The Note: Winner's Spoil

"Mr. McCain's campaign promised to take full advantage this week of Mr. Obama's absence -- for starters, Mr. McCain was scathing about his rival in his weekend radio address -- but up close and personal, Mr. McCain sounded as though he would not mind some August beach time himself," Elisabeth Bumiller writes in The New York Times.

Obama is ready for combat, even from the beach. His campaign launches a new ad Monday morning turning the "celebrity" theme on its head (with clips from "SNL" and talk shows, and "Washington" equaling "George W. Bush" for the sake of the visuals).

"Lurching to the right, then the left, the old Washington dance, whatever it takes," says the ad (which -- unlike McCain's latest attack spots, isn't part of the Olympic rotation). "John McCain. A Washington celebrity playing the same old Washington games."

Said Gov. Bill Richardson, to ABC's Jake Tapper on "This Week" Sunday: "Senator McCain is the Washington celebrity here."

We will learn this week whether McCain possesses the ability to drive a message. That depends, in part, on whether any campaign apparatus can survive the White Tornado.

"Even now, after a shake-up that aides said had brought an unusual degree of order to Mr. McCain's disorderly world in the last month, two of his pollsters are at odds over parts of the campaign's message, while past and current aides have been trading snippy exchanges debating the wisdom of attack advertisements he has aimed at Mr. Obama," Adam Nagourney and Jim Rutenberg write in the Sunday New York Times.

"For now, Mr. McCain's executive style looms as a potential obstacle to his hopes of getting to the White House," they continue. "His campaign has been rocked by personnel changes and often well-publicized differences. And for all the efforts to maintain discipline, he continues to be plagued by misstatements and apparent gaffes as he at times bucks what his own campaign is trying to do."

Can McCain survive his own makeover? "Democrats, sensing a weakness, have started to chant that this year's John McCain is not the voluble insurgent who terrorized his party's establishment eight years ago," Nicholas Riccardi and Maeve Reston write in the Los Angeles Times.

"This debate over McCain's maverick-ness reflects a new challenge in his second bid for the presidency: the dilution of the McCain brand," they continue. "To win the GOP primary this year, McCain embraced party dogma in ways big and small, from switching his opposition to President Bush's tax cuts, which he had criticized as skewed to the rich, to making amends with religious leaders he once denounced as 'agents of intolerance.' "

Then there's hostilities in Georgia -- a corner of the world McCain knows well, involving a world leader he's long had a skeptical eye one. (McCain makes a 9 am ET "statement to the press" Monday in Pennsylvania -- starting the week off on his own terms.)

"The violence between Russia and Georgia quickly thrust foreign policy into the U.S. presidential election, with John McCain standing to benefit and Barack Obama facing a more perilous situation," Laura Meckler reports in The Wall Street Journal. "The candidates' responses to the crisis were initially very different in tone. Sen. McCain forcefully blamed Russia, a country he has taken a hard stand on in the past. . . . Sen. Obama's initial response was more measured, not blaming either side."

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