare for most attendees. "This felt like when your mom forces you to go visit your Aunt Ida and she has to pinch your cheeks and you're sitting there in an uncomfortable suit and you can't wait to leave," the fundraiser told Snow.
"He better go back to the Internet," said another person who was in the room.
Per Snow: "Many Clinton donors are anxious to hear more about Clinton's future role in the Obama campaign. For example, will she have her own campaign plane to use for appearances? Will she speak at the Democratic convention in late August and when? They also want to know if Clinton's delegates will be allowed any kind of symbolic vote on the convention floor." (Obama ducked that question Thursday night.)
The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet picks up on a similar sentiment. Clinton fund-raiser Bill Brandt said afterward that "the takeaway for senior players is, money talks and you know what walks. We want to see a near-term effort. [If] they don't get to the debt shortly, we are not going to be happy campers."
"She was gracious, a little stiff," one Clinton money person tells the New York Daily News' Ken Bazinet, Ian Bishop, and Michael McAuliff. "When she handed the microphone to him, the standing audience immediately sat down."
From that same department: "While Clinton and Obama are scheduled to campaign together today in the symbolic New Hampshire town of Unity, many in this loose confederation of nonconformists have embraced a mantra that runs counter to the notion of reconciliation: 'Party Unity My Ass,' " Kevin Merida writes in The Washington Post."They have taken to calling themselves 'Pumas' and have adopted as their logo -- on T-shirts and Facebook pages -- the portrait of a snarling cougar."
What does Obama want? "Now that Clinton has conceded defeat and endorsed Obama, he's the one choosing the time and place. And the central choice he faces is whether he can -- and wants to -- win with the Clinton legacy, or without it," Politico's Ben Smith writes.
It was a day for offense for McCain, with the gun ruling he supported coming down (but someone please work on those camera shots from the back of the Straight Talk Express).
But McCain, R-Ariz., takes his hits, too. "California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seemed to knock the standard-bearers of his party: President Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain," per ABC's Tahman Bradley and Bret Hovell.
"Anyone who tells you this will lower our gas prices anytime soon is blowing smoke," the governator said at a climate-change conference in Florida, per the St. Petersburg Times' David Adams.
Adams writes: "His spokesman said the statement was not personally directed at his fellow Republicans." (Yeah, right.)
Context matters: "McCain and [Florida Gov. Charlie] Crist, whom the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is rumored to be considering as his running mate, have come in for heavy criticism for backing exploration that many Floridians and Californians fear could pollute the coastal playgrounds that are vital to their states' tourism-dependent economies," Carol J. Williams writes in the Los Angeles Times.
McCain spent some time courting conservatives in Ohio -- and Obamaland has got to love where this has the potential of going. "McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, told the small assembly that he was open to learning more about their opposition to embryonic stem cell research despite his past disagreements with them on the issue," Peter Wallsten and Bob Drogin write in the Los Angeles Times.
They continue:"And, according to participants, he indicated that he would take seriously their requests that he choose an anti-abortion running mate and would talk more openly about his opposition to gay marriage -- a pledge he carried out later in the day by endorsing a ballot measure in California to ban gay marriage."
The statement, per the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody: "I support the efforts of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman, just as we did in my home state of Arizona. I do not believe judges should be making these decisions."
Brody writes: "What the Evangelical community wants to see out of McCain is some passion for these hot button social issues. They want to see him fight for traditional marriage and against abortion. The 'judges' line isn't enough."
"If he doesn't start talking about the social issues, I don't see how he can possibly win Ohio," said Phil Burress, head of Citizens for Community Values, per The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes.
ABC's Jake Tapper has details of those who shared the room with McCain: "They are not your typical McCainiacs," he writes.
Might these words be welcomed by the Obama campaign? "Our party is united now. It's a matter now of galvanizing," McCain said on board his bus Thursday, per Mark Niquette of the Columbus Dispatch.
Next up on this front: McCain flies to Asheville, N.C., Sunday to meet privately with Franklin Graham, before heading to Mexico and Colombia early next week.
Peggy Noonan wants McCain to lighten up: "The fall will be dead serious. At this point why not be himself, be human?" she writes in her Wall Street Journal column. "Let him refind his inner rebel, the famous irreverent maverick, let the tiger out of the cage. It won't solve everything but it will help obscure some other problems. His campaign is still not in great shape, his advance operation is not sharp -- the one thing Republicans always used to know how to do! -- he has many aides and few peers, and aides so doofuslike they blithely talk about the partisan impact of terror attacks."
The marquee event is in Unity, N.H., where Obama and Clinton will be together around noon ET.
Waiting for them in New Hampshire: "A former Clinton administration official and Concord Democrat agreed Thursday to co-chair Democrats for John McCain, which backs the Arizona Republican's presidential campaign," reports Kevin Landrigan in the Nashua Telegraph. "James McConaha served as Bill Clinton's Farm Service Agency director in New Hampshire. Former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen named him to be the state's director of historical resources."
McCain spends another day in Ohio.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., makes a few more enemies among his friends in the Democratic caucus. "I'm going to make a provocative statement: in many ways I think John McCain on Foreign Policy is closer to where Al Gore and I were in 2000, then Barack Obama is," Lieberman tells ABC's Jake Tapper. "It's one thing to say where you are on a policy and give a good speech, but McCain as president will actually get something done."
(Does Gore agree?)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is still touting Edwards -- as in Chet, the congressman from Texas. "He is really one of the finest people I've ever served with, and he demands the respect of his colleagues, I could say, on both sides of the aisle," she said, per the Chicago Tribune's Matthew Hay Brown.
Time's Tim Padgett takes on Crist's "McCain problem", "Critics say that he has yet to utter the most important words -- that he won't accept a vice presidential nod even if McCain were to offer it. The man who has been Governor less than two years now still has too many problems to fix on the peninsula, they argue, including the state's real estate meltdown. On the question of preemptively taking himself out of consideration Crist will only say, 'I don't want to deal with hypotheticals.' "
Also in the news:
Michelle Obama hit the unity themes Thursday in New Hampshire, a day ahead of the unity event: "Because of Hillary Clinton's work, the issues of importance to women who work and the working family are front and center in this election," she said, per the Union Leader's John DiStaso.
Later, Michelle Obama addressed the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council Gala in New York City. "Barack believes that we must fight for a world as it should be. A world where together we work to reverse discriminatory laws like D.O.M.A. [Defense of Marriage Act' and Don't Ask Don't Tell," she said, per ABC's Rachel Humphries and Kate McCarthy.
The AP's David Espo has the scoop on the House GOP's internal report on why Republicans are losing specials in safe seats: "House Republicans lost three recent elections when customary campaign themes failed to sway voters and their candidates could not overcome the 'negative perception of the national party,' according to an internal review that underscores the potential for widespread losses this fall," Espo reports.
"House Republicans on Thursday reviewed the defeats as Democrats signaled an intention to spend heavily in three competitive seats in New York, Oregon and Colorado. Officials said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had reserved a combined $4 million worth of television advertising time," Espo continues.
"The disclosure seemed designed to inflict a psychological blow on Republicans, since the Democratic organization has yet to spend any of the money. But the move also serves as a reminder of the Democrats' enormous financial advantage over Republicans little more than four months before elections with all 435 House seats on the ballot. The National Republican Congressional Committee had $6.7 million in its bank account at the end of May, while the Democrats reported $47.2 million."
Wondering what they'll look like on stage? "Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama would sit at a table at two of three presidential debates this fall, according to a formal proposal unveiled Thursday, which, perhaps unintentionally, would neutralize Obama's height advantage," McClatchy's Steven Thomma writes.
"The Commission on Presidential Debates proposed the less formal, more conversational talk-show format for two of three 90-minute debates it's seeking this fall. The third debate would be a town hall-style session in which the candidates would be free to get up from high stools and walk around the stage."
Inside the campaign's e-efforts, the Christian Science Monitor's Dante Chinni sees an uneven playing field: "A look at these e-communications reveals stark differences in the sophistication of Senator Obama's and Senator McCain's electronic outreach and hints at broader trends in the campaigns. Put simply, at the moment the Obama team isn't just winning the electronic battle, it seems to be playing a whole different game."
"And I stopped beating my wife just a couple of weeks ago. . . ." -- John McCain, with a chuckle, when asked by the Las Vegas Sun's Jon Ralston why he didn't choose embattled Gov. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., to co-chair his Nevada campaign.
"He knows the truth, and I know the truth." -- Cocktail waitress Chrissy Mazzeo, in 2006, maintaining that Gibbons threatened to sexually assault her. (The case was not prosecuted; Gibbons and his wife filed for divorce last month.)
Interns for the ABC News Political Unit:
The ABC News Political Unit is now seeking three full-time fall interns in Washington, D.C.
The internship begins Monday, Aug. 4 and runs through Friday, Dec. 12.
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