While Sen. Barack Obama was busy winning the image battle during his foreign trip (and Sen. John McCain was barely in the same game) three things happened (and one thing just might be about to):
1. The Obama bump for this much-hyped week was, at best, slow to swell.
2. Obama seemed to whiff on a symbol.
3. Obama went to Berlin and called out to the world -- though not necessarily anyone who can vote for him.
(And once he's back stateside, McCain can and very well might move quickly to find a way back into the discussion; who winds up landing the first veepstakes punch?)
As Obama, D-Ill., wraps up his foreign trip with stops in Paris Friday and London Saturday, the narrative is set to move on with him. For all the good he did his campaign this week -- the gold-plated visuals, the astounding crowd he drew in Berlin, the shift on the politics of the surge and the war -- no bounce will mean fresh doubts, in a race that remains closer than it should be.
We may have here the tale of two elections: One that's playing out among those who spend too much time analyzing this stuff, and one that's playing out among those actual real-life voters who are enjoying their summers (or, depending on economic circumstances, not so much).
Of the first: "In one of the most telling and ironic weeks of the presidential campaign, Democrat Barack Obama accepted Republican John McCain's dare and went to Iraq -- and far beyond, a foreign expedition of carefully staged photo opportunities that left the Arizona senator both at home and on the defensive," per the AP wrap.
Of the second: "The presidential race is tightening in four key battleground states, with Republican John McCain holding an advantage among white male voters and Democrat Barack Obama keeping his lead among the youngest voters, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll," Sara Murray writes in The Wall Street Journal.
"Sen. Obama leads slightly in Michigan and by double-digits in Wisconsin, but by smaller margins than about one month ago. The two candidates are running statistically even in Colorado and Minnesota, compared to the respective five-point and seven-point lead Sen. Obama had in June."
"Not so fast, Obama Nation," Todd Spangler writes in the Detroit Free Press.
"The trip on its own terms was a clean success -- you just cannot take that away from him," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday. "We don't know yet what kind of impact it's had on voters -- there hasn't been any good test of that yet."
Time for Obama to take a "hard turn" toward the economy next week, Stephanopoulos said.
What did Obama not do this week?
The Columbus Dispatch's front page has McCain looking presidential, at a podium -- and the back of Obama's head.
"While the Democrat was away, the Republican came to play in battleground Ohio," writes Jim Provance of the Toledo Blade.
As for what he did do: "Sen. Barack Obama summoned the world to the cause of his presidential campaign on Thursday. But he won't need the world to win the still-tight election," per ABC News. "For all the powerful visuals of Obama's overseas trip -- shooting hoops with troops, riding a helicopter with Gen. David Petraeus, being received as a world leader from Jordan to Germany -- it's not clear that Obama made up further ground Thursday in answering the most significant concerns about his candidacy."
"Fresh polls show that he has been unable to convert weeks of extensive media coverage into a widened lead. And some prominent Democrats whose support could boost his campaign are still not enthusiastic about his candidacy," Peter Nicholas writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Republicans are moving to exploit this vulnerability, trying to encourage unease among voters by building the impression that Obama's overseas trip and other actions show he has a sense of entitlement that suggests he believes the White House is already his."
Adds Nicholas: "Obama also faces discontent from some of Hillary Rodham Clinton's most ardent supporters, who are put off by what they describe as a campaign marked by hubris and a style dedicated to televised extravaganzas. Susie Tompkins Buell, a major Clinton fundraiser, said: 'The Clinton supporters that I know are bothered by these rock-star events. These spectacles are more about the candidate than they are about the party and the issues that we care about.' "
"The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more," writes a thoroughly soured David Brooks, in his New York Times column. "Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn't eloquence. It's just Disney." (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
He might have fueled an emerging GOP argument: "Obama's campaign outdid itself on stagecraft," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Presumptuous or not, the campaign spared no detail -- providing giant cranes for camera crews to get crowd shots -- to capture images intended to present Obama on a world stage as he has never been seen before."
There's been enough to earn a "down arrow" the New York Daily News' Josh Greenman: "A great man said: self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings. A greater man said: pride goes before the fall. A few times this week, Obama could be heard imagining himself as a second-term President. Easy, there."
"The excuse the Barack Obama camp has come up with for not visiting the troops in Germany ranks up there with 'The German Shepherd ate my homework,' " Jennifer Rubin writes for Commentary.
After some initial mixed messaging, the Obama campaign puts it on the Pentagon: Defense officials "viewed this as a campaign event and therefore they said he should not come," David Axelrod tells the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet.
And a copy of this non-political speech was quickly sent to supporters in an e-mail that included a big red "DONATE" button. "This is certainly going to be used as ammunition for those critics who wondered about the true purpose of this 'non political' trip," ABC's Jake Tapper reports.
"The campaign, which has raised more money through the internet than any other campaign in world history, says the purpose of this email, the 'DONATE' button notwithstanding, was for folks to see the speech and share it with their friends," writes Tapper.
McCain may be moving faster than anticipated to play the last big card he holds: "Two top aides to the presumptive Republican nominee said the decision is likely to be announced after Obama returns from Europe on Sunday and before the Beijing Olympics begin Aug. 8," Michael Shear writes in The Washington Post. "They said the campaign fears that unanticipated events coming out of China -- whether in the form of athletic accomplishments or human rights protests -- could deflect attention from the announcement if it were made during the Games."
He worked in some good quips -- but does whining translate into winning?
McCain's dig Thursday evening, at the Lance Armstrong cancer event: "In a scene Lance would recognize, a throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris -- and that's just the American press."
McCain's dig Thursday afternoon, telling the Columbus Dispatch that Obama has used the war for political ends: "This is indicative of his view that this is a political issue," McCain said.
McCain's dig earlier Thursday, finding a taste of Germany (or at least bratwurst and lederhosen) right in Ohio. "I'd love to give a speech in Germany," McCain said, per ABC's David Wright. "But I'd much prefer to do it as President." Said Columbus resident Diane Woods: "McCain is right where he should be -- in America."
The Arizona Republican meets a world leader of his own on Friday -- and he doesn't even have to leave a battleground state to do it. "Republican presidential candidate John McCain planned to meet with the Dalai Lama today in a show of solidarity with the Tibetan spiritual leader and as a rebuke to China's treatment of the people he represents," writes USA Today's David Jackson, previewing a meeting that's timely with the approaching (Obama-sponsored) Olympics.
ABC's Jake Tapper, on "Good Morning America" Friday: "Barack Obama will continue pushing the image of him as Head of State -- meeting with Nicolas Sarkozy of France and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Meanwhile, John McCain will try finding his Zen in a meeting with the Dalai Lama."
Sarkozy says bonjour to Barack: "Obama? He's my pal," the French president told Le Figaro, per Politico's Ben Smith. "Unlike my diplomatic advisors, I never believed in Hillary Clinton's chances. I always said that Obama would be nominated." (Interesting tidbit from that story: "Nicolas Sarkozy's advisors received only one demand from the team of the Democratic candidate: no American flag for the press conference, because it's a candidate being received, not the president of the United States.")
This a surprise? "Barack Obama's campaign has received roughly 10 times more money from declared U.S. donors living in Germany, France and Britain than his Republican rival, reflecting his popularity in Europe as he makes his first tour of the continent as the presumed Democratic nominee," the AP's Gregory Katz reports.
Obama looked the part Thursday: "The speech was the public capstone of a weeklong foreign trip that has amounted to an audition on the world stage for Obama," writes Time's Karen Tumulty. "As such, it also sent a message to critics who say the 46-year-old freshman Senator from Illinois is not strong enough or experienced enough to take the helm of the world's last remaining superpower at a time when it faces a new kind of enemy."
"Barack Obama is betting he can win votes at home by proving he can win hearts abroad," writes USA Today's Kathy Kiely. "It was the emotional high point of a trip that demonstrated that Obama has the staying power for the rigors of a fall campaign and the star power to draw a big, enthusiastic crowd into a foreign capital."
"The visuals of the whole thing would have warmed Michael Deaver's heart," Democratic consultant Bill Carrick told Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman and Andreas Cremer.
The crowd looked its part: "Berliners waved American flags -- provided by the campaign -- throughout the address, offering precisely the visual message that Mr. Obama's aides wanted to beam back home: a candidate who could restore the world's faith in strong American leadership and idealism," Jeff Zeleny and Nicholas Kulish write in The New York Times.
The media played its part (even when pressing the candidate): "Obama has controlled the message -- and, more important, the pictures -- during his exhaustively chronicled trek across the Middle East and Europe. Obama meeting the troops, meeting the generals, meeting prime ministers and kings, drawing a huge crowd in Berlin yesterday -- the images trump whatever journalists write and say," Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post. "In short, though Obamapalooza was not quite the lovefest that some expected, news outlets provided a spotlight so bright that their own people were left in the shadows."
Vanity Fair's Todd Purdum: "Obama is being treated -- by the American media and by Iraqi and other foreign leaders -- as a virtual president-in-waiting, while McCain cools his heels here at home in the summer doldrums, mired in a mini-controversy over his repeated references to Czechoslovakia, a country that no longer exists. McCain's complaints that Obama knows nothing about the military, was wrong about the troop surge in Iraq and would put American foreign policy at risk are being completely overwhelmed by Obama's stop-by-stop, anchor-by-anchor acing of what amounts to a commander-in-chief test."
This was broad-brush Obama: "On Thursday evening in a glittering Berlin, Mr. Obama delivered a tone poem to American and European ideals and shared history," Steven Erlanger writes in The New York Times. "But he was vague on crucial issues of trade, defense and foreign policy that currently divide Washington from Europe and are likely to continue to do so even if he becomes president -- issues ranging from Russia, Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan to new refueling tankers and chlorinated chickens, the focus of an 11-year European ban on American poultry imports."
And it was a patriotic speech: "Obama, who is running for president and spoke most importantly to an audience at home, provided a defense of America as a nation with special purpose," Mike Dorning writes in the Chicago Tribune.
Looking back at the week . . .
From the RNC's week-in-review memo: "Despite the most challenging environment for Republicans in years and an overwhelming advantage in attention paid by the media, Barack Obama remains unable to open the lead against John McCain that many pundits predicted."
Expecting tomorrow's poll today: "The bump Obama may receive from increased exposure due to his trip abroad will be temporary as it becomes clear he still has no real solutions to solve America's pressing energy and economic challenges," the memo continues.
From the DNC's week-in-review memo: "In what has become a recurring theme, McCain's week was dominated by foreign policy gaffes, misleading attacks, terrible reviews and new polls showing him lagging far behind among key groups of voters. Instead of addressing those challenges, the McCain campaign chose to lash out at the media and launch desperate new attacks."
Simon Rosenberg, of NDN: "It is no longer clear to me whether McCain really has the capacity to alter this emerging dynamic in the campaign on his own. . . . While there is a long way to go in this race, this week is beginning to feel like a seminal one in the campaign, one in which a new and powerful dynamic kicked in, one, that if it holds, will have Obama winning in the fall, and the Democrats having more power in Washington than they've had in 40 years."
What probably was the biggest development: "In a stunning upset, Barack Obama this week won the Iraq primary," columnist Charles Krauthammer writes. "When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki not once but several times expressed support for a U.S. troop withdrawal on a timetable that accorded roughly with Obama's 16-month proposal, he did more than legitimize the plan. He relieved Obama of a major political liability by blunting the charge that, in order to appease the MoveOn left, Obama was willing to jeopardize the astonishing success of the surge and risk losing a war that is finally being won."
The weekly video Note -- who won the week in pictures?
Obama meets Friday with President Sarkozy of France (though probably not his first lady), as the European portion of his trip continues.
McCain attends the 2008 American GI Forum of the United States National Convention in Denver, with a 1:30 ET speech scheduled.
He meets the Dalai Lama at 4:30 pm.
McCain is George Stephanopoulos' guest on ABC's "This Week" Sunday.
Obama headlines NBC's "Meet the Press." Obama speaks stateside again, at the UNITY Convention Sunday in Chicago.
Who's list should he be on? "Mike Bloomberg plans to re-inject himself into the presidential campaign on Friday by talking up John McCain in a speech to the Independence Party of Minnesota," per ABC's Teddy Davis, James Gerber, and Gregory Wallace. "Bloomberg will praise McCain's record of bucking his own party while stopping short of making a formal endorsement. Yes, this is the same Mike Bloomberg who went to Florida last month to denounce what he called a 'whisper campaign' in the Jewish community linking Barack Obama to Islam."
Terry McAuliffe is making his push -- and it's not for Hillary Clinton? "McAuliffe was adamant in his recommendation of Kaine as the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee Tuesday, although he stressed to the News-Press after his speech, which included an informal half-hour question and answer period, that the ultimate choice will be Obama's very personal one," per the Falls Church News-Press' Nicholas F. Benton.
McAuliffe aide Tracy Sefl (great to see her backing action): "Terry McAuliffe obviously thinks very highly of Governor Kaine and was praising him in his trademark, exuberant way to a packed room of Virginia Democrats. There's a tremendous field of potential Vice Presidential candidates, including Senator Clinton and Governor Kaine. And Mr. McAuliffe supports whatever decision Senator Obama makes."
On Obama's timing, reports ABC's George Stephanopoulos: "I'm being pushed more toward the idea it's going to come after he gets some time away in mid-August."
Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., goes into detail on his conversion from Hinduism to Catholicism with The Wall Street Journal's Robert Costa: "During a youth group's Easter season musical production in 1987 at LSU's campus chapel, a black-and-white video of the Passion played during intermission," Costsa writes.
"I don't know why I was struck so hard at that moment," said Jindal. "But watching this depiction of an actor playing Jesus on the cross, it just hit me, harder than I'd ever been hit before. . . . If that was really the son of God, and he really died for me, then I felt compelled to get on my knees and worship him. . . . It was liberating."
Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., has an aggressive advocate inside his delegation. "In order for Senator John McCain to be successful, I believe it is highly important that he look right and not left in selected his Vice Presidential running mate," Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., wrote in a letter to the McCain campaign touting Cantor, per The Wall Street Journal's Susan Davis. Writes Davis: "In an interview, Goode said he not only wrote the letter, but he also used his campaign funds to make buttons touting a McCain-Cantor ticket."
Michigan Republicans are rallying behind their man. "Michigan Republicans believe Romney -- born and raised in Metro Detroit, and the scion of a popular governor -- would help carry this battleground state," Gordon Trowbridge writes in the Detroit News.
It took this long to find this answer? "I have just stopped engaging in the speculation because I think it is largely speculation and it just fuels more speculation and I think if I say anything different -- even one word even, different -- than I said a week ago or yesterday, then it becomes more speculation, so I have just stopped engaging in the discussion," said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.
Also in the news:
Remember that fretting in the primaries? "Barack Obama has picked up support from nearly all the Hispanic voters who voted for rival Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, giving him a nearly three-to-one lead over Republican John McCain among Hispanics, a poll released Thursday shows," McClatchy's Lesley Clark reports. "The Pew Hispanic Center survey found Obama with 66 percent of the Hispanic vote to McCain's 23 percent."
Wouldn't you want a full house? "People who get tickets to see Barack Obama at Invesco Field [at the Democratic National Convention] will be required to show they can get there and plan to attend the event themselves," David Montero reports in the Rocky Mountain News. "Jenny Backus, Obama's senior adviser to the convention, said with thousands of people desiring to go, the Obama campaign wants to make sure all tickets get used by the people who requested them."
Huge in Ohio: LeBron James is set to campaign for Obama. "I'm at the point in my life where I should really start paying attention,' James, 23, tells Time's Sean Gregory.
How hard will a reprise be for House Democrats? "When was the last time either major party followed a gain of more than 20 House seats with another double-digit gain just two years later? That has happened just once in the post-World War II era, more than five decades ago: In the twilight of Harry Truman's presidency, Republicans scored a 28-seat pickup in 1950 and then netted 22 more in 1952," David Wasserman writes in National Journal.
"It's possible that he didn't see me. He wasn't paying attention to his driving." -- 86-year-old Don Clifford Liljenquist, after learning the identity of the driver who hit him Wednesday morning in downtown Washington. ("I was struck by Bob Novak?" he said. "Well, I think that makes it a great story!"
"Do you get to wear a crown?" -- Lt. Gov. Brian K. Krolicki of Nevada, to Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton of Wisconsin, at the conference of the National Lieutenant Governors Association in Buffalo.
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