The Note: Luck and Load

Was Sen. John McCain right about the surge yet not getting credit for it?

Was Sen. Barack Obama wrong about it and getting credit for it anyway?

Does anyone in the history of presidential politics have Obama-like luck?

Does McCain have to make his own luck -- or can he count on The New York Times or Obama himself to make it for him?

OK -- let's back up. Here's an easier question to answer: Who had the better day -- the guy in the golf cart, or or the guy in the chopper?

As for who will have the better week -- that may have been determined before Obama, D-Ill., touched down in Iraq.

Now that Obama is on to Jordan, Israel, and the rest of his trip (Tuesday brings his first press availability since leaving US soil) it's just possible that perceptions are set: Obama went to Afghanistan and Iraq, and the world followed him -- not McCain's.

(That includes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and maybe even President Bush.)

The trip so far: "Better than they could have imagined," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "Events are really conspiring to help Sen. Obama here."

But might this be the opening McCain needs to get back in the conversation -- to make the central question one of judgment on the surge, not the war?

"Attacks across the country are down more than 80 percent. Still, when asked if knowing what he knows now, he would support the surge, the senator said no," per ABC's Terry Moran, Melinda Arons, and Katie Escherich.

"These kinds of hypotheticals are very difficult," Obama told Moran in Baghdad, in an exclusive interview Monday. "Hindsight is 20/20. But I think that what I am absolutely convinced of is, at that time, we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one that I just disagreed with, and one that I continue to disagree with -- is to look narrowly at Iraq and not focus on these broader issues."

And this raised GOP interest, on his disagreements with military commanders: "My job is to think about the national security interests as a whole and to weigh and balance risks in Afghanistan and Iraq," Obama said. "Their job is just to get the job done here, and I completely understand that." (Just?)

McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds: "Barack Obama admitted tonight that he would rather see failure in Iraq than concede that he was wrong about the surge."

Yet the trip's shorthand may already be written.

"By Monday, the White House and rival Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign were at pains to explain why the Iraqi prime minister had seemingly all but endorsed Obama's relatively rapid timeline for getting out," Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "The curious turn of events made for an unexpected opening act for the Democrat's week-long tour of seven countries, demonstrating anew the combination of agility and good fortune that has marked his campaign."

"After a day spent meeting Iraqi leaders and American military commanders, Mr. Obama seemed to have navigated one of the riskiest parts of a weeklong international trip without a noticeable hitch and to have gained a new opportunity to blunt attacks on his national security credentials," Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "The central tenet of Mr. Obama's foreign policy is suddenly aligned with what the Iraqis themselves now increasingly seem to want."

Speaking of luck: "The tragic Catch-22 for the Arizona senator is that the more the surge succeeds, the more politically advantageous it is for Obama," Jonah Goldberg writes in his Los Angeles Times column. "Voters don't care about the surge; they care about the war. Americans want it to be over -- and in a way they can be proud of."

"That the Iraqi government is now specifying a preferred withdrawal date could create problems on the campaign trail for McCain, who has slammed any talk of a timetable as tantamount to an admission of defeat," Liz Sly writes for the Chicago Tribune.

Obama is "getting to look like a leader this week, comparing withdrawal plans with Maliki, welcoming the Bush administration to the it's-OK-to-negotiate-with-Iran club, making McCain look like an isolated warmonger," writes Time's Michael Grunwald. "It was one thing when McCain was framing the election as a monumental decision of victory versus surrender; time horizon versus timetable is going to be a tougher sell."

"The continuing discussions appeared to reflect the influence of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate," per The Wall Street Journal.

"Obama's positions have come to look safe and reasonable, undercutting McCain's core argument about Obama's inexperience," columnist E.J. Dionne writes. "And if the Bush administration is seen as moving his way, Republicans can hardly dismiss Obama's ideas as dangerous or impractical."

Is the State Department following Obama's lead, too? "In its waning months in office, the Bush administration is perceived to be emptying the diplomatic toolbox in a final effort to make progress on key objectives, like eliminating the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs as well as handing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the next president," ABC's Kirit Radia reports.

"The new efforts have both critics and supporters of the focus on diplomatic solutions wondering if the Bush administration is taking its foreign policy cues from the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, who has advocated broader engagement with America's enemies."

The Obama campaign has chosen a historic and photogenic site for his first interactions with the traveling press, per ABC's Jake Tapper.

"The Temple of Hercules is just one of the stops Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, will make today when he comes to Jala al-Qalaa in Amman, Jordan, with his merry men, Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Jack Reed, D-RI, fresh out of their V-22 Osprey from Iraq."

"The scenic vista atop the mountain will offer pretty pictures for Obama's first official campaign-organized event of the trip, a press conference about his time in Iraq and Afghanistan," Tapper writes.

"Everywhere you look you see politics," Tapper reported Monday on "Good Morning America," from Amman, Jordan.

Obama's trip gets trickier soon: "When he arrives in Israel today, Barack Obama will set off on the same type of dignitary circuit he has planned elsewhere on his foreign trip. But nowhere are he and his brand of charismatic internationalism likely to receive such a skeptical welcome," Sasha Issenberg writes in The Boston Globe.

"Barack Obama sets out Tuesday on the most politically perilous part of his foreign trip - to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank, where his every word will be scrutinized by Jewish and Arab voters back home," Michael Saul reports in the New York Daily News.

Is this where hope sinks? "This week, Sen. Obama, the Holy Land awaits you," Boudreaux writes for the Los Angeles Times. "Israelis and Palestinians. Skeptical eyes and ears, tuned to every gesture and word. A verbal minefield for even the most adept campaigner."

McCain, in New Hampshire on Tuesday, is pushing back where he can (and news organizations may be extra willing to report his comments): "He said it would fail and he refuses to this day to acknowledge it's succeeded," McCain said in Maine Monday, per ABC's Jennifer Duck. "And my friends, that's what judgment is about.  That's why I'm qualified to lead and I don't need any on the job training."

After an event with a fellow war hero -- George H.W. Bush -- McCain added a dig: "I hope we'll pay attention to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Particularly someone that has no military experience whatsoever."

He's drawing enough attention to make his own noise: "Trying to compete for voters' attention with Obama's high-profile foreign tour, McCain embarked on a tour of his own -- an economics-focused journey across several key swing states designed to shore up his standing on the domestic side -- while not missing any chance to chastise Obama on Iraq," per Michael Kranish of The Boston Globe.

Per McCain's new ad, that chanting of the word "Obama" is in response to the question of whose fault high gas prices are. ("Sure, and blame Obama for bad tomatoes, too," write the folks at

Yet McCain looks like he's on the outside looking in at a party where big "CHANGE" banners are hanging from the rafters.

"Senator John McCain was like the wallflower at an international political dance on Monday as he campaigned at the quiet summer home of a popular President Bush, George H. W., while the worldwide news media spotlight beamed down on Senator Barack Obama in Baghdad," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times.

Said Mark Salter: " 'The One' went to Europe and homage must be paid."

With McCain's fears about the nonexistent Iraq/Pakistan border on Monday -- are the gaffes reaching critical mass? "Just in the past three weeks, McCain has mixed up Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, and even football's Packers and Steelers," Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei write.

"Ironically, the errors have been concentrated in what should be his area of expertise -- foreign affairs," they write. "McCain will turn 72 the day after Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) accepts his party's nomination for president, calling new attention to the sensitive issue of McCain's advanced age, three days before the start of his own convention."

But did The New York Times op-ed page help McCain set up a competing narrative for the week?

Nothing says "liberal media conspiracy" like an editor's rejection of an op-ed -- complete with some helpful hints on how to make it publishable. It would be "terrific," wrote the Times op-ed editor, to have McCain "lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troop levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate."

Would that be "terrific," now? "John McCain believes that victory in Iraq must be based on conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables. Unlike Barack Obama, that position will not change based on politics or the demands of the New York Times," said the McCain campaign.

(How much more of a bump did McCain get out of this piece for the fact that it was rejected? And the New York Post and the Boston Herald published it anyway.)

Add it to this: "This week, high-profile anchors are lined up for exclusives whenever Mr. Obama disembarks from his new campaign jet. Katie Couric of CBS News will interview the White House hopeful Tuesday in Jordan, and it will be ABC's Charles Gibson's turn in Israel on Wednesday. On Thursday, NBC's Brian Williams will chat up Mr. Obama in Germany," write S.A. Miller and Jennifer Harper of the Washington Times.

"So far, the answer is clear: Obama is The One," former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers writes for Vanity Fair. "In the first quarter of the general election, he has simply gotten more and better coverage than McCain. For those who need more evidence than the enormous press entourage that is treating Obama's current trip not like the campaign swing of a presidential candidate, but like the international debut of the New American President, there are several new studies which help quantify the disparity."

(We're curious as to whether the McCain campaign has any thoughts on the political proclivities of the jabfest crowd. . . . )

Helping to make the case: "An independent conservative group went on the air with a new advertisement on Monday to be followed by a full-length documentary film that tries to portray Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, as an overhyped media darling," Michael Falcone reports in The New York Times.

"The group, Citizens United, which also produced a film this year critical of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is spending $250,000 to run the commercial on Fox News through the end of the week," Falcone writes. Says Tucker Carlson of MSNBC (!): "The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush."

In case you were wondering whether politics are at play this week: "An Obama ad team will be on hand for the Berlin rally, which figures to become part of the campaign the same way President Ronald Reagan's emotional D-Day anniversary speech in France did, as a TV commercial," Paul West reports for the Baltimore Sun.  

Maybe, says the campaign, but: "When the president of the United States goes and gives a speech, it is not a political speech or a political rally, said "a senior foreign policy adviser," who spoke to reporters on background about Obama's planned speech, per Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown.

"But he is not president of the United States," a reporter reminded the adviser.

Here's one very big way for McCain to change the storyline: "Sources close to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign are suggesting he will reveal the name of his vice presidential selection this week while Sen. Barack Obama is getting the headlines on his foreign trip," Robert Novak and Timothy P. Carney report. "The name of McCain's running mate has not been disclosed, but Mitt Romney has led the speculation recently.

A pick this week still seems unlikely -- but those cagey no-comment non-denials serve their own purpose.

"John McCain has narrowed his vice-presidential possibilities to the point where he considered a decision this week -- but he's likely to hold off, say sources close to the campaign,"Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "The prospect of stepping on Barack Obama's much-anticipated overseas trip with the headline-grabbing news was discussed among the small inner-circle of McCain aides and advisers privy to the running mate decision, according to a McCain source."

"This person declined to categorically rule out an announcement in the coming days, but other plugged-in sources said it was unlikely," Martin continues. "Officially, McCain [representatives] declined to comment. But, relishing the diversion, they also did not discourage the speculation."

Helping drive the diversion: "John McCain will huddle with vice presidential aspirant Bobby Jindal during a trip to New Orleans later this week," Chris Cillizza writes for "The meeting with Jindal, who has been the state's governor since 2007, suggests that McCain himself is deeply engaged in the process of picking his second-in-command and that the youthful Jindal is under serious consideration."

Then there's Mitt: "Romney's chances are looking better and better. The intensifying focus on the economy has left McCain -- whose strong suit is defense, not domestic policy -- in need of a running mate who can make a good case for GOP economic policies, or at the very least be a credible attacker of Barack Obama's proposals," Peter Canellos writes for The Boston Globe. "Romney is awaiting the tap on the shoulder that could change the course of history, his, his family's, and the country's."

The Sked:

Obama has arrived in Amman, Jordan (where his traveling press corps was already in place). He meets and dines with King Abdullah II Tuesday before heading to Israel.

Jake Tapper has all the details of Obama's week.

McCain campaigns in New Hampshire, with a 10 am ET meeting with his friend Joe McQuaid, publisher of the Union-Leader, and a noon ET town-hall meeting in Rochester.

McCain raises money Tuesday evening in Baltimore.

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

The Clinton Files:

Still waiting on the money? "Donors to Sen. Barack Obama and defeated rival Sen. Hillary Clinton didn't rush to help each other's candidates in June, new campaign-finance data show," Mary Jacoby and T.W. Farnam write in The Wall Street Journal. "People who had previously given to Sen. Clinton's campaign donated $1.8 million to Sen. Obama in June, the month he secured the nomination. That is an increase from the $500,000 Clinton donors gave to him in May. But it represents less than 4% of Sen. Obama's June fund-raising total of $52 million."

In the other direction: "Likewise, the Illinois Democrat's supporters didn't appear to have come forward in large numbers to help Sen. Clinton pay off her $25 million campaign debt. The New York senator conceded defeat June 7 after investing $13.2 million in personal loans to her own campaign," Jacoby and Farnam write.

And the rich folks? "When comparing Obama's full FEC filing for June with a list of 311 'Hillraisers' -- or supporters who bundled more than $100,000 in contributions for Sen. Clinton -- the Huffington Post found only eight names in common between the two lists," Seth Colter Walls reports at HuffPost. "Not all of those donors maxed out, either, making for a relatively paltry figure of $19,250 in direct, hard-money contributions from Hillraisers for the month."

But not all rich folks spend their own cash: "More than 2,200 Clinton donors became first-time Obama donors, giving him $1.8 million of the $52 million he raised last month. Of those, 355 contributed at least $2,000, for a total of $1 million," Sarah Cohen and Matthew Mosk report in The Washington Post.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wants Clinton backers and "dreamers" to get over it: "I don't think we should be making an issue after the primary is over about who should be vice president. That would have been up to Hillary Clinton and would have been up to Barack. And it is up to Barack," Pelosi tells Huffington Post's Sam Stein. "None of us can afford the luxury of 'my candidate doesn't win the nomination' or 'my candidate wasn't chosen as vice president, I'm taking my marbles and going home.' "

The Clinton goodwill tour continues: "Hillary Clinton, in South Boston today to continue her efforts to unite the Democratic Party, urged thousands of letter carriers who had been early and enthusiastic backers of her campaign to throw their support behind Barack Obama, her former rival and now the presumptive nominee," Lisa Wangsness writes in The Boston Globe.

Said Clinton, D-N.Y.: "The best way to stand up for everyone who feels invisible is to make sure we have a Democratic president taking the oath of office on January 20, 2009."

Also in the news:

Not helpful from an elected official: "A Republican state senator from South Carolina is being criticized for a post on his blog that shows photos of Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden wearing similar clothing, along with a line that states the difference between the two is 'a little B.S.' " per the AP write-up. "The image was posted on Sen. Kevin Bryant's blog on Friday without an explanation from the politician. It appears to be a photo of a T-shirt, with images of bin Laden and Obama wearing turbans and the words 'OBAMA' AND 'OSAMA,' with the 'B' and 'S' each highlighted in red."

Think oil money may grease the political system? "The 770-- zip codes in Houston are the most generous in the state for both candidates. McCain has pulled in $4.685 million.  Obama's received a little more than $2 million," reports Tom Abrahams of ABC-13 (KTRK-TV) in Houston. "More than half the states in the country (28) have given less to the process than just a handful of zip codes in Houston have to just TWO candidates. Wow!"

What to do with all that cash: "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is using his fundraising advantage over John McCain to build a network of campaign workers in states Republicans have dominated for decades," Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant report. "The effort is reflected in the $2.3 million that Obama spent on his June salaries, compared with McCain's $724,622."

The Wall Street Journal's Gerald F. Seib talks up Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. "Sen. Reed, even more than Sen. Obama, has helped shape the mainstream Democratic position on Iraq. And unlike Sen. Obama, he has done so with a background of personal experience, and with the benefit of a hefty investment of time on the ground in Iraq. Indeed, this week's trip is Sen. Obama's second to Iraq; it is Sen. Reed's 12th."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., was on the trail Monday for McCain in Florida: "Lieberman cast McCain as an unflinching defender of Israel, and Obama as wrong on the issue of U.S. military involvement in Iraq. He also said Obama is too willing to talk with terrorists in the Middle East," per Mark Hollis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Per the McCain campaign, Lieberman is representing only himself when he speaks to Pastor John Hagee's United for Israel summit Tuesday night in Washington -- despite McCain's rejection of Hagee's endorsement.

And poor Hagee will have to go on being misunderstood. "I have some bad news for you," spokeswoman Avraleigh Keats told reporters who showed up for a Hagee panel Monday, per The Washington Post's Dana Milbank. "There's been a change. There's no press allowed. . . . No interviews. No filming. Nothing."

New key demographic: "Unmarried women -- often dubbed the 'Sex and the City' vote -- overwhelmingly support Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in key battleground states, according to a recent poll," per ABC's Jennifer Parker.

The Kicker:

"Anybody steal any ash trays?" -- Former President George H.W. Bush, enjoying his time with reporters in Kennebunkport.

"Everybody's got warts; let's get it on the table." -- Former Vice President Dan Quayle, recalling (not-so fondly) the vice-presidential vetting process.

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