The Note: Gotta Have Faith

If you have faith that four flags (plus one flag pin) can solve all of Barack Obama's patriotism problems . . .

You probably also believe that one phone call can solve all of Obama's Clinton problems.

That the Clinton campaign's infighting would have ended with the Clinton campaign.

That Obama's policy migration is set to end any time now.

Surely you're convinced that one denunciation will be enough to end the storm kicked up by one retired general (who isn't backing down, and who, at the very least, shrank Obama's short list by one).

You may even believe that the best way to tag someone a Swift-boater is with a member of the original cast (takes one to know one, perhaps, but why muddle the message?).

And that Obama's latest message -- on faith as policy -- will break through with Clark-like clarity.

An Obama zag -- one that zings: "Reaching out to evangelical voters, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is announcing plans that would expand President Bush's program steering federal social service dollars to religious groups and -- in a move sure to cause controversy -- support their ability to hire and fire based on faith," the AP's Jennifer Loven reports.

With Obama set to talk about faith in Ohio, more to set that agenda: "Between now and November, the Obama forces are planning as many as 1,000 house parties and dozens of Christian rock concerts, gatherings of religious leaders, campus visits and telephone conference calls to bring together voters of all ages motivated by their faith to engage in politics," John M. Broder reports in The New York Times. "It is the most intensive effort yet by a Democratic candidate to reach out to self-identified evangelical or born-again Christians and to try to pry them away from their historical attachment to the Republican Party."

Will his message break through?

Wesley Clark's comments are poor politics, poor timing, and poor luck for Sen. Barack Obama. Obama's latest effort to declare his love of country is snared in a made-for-the-news-environment thicket, when an Obama supporter went where no Democrat really wants to go.

Obama's effort to overcome the "old politics" of charge, counter-charge meaninglessness is now bogged down in one of those very cycles -- of his own side's making.

"Even as Obama repeated his call for a new brand of politics that avoids personal attacks, the day was dominated by an old-style clash over the military credentials of his Republican opponent," Peter Nicholas and Maeve Reston report in the Los Angeles Times.

Why it's toxic: "To this day, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., can't raise his arms above his shoulders because of injuries he suffered serving his country," ABC's David Wright reports."That's why comments made Sunday on CBS's 'Face the Nation' by an Obama supporter have kicked up a hornet's nest."

Tee up McCain, responding to Clark: "It's quite remarkable, but that's what the Obama campaign has been doing for a long period of time," McCain said while campaigning in Pennsylvania. "Fine -- but then don't turn around and say we're going to have a different kind of politics. This is politics as usual."

"Today Obama moves shifts his political offensive from patriotism to faith. It is an issue Democrats have shied away from . . . but not Obama," ABC's John Berman reported on "GMA" Tuesday. "But in the Obama campaign's zeal for offense, some surrogates might be taking things too far."

And Clark isn't backing down: "I would never discredit anyone who chose to wear the uniform. I fully respect John McCain and his service," he told ABC's Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" Tuesday.

"My point is that there's a difference in preparing yourself for the highest office of the land, depending on which levels you've served at in the armed forces," Clark said. "The service as president is about judgment, and the experience that he had as a fighter pilot isn't the same as being at the highest levels of the military."

(Pardon us, but is Wes Clark running for president -- again?)

He continued: "I'm very sorry that this has distracted from the message of patriotism that Sen. Obama wants to put out, but I want to make very clear that as a Democrat and as a former Army officer, I fully respect Sen. McCain and all others who've served."

Add one more off-message commenter to the mix: Rand Beers, another informal adviser to the Obama campaign, on Monday argued that McCain's "isolation during the Vietnam War has hobbled the Arizona senator's capacity as a war-time leader," per ABC's Teddy Davis and Molly Hunter.

Said Beers: "To some extent his national security experience in that regard is sadly limited, and I think it is reflected in some of the ways that he thinks about how U.S. forces might be committed to conflicts around the world."

Is it possible that these are just the attacks McCain needs to get back in this game?

"Several of Mr. McCain's supporters said they needed to act quickly and decisively against attempts to challenge their candidate's war record because it had been unfairly impugned in his 2000 presidential campaign, when he was accused of having sold out prisoners of war left alive in Vietnam," Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun.

You might pity the candidates -- if they hadn't brought it on themselves: "The terse exchanges between the rivals, echoed even more vociferously by their campaign representatives and surrogates, underscored a central question both candidates are grappling with: How do they present themselves as practicing a new kind of politics, while they, and particularly their allies, are still pointing out flaws in each other?" Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times.

It comes in a bad week for Obama -- with patriotism the subject Monday, and faith on tap Tuesday. "Mr. Obama's effort to highlight his American values, delivered in a 30-minute address before a backdrop of flags, was complicated by the comment from General Clark," Zeleny writes.

Here's been here before -- but it's never easy: "His speech on race, given in Philadelphia in March, was hailed for its candor and eloquence, and in the days that followed it, he quickly moved back to the central themes of the primary campaign: the economy and the Iraq war," Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post.

"But just as Wright has not disappeared from the political landscape, no one expects the patriotism question to be quelled with one speech. This time, campaign aides say, Obama will stick with the theme of patriotism through this Fourth of July week, when he will travel to conservative-leaning regions of eastern Ohio, the Mountain West and the Northern Plains," they write.

"The very fact that Obama chose to give a 'major' speech on patriotism (as he did on race earlier this year) is a recognition by the candidate and his campaign that questions over his loyalty to America -- no matter how unfounded they may be -- have the potential to do his campaign real damage,"'s Chris Cillizza writes. "To counter that dangerous perception, the campaign is using its best asset -- Obama himself -- to speak at a deeply personal level about what patriotism means to him."

Significant as well that Obama would choose to engage -- calling the liberal group out over the "General Betray-Us" ads -- but Team McCain likes this debate.

The McCain campaign's argument, per The Wall Street Journal's Amy Chozick and Laura Meckler: "Sen. McCain has regularly chosen his country's interests over his own, defying his party leaders, for instance, to reach compromises." Says Mark Salter: "I do not think politically, as a political person, Barack Obama has anything in his record like that."

So now the big guys have spoken -- what happens next? Here's guessing public descriptions of a much-hyped phone call won't matter as much as the body language when Bill and Barack finally appear in public together.

"Bill Clinton and Barack Obama broke the ice on Monday, but both men left it to their spokesmen to characterize their 20-minute chat," Kate Linthicum writes in the Los Angeles Times.

"They spoke for 20 minutes. Obama asked the former president to campaign with him and for him," per ABC's Sunlen Miller and Sarah Amos. "The Obama campaign said Bill Clinton told Obama he is excited about that prospect."

Now THIS is a statement, from Bill Clinton's office: "President Clinton continues to be impressed by Sen. Obama and the campaign he has run, and looks forward to campaigning for and with him in the months to come. The President believes that Senator Obama has been a great inspiration for millions of people around the country and he knows that he will bring the change America needs as our next President."

"Mr. Obama has told his advisers that he is eager to bury any animosity and seek advice from Mr. Clinton," Jeff Zeleny reports in The New York Times. "He is expected to have dinner or a meeting with him, most likely on the former president's turf, aides said, though nothing has yet been scheduled. On Monday they also discussed making a public appearance together in July."

But you may want to keep the big dog in check: Gail Sheehy's piece in Vanity Fair takes a critical look at Bill's role, up to and including his desire for his own office in campaign headquarters, and a description by a top fundraiser of an out-of-control former president.

Feel the love. Says Harold Ickes: "Hillary bought [Mark Penn's] line lock, stock, and barrel. . . . Penn was the chief strategist. Following our loss, he now disclaims responsibility for anything and everything that went wrong and acts as if he were barely involved, which is especially galling from someone who made [nearly] $20 million from the campaign."

Another move, for your Obama scorecard: His new ad touts his support for welfare reform he once opposed. "Obama leaves out, however, that he was against the 1996 federal legislation which precipitated the caseload reduction," ABC's Teddy Davis and Gregory Wallace report. "Obama's transformation from opponent to champion of welfare reform is the latest in a series of moves to the center."

Two choice quotes to ABC from Obama, on welfare. March 2007: "I tend not to look back to what would have been done 10 years ago. . ." he said. July 2007: "I'm not going to re-litigate what happened back in the 90s . . ."

"To suggest Obama personally 'slashed the rolls by 80 percent' is a stretch; federal law signed by President Clinton required the state come up with a plan to trim the welfare rolls. Obama said he would have opposed Clinton's initiative," per the AP's Nedra Pickler and Christopher Wills.

Arianna Huffington is sick of the migrations: "The Obama campaign is making a very serious mistake. Tacking to the center is a losing strategy. And don't let the latest head-to-head poll numbers lull you the way they lulled Hillary Clinton in December."

And his statement on last week's gun ruling notwithstanding, the NRA is arming against Obama: "The National Rifle Association plans to spend about $40 million on this year's presidential campaign, with $15 million of that devoted to portraying Barack Obama as a threat to the Second Amendment rights upheld last week by the Supreme Court," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports.

For McCain -- another sign that the base isn't on board: "Most of the big-money backers who helped reelect Bush in 2004 haven't pulled out their checkbooks for McCain -- or asked their friends to chip in either," Brian Mooney reports in The Boston Globe. "Of the 548 leaders of Bush's vaunted money-raising machine, about 43 percent have contributed to McCain, a Globe review of finance reports covering the period through May 31 shows. Even fewer of them solicited and bundled donations from others for McCain, as they did for Bush four years ago."

What do they know? "Wall Street is investing heavily in Barack Obama," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News. "Although the Democratic presidential hopeful has vowed to raise capital gains and corporate taxes, financial industry bigs have contributed almost twice as much to Obama as to GOP rival John McCain, a Daily News analysis of campaign records shows."

More on Obama's money, from New York Times columnist David Brooks: "The real core of his financial support is something else, the rising class of information age analysts. Once, the wealthy were solidly Republican. But the information age rewards education with money. There are many smart high achievers who grew up in liberal suburbs around San Francisco, L.A. and New York, went to left-leaning universities like Harvard and Berkeley and took their values with them when they became investment bankers, doctors and litigators."

McCain starts his three-day trip to Colombia and Mexico on Tuesday -- reviving some issues he wants to talk about, and plenty he doesn't.

"At a time when the role of lobbyists and special interests are at issue in the presidential campaign, Senator John McCain leaves Tuesday on a trip to Colombia, where a senior adviser to him has long had business and political ties," Larry Rohter writes in The New York Times. "Since 1998, the lobbying firm headed until recently by Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain's closest confidants, has earned more than $1.8 million representing the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the leading foreign producer of gas and oil in Colombia."

In Mexico, he may hear and say a thing or two on his favorite/least favorite issue: "Sen. John McCain has tilted his position on immigration to the right, but he continues to be greeted by supporters who want him to take an even tougher line," per The Wall Street Journal.

While we're talking consistency . . . "McCain's record of tackling energy policy on Capitol Hill shows little of the clear direction he says would come from a McCain White House," Noam Levey writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Instead, the Arizona senator has swerved from one position to another over the years, taking often contradictory stances on the federal government's role in energy policy."

More on energy: "As a senator, John McCain has condemned policies that pick market winners and losers, aiming particular criticism at government ethanol subsidies as a taxpayer rip-off," Bloomberg's Lorraine Woellert writes. "As a presidential candidate, the Arizona Republican himself is backing specific industries in proposals for relief from high energy prices and foreign oil dependence."

OK, now for the consistency: "John McCain has changed his mind about the president's tax cuts and drilling for oil off the U.S. coast, but the Republican presidential hopeful says his advocacy of free trade is unyielding," the AP's Beth Fouhy writes, in previewing his trip south of the border. Said McCain: "For me to give up my advocacy of free trade would be a betrayal of trust."

The latest McCain Web video takes on the Colombia trade pact.

Get ready to hear about "shared interests": "The presumptive Republican nominee travels to Colombia on Tuesday and Mexico on Wednesday to discuss free trade, the war on drugs, organized crime and national security," David Jackson writes in USA Today.

The Sked:

McCain starts his day speaking to the National Sheriffs' Association in Indianapolis, before taking his new campaign plane to Colombia.

Obama hits Zanesville, Ohio, for a 1 pm ET event where he'll talk about faith in politics, and his new support for faith-based programs.

From the Obama campaign: "Many of the challenges we face today -- from saving our planet to ending poverty -- are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck. That's why Obama will help draw on their strength of these groups through the creation of a new President's Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships."

Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

The Veepstakes:

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney sees complicated timing for running-mate announcements: "A confluence of events -- the summer Olympics and two very late, almost back-to-back political conventions -- are presenting a web of complications for the Obama and McCain camps as they try to figure out the best time to unveil their choices. Consider this calendar," Nagourney writes. "It would appear that of the two candidates, Mr. Obama has the more complicated road to navigate, given the fact that the Democratic convention opens up the day after the Olympics end."

Not that there's a rush or anything . . . "The bottom line here is that it's early," ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg reports. "On the McCain side, for example, a top insider says the real vetting -- where they're asking for documents and the like -- hasn't even started. None of his top prospects have been asked for that information."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., wants to see McCain do more outreach to evangelicals (betraying maybe just a little concern?): "John McCain is a person of faith and he is a committed Christian," Pawlenty tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody. "I think he is somebody who would be well received by Christian leaders and Evangelical leaders and I just want to encourage the McCain campaign to make that effort and to reach out -- and they are. But I think there are a lot of Christian leaders, evangelical leaders who haven't yet been contacted or who haven't been part of meetings who are feeling perhaps, are they going to reach out to me? And at a minimum we want to make sure that he is speaking on issues of concern to them and I think you'll see perhaps more of that in the summer and fall."

The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib sees a "groundswell" in Democratic circles for Obama to pick one of two old rivals from the 1988 campaign -- Al Gore and Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "The two men, different in many ways, have one important thing in common. Each would provide a kind of national-security blanket to cover the weakest spot on Sen. Obama's résumé -- his shortage of foreign-policy experience. As the interest in Messrs. Biden and Gore suggests, many Democrats fret about that weak spot, and are drawn to the idea of using the running-mate selection to address it."

Also in the news:

Obama skipped their meeting -- but the DLCers are ready to make nice. "The Democratic Leadership Council's hierarchy on Monday sought to reconcile divided presidential preferences with its core centrist-themed mission as it embraced Sen. Barack Obama as a candidate to further the group's moderate agenda in the White House," Rick Pearson writes in the Chicago Tribune. Said DLC chief Harold Ford Jr.: "Our reforms, the things that we stand for are all embodied in our nominee."

Can McCain make it happen in Pennsylvania? "If John McCain wants to be the first Republican in two decades to win Pennsylvania, he will need help from swing suburbs such as those in Bucks County," USA Today's David Jackson writes. "The challenge is that Bucks County, one of four 'collar counties' around Philadelphia, is turning more Democratic."

Is a roadmap back to offense on Iraq presenting itself to Democrats? Just enough news items to back up Democrats' contention that the war in Iraq has been a distraction in the battle against terrorism. "A lot of us have been saying for a long time that when we went to Iraq we took the eye off the ball. These are the consequences of that," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., tells ABC News.

The race isn't over for black lawmakers who sided with Clinton in the primaries: "Even after Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton embraced in Unity, N.H., on Friday and sought to put their divisions behind them, some strains are still evident closer to the ground," Raymond Hernandez writes in The New York Times.

"In Georgia, Representative John Lewis, a prominent civil rights leader, is facing primary challenges from two black candidates who have been critical of him for backing Mrs. Clinton for months before shifting to Mr. Obama. . . . Another New Yorker, Representative Gregory W. Meeks of Queens, faces a primary opponent who has sought to make an issue of Mr. Meeks's support of the Clinton campaign in a district."

A black Republican group is getting rough with Obama: "The National Black Republican Association has launched the most personalized attacks of the presidential campaign to date, accusing Barack Obama of being an 'arrogant elitist,' and raising his connections to Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers and Tony Rezko," per Huffington Post's Sam Stein.

Denver's going to be gorgeous this summer: "The fence around the public demonstration zone outside the Democratic National Convention will be chicken wire or chain link, authorities revealed in U.S. District Court today," Felisa Cardona writes in the Denver Post. "That may allow protestors to be seen and heard by delegates going in and out of the Pepsi Center during the convention."

The Kicker:

"No, he's really very, very busy." -- Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, asked whether Obama's decision to skip the Democratic Leadership Council annual meeting in his hometown was a snub to the centrist group.

"At about 9:30 a.m., Obama left his home in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood and went for a workout at his friend's Mike Signator's building. He wore his black White Sox cap; a gray T-shirt and black workout pants. . . . From there, we drove to the Hyde Park Hair Salon, where he went in for his usual trim just after 10 a.m." -- From the Obama pool report for Sunday, as the DLC conference in Chicago kicked off.

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