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.

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