There may be no greater opportunity for Obama to show (and need to show) he loves his country than when the throngs greet him in Berlin Thursday.
(That's partly because his fellow American can watch a million Germans march every night on the History Channel -- and we all know how that film ends.)
And as Obama soaks up the love, he needs his country to love him back.
For as well as it's been going, we don't know how this visit ends -- how an anti-war, anti-administration candidate can deliver a foreign-policy address abroad and not seem anti-American; how hundreds of thousands of Europeans can cheer a presidential candidate and not scare swing-state voters; how the Obama shtick plays with a foreign backdrop; how a candidate who is just plain different fills the JFK-Reagan slot in Berlin.
Even Obama knows the risk (as disguised by spin): "I doubt we're gonna have a million screaming Germans," he told reporters on board his plane early Thursday, per ABC's Jake Tapper. "It's a potentially bad thing if nobody shows up. . . . It's sort of a crap shoot."
People will show up. "Hopefully it will be viewed as a substantive articulation of the relationship I'd like to see between the US and Europe," Obama said. (Excited yet?)
But that's not really his entire hope: The truth is, as much as he's winning the imagery wars, Obama needs the visuals.
And the country needs a certain comfort level it hasn't found to date: "Midway through the election year, the presidential campaign looks less like a race between two candidates than a referendum on one of them -- Sen. Barack Obama," Gerald F. Seib and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal.
The headline from the new WSJ/NBC poll, which has it Obama 47, McCain 41 (same as a month ago): "Fully half of all voters say they are focused on what kind of president Sen. Obama would be as they decide how they will vote, while only a quarter say they are focused on what kind of president Sen. McCain would be," Seib and Meckler write.
We know still that things aren't happy in Sen. John McCain's world -- even the weather won't cooperate with his counter-programming plans. This time it's Hurricane Dolly blowing his message off-course: That visit to an offshore rig, the big Thursday event his campaign had planned to push its main domestic message, is out. (Did Mother Nature just endorse a candidate?)
"Through a series of missteps, gaffes and bad luck, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has endured a difficult week in what has been a choppy campaign," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post. "He now has no major event to offset Sen. Barack Obama's speech at Berlin's famed Victory Column, where a huge turnout is expected. Instead, he will be in Columbus, Ohio, speaking at a nighttime cancer event."
There's Dolly, and "worse than that, an oil spill closed 29 miles of the Mississippi River," ABC's David Wright reported Thursday on "Good Morning America." "Not exactly the best visual for McCain to make the case that America needs to drill more oil wells."
"I can hardly believe how badly John McCain is getting routed in the television-imagery game," writes The New Republic's Michael Crowley.
It's not just symbolism, either: McCain just might have lost something very big while Obama was handling his baggage.
"You could see McCain's frustration building as Barack Obama traipsed elegantly through the Middle East while the pillars of McCain's bellicose regional policy crumbled in his wake," Time's Joe Klein writes. "McCain's greatest claim to the presidency -- his overseas expertise -- now seems squandered."
"Obama has pulled it off in great style and thereby enhanced his credentials for the Oval Office," David Broder writes in his column. "The ground has shifted [under McCain] -- and his opponent was right where he needed to be to capture the advantage. July has been a cruel month for McCain."
"It is Obama, not McCain, who is the master of his own destiny," Stuart Rothenberg writes for Roll Call. "It's up to him to make those undecided voters comfortable with who he is and what kind of president -- what kind of commander in chief -- he would be. If he succeeds in doing so over the next three months, he is likely to win the White House."
How's this for a world stage? "Sen. Barack Obama's campaign will be among the TV sponsors of NBC Universal's Olympics coverage," Ira Teinowitz reports for Advertising Age. "In the first significant network-TV buy of any presidential candidate in at least 16 years, the Obama campaign has taken a $5 million package of Olympics spots that includes network TV as well as cable ads."
(McCain will be talking cancer with Lance Armstrong on Thursday -- not a bad event for most any other day. But can/will/would/should the McCain campaign pull off a bigger surprise to trump Obama's big day -- or is the week already lost?)
They're a-buzz in Berlin for Obama: "Walking around Berlin recently, the American visitor could be forgiven for thinking Germany was the 51st state in the Union -- and that it would vote heavily for Senator Barack Obama on November 4," Time's Stephanie Kirchner writes. "The question now is whether Obama will be able to meet the sky-high expectations."
"Obama's campaign has been pulling out all the stops, distributing these fliers in German to round up a huge crowd for his speech tonight," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "GMA," "one the Obama campaign is billing as almost presidential -- even though he is not the president. . . . Everything about this trip is meticulously designed to make you comfortable with Obama as commander-in-chief."
Per the AP scene-setter: "A column of black BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars ferried the candidate to a private meeting with [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel that lasted about an hour. Overhead, a police helicopter kept watch. Some 700 police have been deployed during the visit, which lasts through Friday morning."
The audiences are varied: "Europeans view Barack Obama's massive speech here as a symbol of a potential new direction for international relations and cheer him as a rejection of President Bush, but the leaders he will meet when his Western Europe trip begins Thursday may have more in common with his political rival," Christina Bellantoni writes from Berlin for the Washington Times.
And less may be more. Writes Bloomberg columnist Margaret Carlson: "This is the first election in memory when a small crowd is better than a large one, a passionate crowd inferior to a bored one, where drawing a million people in Berlin is less likely to be compared with Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy but to Hitler Youth chanting 'Sieg heil!' "
McCain found a voice as Obama's Middle East trip progressed, and closed with a strongly worded message: "Senator Obama's strategy could easily reverse all the hard-fought gains we made," he told ABC's David Wright on Wednesday. "If we do what Senator Obama wants us to do, we will risk having to come back and risk a wider war and defeat in the first major war since 9/11."
The RNC is playing in Berlin, too -- the ones in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire. Next up is Paris -- Maine, Michigan and Missouri. "Obama chooses Washington over our military," says the ad.
As for how the trickiest portion of the trip went . . .
Obama confused his committee assignments. (Too much time away from the Senate?)
He got a heckler at the Western Wall.
He tried to rewrite some history, on the anniversary of his infamous debate answer on unconditional talks with rogue leaders. (Wouldn't you?)
He may be taking this let's-look-presidential thing a mite too far.
But mostly, Obama managed to work through the political minefield of Israel -- another day, another notch on a trip that's exceeded expectations.
"Despite months of warnings by John McCain that Barack Obama's stance toward Iran threatens Israel, political leaders in the Jewish state welcomed the Democrat's assurances Wednesday that he would work to block Iran from acquiring nuclear arms," Michael Finnegan and Richard Boudreaux write in the Los Angeles Times. "Israeli leaders across the political spectrum voiced no misgivings about his commitment to Israel's security -- above all in countering the Iranian threat."
"Sen. Barack Obama stepped gingerly through the intractable politics of the Middle East on Wednesday," Dan Balz and Griff Witte write in The Washington Post. "With an eye to Jewish voters back in the United States and to public opinion here, Obama defended himself Wednesday as a staunch and longtime friend of Israel and said he has a voting record that proves it."
"For a day, at least, Mr. Obama tried his hand at a practice round of shuttle diplomacy," Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. "On his second visit to Israel, he sought to reassure voters of his capacity to serve on the international stage. . . . Yet even as Mr. Obama treaded carefully through the perilous path of the Middle East peace process, he was left to defend a proposal he made a year ago to negotiate with Iran."
He leaves the Israelis with tough talk on Iran: "I would not take any options off the table, including military," Obama tells the Jerusalem Post's David Horovitz. "If the Iranians fail to respond, we've stripped away whatever excuses they may have, [and] whatever rationales may exist in the international community for not ratcheting up sanctions and taking serious action."
Veepstakes: Mitt Backlash?
No, he hasn't been picked yet, but why not get a head start on the pushback?
"While choosing Romney to be his running mate would make Washington journalists happy, it would be nothing short of political suicide for McCain," Philip Klein writes for the American Spectator.
"Would Romney help McCain? I don't see how," Dick Morris writes. "Social conservatives and evangelicals cannot but smart over his former earnest declarations of his determination to 'protect a woman's right to choose' and his famous statement during a campaign debate that he would be a better senator for gays than Ted Kennedy."
This from a columnist in Romney's hometown paper: "Money is the root of all politics, but picking Romney would be very costly for McCain," GOP strategist Todd Domke writes in The Boston Globe. "Romney is a fabled flip-flopper, changing from mild-mannered moderate to indignant conservative. . . . If McCain picked Romney he'd seem like a flip-flopper himself."
This from the Democrats in one of his other home states: A Web ad from the Michigan Democratic Party, knocking a native son. "Any way you look at it Romney earns a failing grade. Conventional wisdom in Washington might be that Romney's business experience means he's good on the economy, but even the slightest glance at his record indicates otherwise," state party chairman Mark Brewer tells the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman.
It's accompanied by a T-Paw surge: "Gov. Tim Pawlenty returned as the vice presidential flavor of the week on Wednesday, as national pundits worked themselves into a frenzy over whether Minnesota's governor will be John McCain's running mate," Patricia Lopez reports in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "The speculation was fueled by what may have been a purposeful slip of the lip by McCain at a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, when he reportedly told a small group of supporters that they 'are really going to like' Pawlenty, consistently one of the most oft-named GOP vice presidential prospects."
Said McCain (prodded into praise of Pawlenty): "He's a great, fine person. Re-elected in one of the toughest re-election years in the history of the Republican Party. He comes from a -- his father I am pretty sure drove a truck. He has pretty successfully been able to work across the aisle in Minnesota with the Democrats. And I think he is -- he, Bobby Jindal and a number of governors, I think are the future of the Republican Party, the next generation of leadership."
A jilted Jindal? "I'll say again on air: I'm not going to be the vice presidential nominee or vice president," Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., told Fox News. "I'm going to help Senator McCain get elected, as governor of Louisiana."
The day is about Obama in Berlin -- with the big speech early this afternoon in the United States.
Unless . . . the canceled trip to Louisiana leaves a big, curious hole in McCain's schedule. He lunches with business leaders in Ohio, then caps the evening with his appearance at Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG summit in Columbus, Ohio, at 6:45 pm ET.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Also in the news:
Karl Rove (still in charge of the message machine) provides the GOP with its flip-flopping talking points -- yes, both candidates do it, but Obama's worse: "At least Mr. McCain fesses up to and explains his changes," Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column.
"Sen. Obama has shifted recently on public financing, free trade, Nafta, welfare reform, the D.C. gun ban, whether the Iranian Quds Force is a terrorist group, immunity for telecom companies participating in the Terrorist Surveillance Program, the status of Jerusalem, flag lapel pins, and disavowing Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And not only does he refuse to explain these flip-flops, he acts as if they never occurred."
Obama is searching for his Lieberman: "Barack Obama's campaign is talking with Republicans who have endorsed his presidential bid, seeking to coordinate a publicity blitz together," The Hill's Bob Cusack reports. "The campaign recently held a conference call with a small group of officials who are or who have previously been identified with the Republican Party."
McCain is worried about his base: "A variety of factors have made Mr. McCain's chances in Arizona less assured than they ordinarily would seem, which his campaign has acknowledged," Jennifer Steinhauer reports in The New York Times.
"The number of independent voters in Arizona has risen 12 percent since 2004, and those voters have helped send a Democrat to the governor's mansion and given the party four of the state's eight Congressional seats -- including two in 2006, one in a historically Republican district. At the same time, Arizona Democrats, like many of their counterparts around the country, have outpaced Republicans in voter registration, adding almost 20,000 voters to the rolls since March, compared with the Republican majority's 8,600 new voters."
Who's got this round? "John McCain's Straight Talk Express is far less talkative when it comes to beer," Philip Dine writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "McCain's campaign is unwilling to directly address questions flowing from InBev's purchase of Anheuser-Busch Cos. in light of his wife, Cindy's, ownership of a large Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Arizona, Hensley and Co."
You didn't think those tickets would be free, did you? "The crowd enveloping Barack Obama when he accepts the Democratic nomination for president at Invesco Field at Mile High will be asked to get to work for the privilege of witnessing the historic event live," Chuck Plunkett writes for the Denver Post. "Obama's deputy campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, said he wants to use the ticketing process as a massive recruitment tool meant to bring in supporters from all 50 states and energize them to carry the campaign into the final 60 days of the general election."
This is subtle: "The McCain campaign has a new web ad out placing Barack Obama, for the second time, side-by-side with a foreign dictator. This time, it's Fidel Castro," Sam Stein reports for Huffington Post.
This is also subtle: "One San Francisco group has decided that the current president deserves to be memorialized by a sewage plant," per ABC's Molly Hunter. "And they have gathered enough signatures to put an initiative on November's ballot to rename a local plant the 'George W. Bush Water Pollution Control Plant.' "
Cease the speculation: The president will be at the Republican National Convention, albeit briefly. "It looks like Monday night, Sept. 1," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, adding that that "is traditionally when the incumbent speaks."
Think the House GOP caucus is steamed about Bush's reversal on the housing bill? "There he goes again," Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., tells Politico's David Rogers. "When he really has a chance to stand up and take a tough stand, he's not there."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has visions of Six-Oh. "I don't want people to think we're definitely going to get to 60 votes, but that's very hard," he told reporters Wednesday, per ABC's Teddy Davis. "It's about as likely at this point today as getting six seats was at this time two years ago, which means very unlikely, but who knows? Maybe it could happen again."
House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., has filed an ethics complaint -- against himself. "Was it my hope that these meetings would result in making . . . donations to this important project with such an important public purpose? Of course," Rangel wrote in a letter to the House ethics committee, Daphne Retter reports in the New York Post.
Robert Novak's week got much, much worse (and can one commit traffic violation in downtown Washington without having reporters among the witnesses?). "Novak said he felt 'terrible' after an incident in which he allegedly hit a pedestrian with his black Corvette while driving to work in downtown Washington Wednesday," per ABC's Theresa Cook and Pierre Thomas. "I didn't know I hit him," Novak told ABC Washington affiliate WJLA-TV.
Wondering what Mark Kornblau is up to? "Four of the biggest names in U.S. agriculture will roll out today a multimillion-dollar effort to urge Congress to grow the amount spent on international aid for crop and food programs," Roll Call's Anna Palmer reports. Said Kornblau, a former top aide to John Edwards: "There is an incredible wealth of untapped potential in agriculture to meet the food and energy needs that are growing around the globe."
The "Race and Reconciliation in America" conference kicks off at the National Press Club Thursday, hosted by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and author and playwright Janet Langhart Cohen.
"You keep your copy. . . . I'll get it on Amazon.com." -- Barack Obama, to Israeli President Shimon Peres, 84, not wanting to add to his baggage for the flight to Germany.
"Since I don't run the country, all I can do is yell at 'em. The other option is to run 'em over, but as a compassionate conservative, I would never do that." -- Robert Novak, raging at jaywalkers, in 2001.
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