The Note: Inevitability, Now

If you look carefully through those tubes, you can see why Sen. Chuck Schumer is thinking about the big Six-Oh.

If you look carefully at the news cycle's latest popular kid, you can determine how new Gov. Tim Kaine and his friends are at this veepstakes thing.

If you look not-so-carefully at what President Bill Clinton is up to, you might forgive him for missing the perks of the presidency.

If you look carefully at what Sen. John McCain is doing and saying, you can measure how much twisting straight talk can survive.

If you look carefully at what Sen. Barack Obama is doing and saying, you can watch his self-image swell to fill the mold being fitted for him. (And hey -- the inevitability thing worked SO well in the primaries . . . )

Some of the most interesting looking centers on Obama: Secret meetings, a bizarrely vague public schedule, sit-downs with the Fed chairman and the new Pakistani prime minister, all after a heralded foreign trip?

You might say he's measuring the drapes -- but that assumes he hasn't ordered new windows.

The latest entry in the (bulging) Obama files: "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," he told House Democrats Tuesday night, per The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman. "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

(Read that sentence again, and try to imagine how it would look if it was said on camera.)

Obama may be right (and if he is, he wins) -- but the first person singular is the most dangerous of tenses, particularly when the meme is being set. Toss in a jettisoned faux-presidential seal, a canceled visit with troops, maybe a sprinkling of broken promises, and you've got enough to weave an uncomfortable yet unforgettable suit.

With a public schedule that "would have made Dick Cheney envious," this is Obama going from presumptive to presumptuous, Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column.

"Some say the supremely confident Obama -- nearly 100 days from the election, he pronounces that 'the odds of us winning are very good' -- has become a president-in-waiting," Milbank writes. "But in truth, he doesn't need to wait: He has already amassed the trappings of the office, without those pesky decisions."

(If you don't think the hype is contagious, check out the newspaper headlines over Patti Solis Doyle's shoulder in this photo -- and remember that Solis Doyle once managed Hillary Clinton's campaign.)

From Obama's perspective, it's not bad work if you can get it -- except McCain is using those very symbols to try to take it away from him. (It's in full techno-music glory in the RNC's new Web ad.)

This is fun to make fun of, sure (and the world can always use an extra Hasselhoff reference).

But with Obama set to return to "real" campaigning in Missouri Wednesday with the start of a bus tour (and McCain set to share a piece of the state with him), consider how Obama has set the stage: His economic message is being built on the same pillars as his foreign policy, as if meeting with important people sends the message that he cares.

At this snapshot of a moment, who has the more compelling economic message? And who's the insider in this equation?

Obama "on Tuesday discussed the current financial crisis and his proposals for tougher oversight of financial institutions with [Ben] Bernanke. He also talked by phone with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson," Amy Chozick and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal.

"Republican candidate Sen. McCain, meanwhile, talked about the need to help people hit by the housing crisis and the need to break U.S. dependence on foreign oil," they continue. "Speaking at a town-hall meeting in Sparks, Nev., Sen. McCain said his rival's requests for home-state earmarks are part of the problem and that Mr. Obama's plans to raise taxes would only hurt the economy."

A new answer, too, on taxes: "No," McCain said Tuesday, when asked flatly whether he would raise taxes. "Pretty much anything you can tax, [Obama] wants to tax it more."

(Just in time. These tough words from The Wall Street Journal editorial page: "One of the miracles of this Presidential election campaign is that John McCain still has a chance to win, notwithstanding his best attempts to kick it away. In his latest random policy improvisation, the Arizona Senator tried to give up the tax issue. . . . Such mistakes also help explain the continued lack of enthusiasm for Mr. McCain among many conservatives.")

Yet in the attacks, McCain has his own brand at stake: "The old happy warrior side of Mr. McCain has been eclipsed a bit lately by a much more aggressive, and more negative, Mr. McCain who hammers Mr. Obama repeatedly on policy differences, experience and trustworthiness," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times.

"By doing so, Mr. McCain is clearly trying to sow doubts about his younger opponent, and bring him down a peg or two. But some Republicans worry that by going negative so early, and initiating so many of the attacks himself rather than leaving them to others, Mr. McCain risks coming across as angry or partisan in a way that could turn off some independents who have been attracted by his calls for respectful campaigning."

Mike Murphy offers his advice, for free and on the record: "I think the campaign does have to be careful about its tone. . . . A pure attack tone could be perilous."

In the same vein: "For four days, Sen. John McCain and his allies have accused Sen. Barack Obama of snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true," Michael D. Shear and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post.

"The attacks are part of a newly aggressive McCain operation whose aim is to portray the Democratic presidential candidate as a craven politician more interested in his image than in ailing soldiers, a senior McCain adviser said," Shear and Balz continue. "They come despite repeated pledges by the Republican that he will never question his rival's patriotism."

"The candidate who started out talking about high-minded, civil debate has wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Rove's low-minded and uncivil playbook," per The New York Times editorial.

That's not to say it doesn't work: The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg looks at McCain's "public relations coups" in getting media play for his ads: "Mr. McCain's campaign has proved particularly adept at getting such free air time in recent weeks, as news stations endlessly repeat the advertisements, which feature provocative visuals that can fill time during a relative lull in the campaign season," he writes.

Why that's critical, Part One: "More Americans will see presidential campaign ads before Election Day because of Democrat Barack Obama's deep pockets and his quest to expand the number of competitive states in his race against Republican John McCain," Martha T. Moore writes in USA Today.

Part Two: "What sets [Obama] apart from his predecessors is that he may actually have the money to attack his rival's base on a broader scale and in a more sustained way than any candidate before him," Politico's Jeanne Cummings reports. "The process has already begun. The Illinois senator last month began airing ads and opening offices in Virginia, North Dakota, Colorado and a handful of other states that have voted Republican in recent cycles."

The big spending has begun: "Since the end of the nomination season on June 3, more than a combined $50 million has been spent by the McCain and Obama teams to air more than 100,000 ads, according to a new report released by the Wisconsin Advertising Project," per ABC's David Chalian.

"Voters in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin are getting the to see the most intense back and forth in the campaign ad wars for the June 3 - July 26 period studied in the survey. John McCain is spending more than Barack Obama in those four key battleground states and the RNC is stepping in to help bolster McCain's message."

McCain's biopsy came back clean (but only came back late enough so it wouldn't make the evening news).

And the Bill Clinton re-emergence tour of Africa has gotten off to a rocky start.

"As of 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday -- 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday in Addis Ababa, where the former president was about to start his day -- the press contingent was still stuck at an air terminal in Newark, more than 24 hours after the scheduled departure time," The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut reports. "No fewer than six technical problems had arisen, including: a shattered window, a broken air conditioning valve, an electrical fire, a problematic oxygen valve and a fussy fuel part."


Back on the presumptuousness front -- how, exactly, are the Kaine folks helping their man's case?

Kaine on Tuesday offered the observation that the list of Obama's possible running mates "seems to be getting shorter." "There has been a long list. It seems to be getting shorter. And I'm still being mentioned," said Kaine, D-Va., per ABC's Teddy Davis, Tahman Bradley, and Ayana Harry. "A lot can change day-to-day. But we'll see."

We will indeed. Said Kaine: "I haven't sought  it, I'm not running for it, I'm not asking for it."

The knocks on Kaine, per ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg and Howard L. Rosenberg: "He is a liberal-leaning Democrat from a mid-sized, conservative swing state who won election to the statehouse only three years ago. Before that he was mayor of Richmond, a mid-sized, insular Southern city that prides itself on having been the capital of the Confederacy. He has no foreign policy or defense experience, a credential deficit for which Obama has been criticized too. And he is virtually unknown on the national stage."

"I'm going to keep things safe and sober and say that Kaine's chances, at this point, are no better than the rest of the rumored shortlisters: Joe Biden, Evan Bayh and Kathleen Sebelius," Andrew Romano writes at his Newsweek blog. "After all, the buzz is coming from 'several sources close to Kaine'--in other words, excited people with a vested interest in keeping Kainemania alive."

An odd cancellation gets tongues wagging anew: "Due to a 'scheduling problem,' has learned that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will not attend tomorrow night's Unity '08 Fundraiser for the Maryland Democratic State Central Committee as previously planned."

"So, does he double down -- or does he compensate?" Time's Michael Duffy writes. "Of course, Obama could try to split the difference. And parked somewhere between these poles is Senator Evan Bayh, a moderate Democrat from Indiana who has been a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services committees and backed Hillary Clinton during the primary but has kept a comparatively low profile despite a decade in Washington."

"No secret meetings today," Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., tells ABC's Matt Jaffe.

We're almost certainly looking for clues in the wrong places: "The real vetting, though, is a labor born of shoe leather that has taken Democratic lawyers and researchers to a number of places across the country in a secretive quest to pore over each chapter in the lives of prospective running mates, all in the hunt for anything embarrassing, distracting or otherwise problematic," Jeff Zeleny reports in The New York Times.

"One point of inquiry, for instance, is a batch of old legal files in Richmond, Va., where death penalty cases of a young civil rights lawyer named Tim Kaine are being reviewed. Mr. Kaine is now the governor of Virginia, but his work from two decades ago is suddenly a subject of at least some of the political detective work being conducted on a handful of Democrats," Zeleny writes.

On timing: "Yet Mr. Obama has not conducted formal sit-down interviews with candidates, aides say, and a decision is believed to be weeks away, not days."

Also doing the classic sidestep (though more deftly, for what it's worth: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan. "All the surrogates have been asked to [refer questions to the campaign], for months and it's what I'm complying with," she said, per ABC's Kate McCarthy.

Obama on Wednesday campaigns with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. -- who's said she hasn't submitted documents to vetters.

Why should any woman not named Clinton be off the list? "Isn't this attitude completely antithetical to the notion of breaking glass ceilings?" ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "Didn't she run not just so she could be president, but so it would be easier for other women to do so?"

On the other side: "McCain can go in two very different directions with his choice, and he's not decided which path to take, sources close to McCain tell ABC News," per ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg and Howard L. Rosenberg. "One route is to tap a conservative who's generally popular with the base. The other is a less-traveled path: an out-of-the box moderate/conservative who could also have cross-over appeal with all those blue-collar Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton."

"Some analysts now say McCain might gain more of an advantage by waiting until the last possible moment," Michael Kranish writes in The Boston Globe. "Obama must announce his pick by the time of the Democratic convention during the last week of August. McCain can wait until the following week, when the Republican convention is held."

A play by Pawlenty? "Imagine logging on to your secured personal medical Web profile, checking results of previous lab tests, doing a few quick price comparisons on treatment options, then using your flexible spending account debit card to pay for eligible out-of-pocket costs," Patricia Lopez reports in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "That's what could soon be in store for all Minnesotans and what will be reality for the state's 50,000 employees as early as next year, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Tuesday in a major health-care rollout that he said puts Minnesota in the forefront of consumer-friendly medicine."

The latest from Lieberman: "It's not clear yet but you might just see me there," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.,tells the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody. " I've said to my dear friend McCain John if you think I can help you by speaking at the Republican convention then I'll go."

Take a name off the list (we suppose): "Perhaps the most improbable pairing to emerge so far in the vice presidential guessing game -- the bizarre prospect floated in recent days that Barack Obama would tap former Bush administration Cabinet member Ann Veneman as his running mate -- apparently can be put out to a well-deserved pasture," Don Frederick blogs for the Los Angeles Times.

The Sked:

Paths crossing -- almost: "In the first of what could be many close encounters, John McCain and Barack Obama will both be campaigning in Missouri tomorrow, the first time the two candidates have hit the same battleground state on the same day since the general election started," ABC's Karen Travers and Gregory Wallace report.

Obama has public events on his schedule (!) in Missouri. He has an 11 am ET town-hall meeting in Springfield, a 4 pm ET event in Rolla, and an evening barbecue in Union, with McCaskill spending the day at his side.

From the Obama campaign: "Today, Barack Obama will be travelling to Springfield, MO where he'll kick off a bus tour on economic security.  After meeting with his top economic advisers Monday and discussing the nation's economic challenges with Treasury Secretary Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Bernanke Tuesday, Obama will host two economic town halls in Missouri."

Greeting Obama in Springfield: "When people seeking tickets for today's rally in Springfield showed up Monday afternoon to a shopping center in Nixa where Obama's new Christian County field office is supposed to be, they were greeted by a table and a couple of campaign workers," Chad Livengood reports in the Springfield News-Leader. "The ticket giveaway was held outside because the Obama campaign doesn't actually have the keys to the retail storefront it was promoting as its new Nixa office at 270 W. Mount Vernon St. In fact, the Obama campaign is not even on the lease -- yet, according to the property's real estate agent."

McCain has a 12:45 pm ET event in Colorado, and ends his day with a fundraiser in Kansas City.

President Bush has a Cabinet meeting and will make an 11:15 am ET statement in the Rose Garden, on energy policy.

The president signed the housing bill early Wednesday. Statement from the White House: "We look forward to put in place new authorities to improve confidence and stability in markets, and to provide better oversight for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Federal Housing Administration will begin to implement new policies intended to keep more deserving American families in their homes."

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

Stevens Indictment:

Is this how the Incredible Hulk falls -- tubes and all?

ABC's Jake Tapper and Theresa Cook: "Sen. Ted Stevens, one of 18 Republican Senators running for reelection this year, was indicted today by a federal grand jury for seven felony counts of making false statements."

The unreported gifts include "renovations to Steven's home such as a first floor, a wrap-around deck, 'a new Viking gas range, a tool storage cabinet and an automobile exchange in which Senator Stevens received a new vehicle worth far more than what he provided in exchange' -- namely a 1999 Land Rover Discovery swapped out for Stevens' 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang and $5,000," Tapper and Cook report.

It's "a major development that all but ensures that Dems will make a major Senate seat pickup in a state that hasn't elected a Dem to Congress since 1974," Eric Kleefeld writes for Talking Points Memo. "In short, what was already a bad map for the Senate GOP just got a whole lot worse."

Stevens' six-way GOP primary is less than a month away, and Democrats have to feel good about their chances in November. (And check out how united Democratic candidates were in demanding their opponents sever ties to the longest-serving Republican in the Senate.)

"The indictment makes Democrat Mark Begich a favorite in November to capture the Senate seat Stevens has occupied since 1968," Bloomberg's Christopher Stern and Nicholas Johnston report. "The mayor of Anchorage, Alaska's biggest city, Begich was already in a close race with Stevens, whose house was raided last year by federal agents investigating his dealings with Veco."

Ye olde national implications: "Some Republican strategists in Washington expressed concern that his legal troubles -- and resulting political vulnerability -- could move the Democrats closer to achieving a 60-seat majority in the Senate," Chris Cillizza and Paul Kane write in The Washington Post.

And: "Alaska's three electoral votes could be in play . . . as the state's Republican hierarchy has been hit badly by political corruption -- as Stevens' indictment again underscores -- and Democrat Barack Obama has opened campaign offices there, the first Democratic presidential contender to do so in years," McClatchy's David Lightman writes.

Also in the news:

The New York Times' Jodi Kantor profiles (a very cautious) Professor Obama: "Before he helped redraw his own State Senate district, making it whiter and wealthier, he taught districting as a racially fraught study in how power is secured. And before he posed what may be the ultimate test of racial equality -- whether Americans will elect a black president -- he led students through African-Americans' long fight for equal status."

Obama tends his base: "Barack Obama met privately Tuesday with a group of women leaders, seeking their endorsement and also raising a sore point -- the issue of gender bias in his Democratic primary fight with Hillary Rodham Clinton," Peter Nicholas and Mark Z. Barabak write in the Los Angeles Times. "Participants at the hourlong meeting at a Washington hotel said that the session went well and that it focused mainly on winning in November."

Help from his friends: "The AFL-CIO has sent out a mail piece to '600,000 union swing voters' households' seeking to dispel rumors about Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., regarding the American flag, the Bible, Christianity, whether he was born in the U.S., and whether he puts his hand over his heart for the pledge of allegiance," per ABC's Teddy Davis and James Gerber.

Help from more friends: Media Matters is up with an ad arguing that the media hearts McCain, not Obama.

The DNC swings, again, at McCain over offshore drilling.

An invitation Obama isn't likely to accept: "Senator Obama: Consider this an official invitation for a debate with McCain before The Chronicle's editorial board. . . . Senator McCain gets extra points for proposing a unglossed, unscripted, groundbreaking version of the presidential debate in the bluest of states and at a newspaper that last endorsed a Republican for president in 1992."

Watch this in Florida: "The pending merger of American beer giant Anheuser-Busch and a Belgian company that brews and sells beer in Cuba is thrusting John McCain into the middle of thorny Cuba-U.S. relations," McClatchy's Lesley Clark writes. "McCain's wife, Cindy, owns the third largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the country -- which means she would stand to profit by partnering with a company that is in business with the Cuban government."

They may be cramped in Denver, but they'll be loud: "The city will provide two loudspeakers outside the protest zone near the Pepsi Center, according to court documents. Protesters inside the fenced zone may use the amplification system, or bring their own bullhorns," Sara Burnett reports in the Rocky Mountain News.

They want to be louder in St. Paul: "A growing number of local groups planning events to counter the Republican National Convention are objecting to how St. Paul is handling their permit requests, and many want Mayor Chris Coleman to intervene," Jason Hoppin writes in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. "The groups hope to pressure the DFL mayor, who has been a steadfast champion of the Republican event despite his political leanings. That raises the stakes for Coleman, who risks being seen as tied to a national GOP event when he is likely to ask voters in heavily Democratic St. Paul to re-elect him next year."

The Kicker:

"If you don't have any questions, I can tell you a lot of interesting stories." -- President Bush, met with silence when asking a gathering in Cleveland whether anyone had any questions for him.

"I'm no rocket scientist, but it's obvious that many of these other photos were taken on the boat and do not include Sen. Kerry or his friends because they were never there." -- David Wade, aide to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on photos posted at purported to be of Kerry partying with a group of college-aged women.

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