The Note: Serve Somebody

So let's get this straight:

One candidate is swiping a policy page from President Bush . . .

As well as a page from Karl Rove's playbook . . .

And is trying to swipe a Bush Cabinet secretary . . .

While The Wall Street Journal editorial page places him as the president's heir . . .

The president himself swipes one of that candidate's funkier moves . . .

(And the candidate is letting him have it.)

Hint -- it's the candidate who is currently in the United States of America.

And it's the candidate who right now might be sparking an interesting debate -- if only he could break through some surrogate silliness.

The inherent problem with the message-a-day campaign is that today's only registers if yesterday's story is closed. (And why, with Sen. John McCain stumping where the voters ain't, is he talking faith-patriotism-service, not jobs-gas prices-economy?)

In the meantime, Sen. Barack Obama is not quite getting past retired Gen. Wesley Clark's Sunday remarks -- and he can blame an aggressive McCain campaign, a stubborn Clark, another off-message surrogate -- plus his very own political instincts.

All of which combined to let McCain up the ante, just before landing in Colombia (when a political hit, by unwritten rule, would be verboten).

"I think it's up to Sen. Obama now to not only repudiate him, but to cut him loose," McCain told reporters in the airspace between Indianapolis, Ind., and Cartagena, Colombia.

Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., may have made things worse for his advice for McCain to "calm down" about his military record: "Don't be standing up and uttering your political views and implying that all the people in the military support them, because they don't," Webb said on MSNBC.

(And why the hint of a shift on how strongly Obama is denouncing Clark? Doesn't this just keep the story alive a bit longer than he wants? Obama is right that it's not keeping Ohioans up at night -- but it is keeping a small group of Chicagoans awake past their bedtimes.)

Might the Clark story get one more turn? "Republicans sent e-mails to reporters suggesting new avenues of inquiry: Did Obama mislead the public when he said at Tuesday's news conference that the patriotism speech he gave the day before was not a response to the Clark dust-up?" Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times. "If you care deeply about these matters, rest assured there's more to come."

This means more questions for Obama as he turns his focus to national service in a speech in Colorado Springs. Per the Obama campaign: "He will lay out his comprehensive national service agenda, which will create new opportunities for Americans to serve and direct that service to our most pressing national challenges."

And new questions for Obama's home loan, in are-you-sure-there's-a-there-a-there-there look at the mortgage deal he scored in 2005 (for the home with the Rezko-expanded yard).

"He locked in an interest rate of 5.625 percent on the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, below the average for such loans at the time in Chicago," Joe Stephens writes in The Washington Post. "The loan was unusually large, known in banker lingo as a 'super super jumbo.' Obama paid no origination fee or discount points, as some consumers do to reduce their interest rates. Compared with the average terms offered at the time in Chicago, Obama's rate could have saved him more than $300 per month."

Here's the whiff you're looking for (but it's not a very strong one): "The bottom line is, this was a business proposition for us," Northern Trust Vice President John O'Connell said. "Our business model is to service and pursue successful individuals, families and institutions."

And a new poll argues for the close race, not the early landslide: It's Obama 50, McCain 45 among registered voters -- "a statistical dead heat in the race for the White House," per CNN.

McCain, R-Ariz., took his new plane south of the border -- but he squeezed in some Clark digs and some trade comments before landing. "He called Mr. Obama 'a protectionist' and cast him as ignorant about economic forces in the United States," Elisabeth Bumiller and Simon Romero write in The New York Times.

In Cartagena: "In a 20-hour visit, Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is seeking to use the city as a photogenic backdrop to score political points against Mr. Obama and to promote his foreign policy and national security credentials," Bumiller and Romero report.

"The visit to Colombia and then Mexico Wednesday was meant to send images back home of the Republican presidential candidate comfortable engaged in critical issues on the world stage," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. "He was also highlighting his support for the pending free-trade agreement with Colombia, which he says is needed to support a vital partner in the region."

This remains about optics more than optimal use of campaign time: The foreign trip's "value has been questioned by campaign strategists in both parties," Juliet Eilperin and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post. "His insistence on the virtues of free trade remain suspect in Rust Belt swing states, and his position on immigration continues to make many conservatives wary."

They continue: "That raises a difficult question for his campaign: Can a presidential candidate really win by 'expanding the map' to Mexico, Colombia, Canada and Europe?"

And by not seeming to focus the American economy? McCain wants you to know he knows his stuff -- and that he's ready to fight the drug war (?). "I know Americans are hurting very badly right now," he told ABC's Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "I'm very strong on the economy. I understand it. I have a lot more experience than my opponent."

Also following McCain to Colombia -- and the DNC is going bananas (sorry) with this one: "The co-host of a recent top-dollar fundraiser for Sen. John McCain oversaw the payment of roughly $1.7 million to a Colombian paramilitary group that is today designated a terrorist organization by the United States," Nico Pitney writes for Huffington Post. "Carl H. Lindner Jr., the billionaire Cincinnati businessman, was CEO of Chiquita Brands International from 1984 to 2001, and remained on the company's board of directors until May 2002."

You've heard this before, and will hear this again: "Top GOP officials, frustrated by what they view as inconsistent messaging, sluggish fundraising and an organization that is too slow to take shape, are growing increasingly uneasy about the direction of the McCain presidential campaign," Politico's David Paul Kuhn reports.

And now that he's outside the country for (another) stretch, he's promising to play nice: "Sen. John McCain has set himself a difficult task on his trip to Latin America: to score political points against rival Barack Obama without criticizing him directly," reports ABC's David Wright, from Colombia. " 'I believe that partisanship ends at the water's edge,' McCain said emphatically, when asked about Obama at a press conference at the Columbian Presidential retreat here."

As McCain headed south, Obama headed right -- with outreach to religious voters (and an expansion of a Bush administration signature program) that only a Republican might recognize from years past.

"Senator Barack Obama said Tuesday that if elected president he would expand the delivery of social services through churches and other religious organizations, vowing to achieve a goal he said President Bush had fallen short on during his two terms," Jeff Zeleny and Michael Luo write in The New York Times.

"Mr. Obama's plan -- his campaign said it would be the 'moral center' of his administration -- was unfurled against a backdrop freighted with electoral ramifications. Mr. Obama is signaling that he wants to make a push among white evangelical Protestants," they continue.

Obama is "sharply expanding a Bush administration program that has strong support from evangelical Christians," Joseph Williams writes in The Boston Globe. "If Obama succeeds in breaking the GOP's grip on those voters, it would upend a calculation that Bush and Karl Rove, his top strategist, used to great effect in 2000 and 2004. But some liberal critics suggested that Obama was outdoing the president himself by building on Bush's faith-based initiatives, which some groups have said come close to violating First Amendment protections separating church and state."

"It is part of the Democratic presidential contender's weeklong focus on 'values' issues such as religion and patriotism in an attempt to win over skeptical voters in swing states, particularly evangelical Christians and working-class whites," Amy Chozick and Douglas Belkin write in The Wall Street Journal. "Sen. Obama spent Monday talking about patriotism in Missouri. Wednesday he will talk about serving the country at an event in Colorado, another state seen as up for grabs this fall."

(And warning signs from the Zanesville area: "Despite efforts by the Obama campaign to dispel rumors, dozens of interviews with voters in the region show a persistent belief that Sen. Obama -- a Christian whose Kenyan-born father was a nonpracticing Muslim -- is himself a Muslim," Chozick and Belkin write.)

Building on the Bush legacy? Now that's audacious: "Not only is Obama showing how faith would shape policy in his administration, he's being so bold as to criticize Bush's faith-based program for not going far enough in opening the federal social services spigot to churches and other faith-based groups,"'s Dan Gilgoff writes. "In effect, he's out-Bushing George W. Bush in one of the President's specialty areas--connecting faith and public policy."

And pro-Obama ads are running on Christian radio, starting in James Dobson's hometown (and where Obama will be Wednesday) of Colorado Springs.

Obama's voice in the ad, per the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody: "I think we make a mistake when we fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people's lives," Obama says. "Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt that I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

Brody: "You won't find any John McCain radio spots on Christian radio right now. Man, how the tables have turned."

On the broad-brush strategy: "Barack Obama is a different kind of Democrat. He is one who actually intends to win," Politico columnist Roger Simon writes. "I don't know if he will or not, but I do know that he has made a key decision: He has decided to run as a candidate for president and not as the leader of a movement."

Unless he's running on the Bush legacy: "We're beginning to understand why Barack Obama keeps protesting so vigorously against the prospect of 'George Bush's third term.' Maybe he's worried that someone will notice that he's the candidate who's running for it," reads The Wall Street Journal editorial (channeling The Note).

"Most Presidential candidates adapt their message after they win their party nomination, but Mr. Obama isn't merely 'running to the center,' " the editorial continues. "He's fleeing from many of his primary positions so markedly and so rapidly that he's embracing a sizable chunk of President Bush's policy. Who would have thought that a Democrat would rehabilitate the much-maligned Bush agenda?"

Yes, he could erode his brand -- but McCain runs similar risks. "It's highly unlikely that McCain will succeed at making Obama look typical or himself especially atypical," Noam Scheiber writes for The New Republic. "He could spend every day between now and the election executing plays from the 'typical pol' playbook (not a very interesting read, I assure you) and still look far from typical on November 4."

"Likewise, it's going to be exceedingly difficult for McCain to fend off the taint of typicalness himself," Scheiber writes.

Obama can't be too atypical, though: One poor kid in Ohio was left hanging in pursuit of a fist bump, per Jonathan Weisman of The Washington Post. "If I start that . . . " Obama said, his voice trailing off.

You can thank 43 for keeping the tradition alive. Yes, that WAS President Bush sharing a fist bump with a 12-year-old Arkansas boy Tuesday.

Annals of Angst:

Worth tracking: Obama vs. the left.

"Senator Barack Obama's decision to support legislation granting legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration's program of wiretapping without warrants has led to an intense backlash among some of his most ardent supporters," James Risen reports in The New York Times.

"A grassroots group of activists has been organizing on MyBo, Obama's official social networking portal, to protest the Senator's recent decision to back controversial legislation granting the President more spying powers," Ari Melber reports for The Nation. "The effort hit a big milestone on Tuesday afternoon: It is now the largest self-organized group on Obama's website, topping networks that were launched over a year ago."

Plus, the growing rift between Obama and "To Obama supporters, this is their candidate showing he's not in the thrall of any interest group, regardless of ideology. He's making clear (as he did in denouncing Clark) that what's good for the McCain goose is good for the Obama gander, when it comes to below-the-belt politicking," per ABC News. "But is he making online enemies?"

Annals of Unity:

Obama is over any disagreements he had with President Bill Clinton. "When you're in a tough primary battle, you say things that you know, afterwards you may end up thinking, ah, it might have been a little in temper," Obama said Tuesday, per ABC's Sunlen Miller "But that's the nature of political campaigns."

"He is one of the most gifted public officials of our generation and has been one of the most successful Presidents that we've had in my lifetime," Obama added.

(One of?)

And we hope you have some of those moments recorded to tape:

"Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has scrubbed all negative ads from her campaign Web site and YouTube page, leaving visitors with only the warm and fuzzy moments from her bid for the presidency," Christina Bellantoni writes for the Washington Times. "Gone are the attack ads accusing Sen. Barack Obama of insulting Pennsylvanians, ducking debates and making misleading assertions about gas prices. In their place are some of the campaign's best and most positive ads and multiple 'Hillary I Know' testimonials that have a shelf life should the former first lady ever run again." The Sked:

McCain starts his day in Colombia, and has a noon ET press availability, before heading to Mexico.

Obama outlines his "New Era of Service" in Colorado Springs (and has private meetings while he's in James Dobson's hometown).

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


Your daily veepstakes talker: "Sen. Barack Obama and retired Gen. Colin Powell met privately two weeks ago in Powell's personal office in Alexandria," Jennifer Skalka reports for Hotline. "Peggy Cifrino, Powell's spokeswoman, confirmed that the presumptive Democratic nominee and the retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chatted June 18, one-on-one for about an hour at the Armed Forces Benefit Association, where Powell rents space."

Said Cifrino (intriguingly): "There's no looming endorsement."

Potential running-mate-rule broken: Rudy Giuliani still likes himself more than he likes McCain. "I thought I was best qualified, but I thought John was No. 2," Giuliani told CNN, per the New York Daily News' Richard Sisk, "his ego apparently overruling the message Team McCain wanted him to deliver in an escalating flap with Barack Obama's camp over comments from Bam-backer Wesley Clark."

Vice-presidential-selection-process rule broken: Obama was effusive in discussing Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan., with a local TV reporter -- and may have betrayed more than he wanted to about his leanings: "I love Kathleen Sebelius. I think she is as talented a public official as there is right now. Integrity. Competence. She can work with all people of all walks of life, but I promised that I am not going to say anything about my vice president until I actually introduce my vice president."

McCain, on Mitt Romney, R-Mass., on "Good Morning America" Wednesday: "He won millions of Republican votes, so there'll be a big place for him in the Republican Party in the future, but obviously we're not talking about specific candidates -- thanks for asking, though."

The Kicker:

"We noticed there hasn't been one on our end. We look forward to when John McCain does one for us." -- NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher, in a subtle message on the lack of help the Senate committee is getting from the top of the ticket.

"It's like the Super Bowl. . . . If your team isn't in it, you root for the team you hate less. That's McCain."-- Rush Limbaugh, profiled in the forthcoming New York Times Magazine.

"Somehow we haven't figured out how to have elections the way Visa and American Express figured out how much we spend to the penny. And I have no idea why." -- Astrologer and best-selling author Susan Miller, issuing predictions for Election Day. (She also sees Clinton leaving the senate, and Michael Bloomberg on a presidential ticket.)

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