The Note: Old Sweet Song

If it's 3 a.m. in the race -- does it matter what time zone a candidate is in?

If the Russians are acting like Soviets -- does it help to think Czechoslovakia still exists?

Will Mark Penn's strategy become Sen. John McCain's? (And which tapes exactly did Penn want released?)

It's not a terrible time for Penn's visage to reemerge: The Russia-Georgia conflict -- with its memories of bad-old-days Cold War flare-ups -- just may reorder the race in the same way Penn wanted to back when he tried to sound a middle-of-the-night wakeup call.

That's McCain's play -- and a vacationing Sen. Barack Obama can hope that that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is really in control -- that when he orders hostilities cease, as he did early Tuesday, no one has other ideas.

"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 writes in The Wall Street Journal. "As such, the conflict gave Sen. Obama the opportunity to show that he is indeed prepared, but it also gave prominence to foreign policy, one of the few areas where polling shows that Sen. McCain has a clear advantage with voters."

With President Bush stepping up his rhetoric upon his return from the Olympics, this may be one area where McCain is happy to see him.

This is Obama, D-Ill., playing a bit of catch-up -- with a lovely Hawaiian backdrop: "No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia and has now violated the space of another country," he told reporters in Kailua Monday.

For McCain, R-Ariz., it's a double whammy: He gets to highlight his experience, plus put some space between himself and President Bush. (Remember those letters McCain saw when he looked into Putin's eyes? McCain wants you to.)

"The crisis has played mostly to McCain's advantage," Time's Massimo Calabresi writes. "Obama's campaign made two early missteps. First, in its initial statement, it called for restraint from both Russia and Georgia. . . . Then Obama's campaign released a statement questioning McCain's objectivity in the crisis because a top McCain aide, Randy Scheunemann, had lobbied for the Georgians."

Experience (maybe) counts: "Senator John McCain, who has met the Republic of Georgia's president and whose chief foreign policy adviser has lobbied for the country, responded to the news Friday with visceral anger, condemning Russian forces' crossing into Georgia and warning of 'grave' repercussions in long-term relations between Moscow and Washington," Michael Kranish writes in The Boston Globe. "Senator Barack Obama, who has never been to Georgia, initially seemed reticent to single out Russia for criticism, issuing a general call on Friday for ending 'the outbreak of violence.' "

"The intensifying warfare in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has put a new focus on the increasingly hard line that Senator John McCain has taken against Russia in recent years, with stances that have often gone well beyond those of the Bush administration and its focus on engagement," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times.

"His hard line has been derided as provocative, and possibly dangerous, by some so-called realist foreign policy experts, who warn that isolating Russia would do little to encourage it to change," writes Cooper. "But others, including neoconservatives who deem promoting democracy a paramount goal, see Mr. McCain's position as principled, and prescient."

"This moment calls for more than playacting, yet Obama looks lost without a presidential script," Jonah Goldberg writes in his Los Angeles Times column. "Perhaps this is not a time for a novice spouting grand rhetoric about a new page in history, but for someone who's actually read the pages of some old, but still relevant, books. Perhaps this is not the time for playacting. Perhaps it is not the time for body surfing?"

And yet -- is this the era of American politics where you want neocons on your side?

Obama "tempered his comments, saying: 'We seek a future of cooperative engagement with the Russian government and friendship with the Russian people,' " Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The contrasting tenor of their statements came as aides to both presidential candidates scrambled to reconfigure their policies toward Russia -- reckoning with a war that, analysts said, marked a major turning point in the already tense relationship between Russia and the United States."

McCain's challenge is to elevate the conflict into something that matters to voters who are more interested in Michael Phelps than Vladimir Putin. "If voters ultimately don't get exercised over what's now occurring in Georgia, it won't be for McCain's lack of trying," Frank James blogs for the Chicago Tribune.

Does it register? "My guess is that most Americans see this as an obscure regional dispute, not a portentous historical moment akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall," writes The New Republic's Michael Crowley. "There was much talk in December that Benazir Bhutto's assassination would boost Hillary Clinton, who, much like McCain does now, claimed that such a reminder of our perilous world argued for someone with her 'experience' in the White House. Iowa voters didn't buy it and I'd guess much the same will go for McCain."

(Bubbling up in the blogosphere: "A Wikipedia editor emailed Political Wire to point out some similarities between Sen. John McCain's speech today on the crisis in Georgia and the Wikipedia article on the country Georgia," Taegan Goddard writes. "Given the closeness of the words and sentence structure, most would consider parts of McCain's speech to be derived directly from Wikipedia.")

McCain has the benefit of actually campaigning while the crisis unfolds -- he's in Pennsylvania Tuesday for a second straight day.

Might Penn's old playbook come out for the general? Notice that McCain on Monday sprinkled in a reference to Obama's "bitter" comments.

"Implicit in [McCain's] approach is an attempt to portray Mr. Obama as different, or alien, from many Americans, reinforcing a reluctance that polls suggest many Americans have about voting for this newcomer," Adam Nagourney writes for The New York Times. "Hence the references to his years at Harvard, his years in Chicago's Hyde Park, his affection for frequent gym visits and the food he eats, or to the McCain camp's use of words intended to make Mr. Obama seem elite or effete."

Says Obama strategist David Axelrod: "Obviously, his strategists met on the portico of the McCain estate in Sedona -- or maybe in one of his six other houses -- and decided what line of attack they were going to use."

Is there something more basic in Obama's seeming inability to pull away? "Call me crazy, but isn't it possible, just possible, that Obama's lead is being inhibited by the fact that he is, you know, black?" John Heilemann writes for New York magazine. "The desire to ignore the elephant in the room is easy to understand, but Obama will not have that luxury."

Maybe it's Obama, not McCain, who has an age problem: "If the senator from Illinois is going to achieve his goal of bridging the nation's divides, he is going to have to overcome a generation gap with older voters unlike any such split a Democratic presidential nominee has faced in years," Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post.

"Even as younger voters are showing signs of breaking with years of lackluster turnout to support him, Obama is facing singular resistance from voters over 65. That age group turns out at the highest rate on Election Day and is disproportionately represented in the swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania," he writes. "Surveys and interviews suggest that older voters think McCain, who will turn 72 this month, comes far closer than Obama, 47, to sharing their values and outlook on the world and on the changes in the nation over the past half-century."

(If you want a vivid display of the age gap -- Blender magazine has the details of the candidates' iPods.)

As for Mr. Penn . . . the Clinton memos, obtained by The Atlantic's Joshua Green, are a lovely addition to the '08 archives. To pick just a few quotes from internal memos that may live in infamy: "The cupboard is empty"; "They do not want someone who would be the first mama"; "You are the Bobby"; "Move your cars!"

ABC's Jake Tapper takes note of one intriguing Penn-gram, designed for post-Iowa two-way race: "on Friday we do a media interviews [sic] and basically say that he is unvetted, discuss his ever-changing positions. Release the tapes. Create immediate pressure that deprives him of oxygen." (The tapes?)

Is this a hint? In defense of negative ads: "So far in the 2008 contest, neither candidate has connected with any ads that explosive," Penn writes in a Politico column. "But fresh information about their past views in their own words could shake up the race." (Fresh information?)

Bottom line on Camp Clinton: Things were worse than we thought. "While Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigned for president by offering herself as a sure-handed, competent successor to President Bush, her campaign team of highly paid advisers was riven by back-biting, poor management and conflicting strategies that contributed to her loss," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times.

Writes Green: "In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles' heel."

The latest from Clinton supporters still pressing for a roll-call vote that includes their candidate's name:

"Many of those involved in the campaign, which they say is a matter of respect and acknowledgement of 18 million voters who backed Clinton, argue that the nomination of the New York senator is a matter of historic and political precedent at such party conventions," Carla Marinucci writes in the San Francisco Chronicle. "And they're chafing at reports that the campaign of the Illinois senator is resisting the efforts -- and even hoping to avoid a roll-call vote."

"It's a nominating convention, not a coronation," said Garry Mauro, a former Texas land commissioner "who will go to his 10th Democratic national convention this month as a Clinton delegate."

Also from the annals of unity: "The Colorado Democratic Party would like Boulder delegate Sacha Millstone, who is devoted to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, to give up her spot as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention," The Denver Post's Allison Sherry reports. "Isn't there a right to free speech?" Millstone asks.

How about some advice from the politician whose campaign started Clinton on her path?

Actually, this is advice to Obama from George McGovern: Don't be like me. "That convention [in 1972] failed to do what a great national convention should do, which is to show the party and show the nominee for president in the best possible light, without a lot of distractions, without a lot of floor battles on television at the convention, without a lot of bitterness," McGovern tells the Rocky Mountain News' M.E. Sprengelmeyer, in the latest installment of his fascinating "Unconventional Wisdom" series.

"We did something that theretofore was regarded as impossible," McGovern recalled. "We went down in public approval after that convention. Very sad."

A loose end from the Edwards affair: "Along with 'Who's the daddy?' one big unanswered question in the John Edwards affair is: Who ratted him out to the National Enquirer?" Tina Moore and Helen Kennedy report in the New York Daily News. "What's clear is that for more than a year, someone has been feeding Edwards' darkest secrets to the weekly, which reported last October that the presidential candidate had a mistress and then revealed in December that she was pregnant."

"A mystery figure in the case is Robert Phillip McGovern, the go-between who set up the July 21 encounter between Edwards and Hunter that turned into a National Enquirer ambush. McGovern, 64, a friend of Hunter, is a New Age 'healer.' "

The Sked:

McCain has an 11:45 am ET town hall meeting in York, Pa., and raises money in New Jersey Tuesday evening.

Obama has an evening fundraiser in Honolulu -- the only scheduled event during his vacation week.

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

The Veepstakes:

In Pennsylvania Monday, surely this wasn't McCain crossing a name off his short list? Asked about his plans for his first 90 days in the White House, McCain said he'd "call Tom Ridge to Washington from whatever vacation he is taking and get him down there, and get him to work."

"Some McCain strategists believe a moderate Republican like Ridge or Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman would open up the party to new voters, but fear they could also drive away Christian conservatives," ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday.

"In these dog days of August as Veepstakes fever overtakes the national political press, could it be that McCain was saying something more?" ABC's Bret Hovell asks.

The New York Times' Carl Hulse looks at the downside of Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.: "Mr. Bayh's support of authorizing force in Iraq stands in sharp contrast to Mr. Obama's oft-stated view that he showed the good judgment to oppose the conflict from the start. After his vote, Mr. Bayh in early 2003 joined Mr. McCain as an honorary co-chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which made regime change in Iraq its central cause."

"Mr. Bayh's record points up the risks and rewards for Mr. Obama of adding a running mate from a Republican-leaning state, someone whose votes and credentials could compensate for perceived weaknesses of Mr. Obama but potentially alienate progressive Democrats crucial to Mr. Obama's success," Hulse continues.

"But admirers, some of whom are actively promoting Mr. Bayh as a No. 2, say he could complement Mr. Obama in areas like executive experience and economic expertise, while bolstering the image of a generational change. And his earlier allegiance to Mrs. Clinton could help soothe disgruntled Clinton supporters."

More on Bayh -- from ABC's Teddy Davis and Rigel Anderson: "G8 membership is not usually a front-line political issue. But will Evan Bayh's vote to kick Russia out of the G8 -- something John McCain has proposed that Barack Obama has criticized -- become fodder for the McCain campaign?"

When's the text message going out? "Early next week, according to circumstantial evidence, as well as some information imparted on the condition of anonymity,"The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.

McCain has the advantage of having been here before: "Mr. McCain's experiences in 1988 and 1996, his flirtation with the vice president's role in 2000 and even his handling of 2004 may offer clues to what the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is seeking in his own running mate and how he will go about choosing," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times.

Also in the news:

The energy wars continue: The DNC remembers "Big John" -- and knows how to rhyme in a new Web video. "Exxon John, when it comes to Big Oil, more of the same while the rest of us toil . . . Exxon John."   Team McCain is getting a serious amount of mileage out of its Obama-as-celebrity frame: Another new Web ad even credits Obama will upping taco sales in Missouri.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gets in the act: "It's interesting to hear Sen. McCain talk about bringing Congress back," Pelosi told Larry King Monday night. "He wasn't even in Congress when we had two very important bills on energy."

Is she open to a vote on offshore drilling? "They have this thing that says drill offshore in the protected areas," she said. "We can do that. We can have a vote on that. . . . But it has to be part of something that says we want to bring immediate relief to the public and is not just a hoax on them."

And she doesn't buy the Howard Wolfson theory of Edwards costing Clinton Iowa. "I don't buy that," Pelosi said. "You don't know. Who knows? How does he know that?"

Humming just above the radar: An Obama radio ad in Wisconsin swings back at McCain for the motorcycle rally: "When it comes to his record, American-made motorcycles like Harleys don't matter to John McCain. Back in Washington, McCain opposed a requirement that the government buy American-made motorcycles. He said all 'Buy American' provisions were, quote, 'disgraceful.' "

McCain money scrutiny: "A political watchdog group called for investigations Monday to determine whether fundraisers for John McCain's presidential campaign arranged illegal 'straw' donations -- contributions from people who did not spend their own money," McClatchy's Greg Gordon reports. "Campaign Money Watch urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey to probe the activities of Florida defense contractor Harry Sargeant III, who is credited with raising more than $500,000 for the campaign. It also questioned $57,000 in donations from an office manager for the oil giant, the Hess Corp., and her husband, a railroad foreman."

Now in Ohio: "Barns for Obama." The Los Angeles Times' Kate Linthicum: "What's next? Tractors for Truth? Cornfields for Change? Hogs for Hope?"

Checking in on Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. Bloomberg's Ken Fireman gets a prominent Alaskan to call for the end. "He has served Alaska for 40 years, but his time is over," said former Gov. Walter Hickel, who launched Stevens's Senate career by appointing him to a vacancy in 1968.

That was quick: "Now you see her, now you don't. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu recently was listed as a co-host for a Washington fundraiser for the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois," Gerard Shields reports for the Baton Rough Advocate. "But just as quickly as the Web site invitation was up, the Louisiana Democrat's name was dropped as a host for the $100-per-person event titled 'Girls Night Out: Lipstick, Laughter and Libations.' "

Wow, St. Paul is going to be . . . something. "While excitement is building for a Democratic Party convention capped by Barack Obama's historic acceptance speech before a sold-out, 75,000-seat football stadium, the GOP convention the following week is shaping up to be a considerably more staid affair, marked by the conspicuous absence of many of the usual convention attendees," Richard T. Cullen writes for Politico.

But the beer sounds tasty. "Saint Paul/Minneapolis area craft brewers are ready to release several special beers for delegates and other attendees of the Republican National Convention, available in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota area," per the Washington Examiner.

They're worried in Denver: "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night can deter a postal carrier from appointed rounds, but Democrats will for five days during the national convention," Joey Bunch writes for The Denver Post. "Mail at about 12,000 downtown Denver homes and businesses will be delivered, on average, an hour and half earlier during convention week."

The Kicker:

"Nobody likes a funeral." -- A Senate Republican press secretary, speaking to Politico on condition of anonymity, on why so few Republican incumbents are excited about the Republican National Convention.

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