The Note: Image Nation

What we'd like to know this Wednesday:

1. How many Obamacans does it take to equal a Lieberman? (And what will it take to finagle a Hagel?)

2. Will it be enough to throw the book at Sen. Barack Obama this fall? (And no, it won't be one that belongs to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright after all.)

3. Do external events convince Obama to go in a different direction with his running mate? (And does a "keynote" Virginian -- and one who is very much not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- mean no-Kaine-do?)

4. What is the state of Obama's finances really? (And how many donors do you have to have before you're staying at one's house by pure coincidence?)

5. Is it better if we're all Georgians or all Germans? (And is Sen. John McCain really approving the messages he's airing?)

Here's one thing we know about Obama: He's maintained control of his image -- but just barely. It's all out there -- the rumors, the innuendos, the outright dirty vile hatred -- at just enough volume to register, yet just quietly enough to be ignored.

That might be about to change. (Flashbacks, anyone?) Jerome Corsi is back, this time with anti-Obama screed that's rocketing up the charts and bouncing through the talk radio/Website echo chamber faster than it can be fact-checked away.

The book is set to debut at No 1. on The New York Times bestseller list. (And you thought Democrats were worried about the direction of Obama's campaign before?)

"Almost exactly four years after that campaign [against Sen. John Kerry] began, Mr. Corsi has released a new attack book painting Senator Barack Obama, the Democrats' presumed presidential nominee, as a stealth radical liberal who has tried to cover up 'extensive connections to Islam' -- Mr. Obama is Christian -- and questioning whether his admitted experimentation with drugs in high school and college ever ceased," Jim Rutenberg and Julie Bosman write in The New York Times.

"Significant parts of the book, whose subtitle is 'Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,' have already been challenged as misleading or false in the days since its debut on Aug. 1. Nonetheless, it is to make its first appearance on The New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction hardcovers this Sunday -- at No. 1."

How key is this: "Mr. Obama's campaign has yet to weigh in heavily on Mr. Corsi's accusations. It appears to face the classic decision between the risk of publicizing the book's claims by addressing them and the risk of letting them sink into the public debate with no response," Rutenberg and Bosman write.

Says Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor: "We will respond to these smears forcefully."

Obama is spared, at least, further Wright ruminations: "There will be no book coming in October because Rev. Wright has not written a new book," ABC's Teddy Davis and Rigel Anderson report. "A statement to the news media will be released on Wednesday according to a spokesperson for Trinity United Church of Christ."

The real question to emerge of the Clinton memos -- other than who was behind the parking debacle, and who constituted the "cabal": Will McCain take Mark Penn's ball and run with it? And, ultimately, will McCain reinforce the libelous junk that's out there on Obama with suggestions that have just enough truth to hold up?

"Clinton's campaign never did quite become the flag-waving, patriotic operation that Penn envisioned in March 2007, nor did she ever go as overtly negative as he was preaching in March and April 2008. Would she be the nominee if she had? And can McCain win the presidency if he -- carefully -- pursues a similar path?" The Washington Post's Dan Balz wonders.

"McCain risks damaging his reputation as a politician who has eschewed the politics of negativity," he continues. "But what was considered out of bounds in a Democratic primary campaign may be less so in a general-election race, in which other voters come into play. McCain will have to make some difficult judgments about this in the final 82 days."

"It's fair to say that most people thought it would really rebound on her," a former Clinton aide tells the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas.

Meanwhile, things chug along in happy Democrat-land. The Democratic National Convention schedule continues to fill out -- and Clinton supporters are going to have to decide how they feel about someone else giving the "keynote."

Yes, it's just an honorific and nothing more -- and anyone named Clinton will capture plenty of limelight in Denver. (Pity the poor vice-presidential nominee who has to follow Bill on Wednesday -- not to mention the keynoter who has the honor of speaking post-Hillary.)

The keynote label is going to former governor Mark Warner, D-Va., like Obama before him a shoo-in for the Senate, the AP's Nedra Pickler reports. "The focus on Warner could help boost his prospects in Virginia, where he is trying to win an open Senate seat and Obama is also campaigning hard," Pickler writes.

(Does this check the Virginia box -- with apologies to Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va.? And the word on Warner went out in an e-mail to Obama's Virginia supporters -- maybe Obama campaign manager David Plouffe really is serious about breaking running-mate news via text messaging. . . . )

But with two nights belonging to Clintons -- whose convention is it, again?

Maureen Dowd has an answer: "Now they've made Barry's convention all about them -- their dissatisfaction and revisionism and barely disguised desire to see him fail. Whatever insincere words of support the Clintons muster, their primal scream gets louder: He can't win! He can't close the deal! We told you so!" Dowd writes in her New York Times column.

"Hillary's orchestrating a play within the play in Denver. Just as Hamlet used the device to show that his stepfather murdered his father, Hillary will try to show the Democrats they chose the wrong savior," Dowd writes.

Maybe not so much. But though a roll-call vote including Clinton's name remains unlikely, the die-hards persist: "What we want, if we still can, is to save the Democratic party from itself," "PUMA" co-founder Will Bower told CQ's Andrew Satter.

(Where do you file this messaging? Former Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson told Fox News Tuesday that he's heard Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is being considered for Obama's ticket: "I have heard some rumors to that effect. Look, John Kerry has been vetted. He ran for president. I think he would be a strong choice. He'd be a good choice, especially in the context of foreign policy.")

Convention scheduling just may leave room for some of these folks: Republicans for Obama has been formally launched, with former Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee, former Iowa congressman Jim Leach, and former Bush fundraiser Rita Hauser headlining the new group.

Said Chafee (who eagerly received McCain's help in his unsuccessful 2006 reelection bid): "Seeing the two different John McCains is a fracture in his credibility."

In this race for the center, these are folks worth watching: "Their reasons for crossing party lines are diverse, ranging from the war in Iraq to overspending in Washington, and signal unhappiness not just with the candidacy of Republican Sen. John McCain, but with the Republican Party as a whole," Elizabeth Holmes and Amy Chozick write in The Wall Street Journal. "The departure underscores the GOP's struggle to define itself in the shadow of an unpopular president and in the wake of defeat in the 2006 midterm election."

"With so many voters seeking an end to partisan gridlock, both Obama and McCain have long been delivering a message of uniting the country," ABC's Jake Tapper and Natalie Gewargis report. "And they have remarkably equal appeal across the aisle --13 percent of Democrats say they're likely to vote for McCain; 13 percent of Republicans prefer Obama."

The Obamacan crowd would love to see Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., on Obama's ticket. But Hagel's staying out -- at least for now: "Senator Hagel has no intention of getting involved in any of the campaigns and is not planning to endorse either candidate," Hagel spokesman Jordan Stark tells USA Today's Kathy Kiely.

And so Obama is still looking for his Joe Lieberman, almost certainly in the convention line-up (as the keynote or just notable).

Lieberman, I-Conn., gets stronger in his words by the day: "In my opinion, the choice could not be more clear: between one candidate, John McCain, who's had experience, been tested in war and tried in peace, another candidate who has not,'' Lieberman said Tuesday in York, Pa. "Between one candidate, John McCain, who has always put the country first, worked across party lines to get things done, and one candidate who has not."

Lieberman tells ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg and Howard L. Rosenberg: "If there's one public official who has consistently put his country ahead of his party, working across party lines to get things done in Washington, it is John McCain. . . . It's not Barack Obama, with all respect." (The respect, we're sure, is appreciated.)

Other than the keynote announcement, new from the Obama campaign Wednesday: "The Obama campaign will also announce a new TV ad today focused on the economy to air beginning Thursday in battleground states," campaign spokesman Bill Burton says.

New from the McCain campaign Wednesday: time to celebrate an anniversary. "One year ago today, Barack Obama accused our men and women in Afghanistan of 'just air-raiding villages and killing civilians' in this country's fight against radical Islamic extremism. Whether those words were a product of inexperience or just bad judgment, they were not the kind of words we expect from any candidate for our nation's highest office."

He gets to do this because he's the one campaigning this week: "During the Republican primaries, McCain rarely mentioned his history of collaborating with Democrats such as [Sen. Ted] Kennedy, partly because their joint effort last year to promote immigration reform angered many GOP voters. Lately, however, in states such as Pennsylvania, McCain has sprinkled the names of Democrats into his remarks," Seema Mehta writes in the Los Angeles Times.

"At the same time, while in the Keystone State, McCain has tried to exploit a comment Obama made this year that people in small towns in Pennsylvania and elsewhere 'cling' to guns and religion because of economic uncertainty."

"His reprise of the 'bitter' flap -- an off-the-cuff remark made by Mr. Obama at a private fundraising event in San Francisco prior to Pennsylvania's April primary -- harkened back to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's successful campaign in the state," S.A. Miller writes in the Washington Times. (More on this later.)

But don't call it negative: "We're not sending any negative message in our campaign," McCain said on NPR's "Morning Edition" Wednesday morning. "I've never heard Steve Schmidt say we need a negative message in the campaign. . . . I've run many, many campaigns and I have never believed that we need a strong negative message."

Really? No negative messaging? "Millions of TV viewers are seeing negative political ads during the Olympics, a gamble by Republican John McCain that the sheer size of the audience outweighs any potential backlash against sharp rhetoric during a feel-good event," USA Today's Jill Lawrence reports. "The claims in both [McCain] ads, that Obama voted to raise taxes on lower-income people and will raise them as president, have been labeled false or misleading by and, non-partisan fact-checking groups that say Obama proposes tax cuts for lower-income people."

The latest from Hawaii: "According to the campaign, it is a mere coincidence that Obama, his family and friends from Chicago are staying on a sprawling Kailua beach estate owned by Jill Tate Higgins, a California businesswoman who Federal Election Commission reports show has contributed $2,300 to his campaign over the past year," Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reports.

And he showed some toe: "Barack Obama stepped out in Honolulu wearing a dreaded summer men's wear combo: Pants and flip-flops," Amy Diluna writes for the New York Daily News. "In the city, it is a fashion disaster of epic proportions: The rarely attractive toes peeking out from the bottom of trousers, the proximity of piggies to pavement and the filthy residue that sticks. It's a sandal scandal."

Newsweek's Andrew Romano is sick of it: "My point is WHO CARES. Last month, the Republicans were trying to insinuate that Obama's predilections for exercise, organic tea and chocolate roasted-peanut protein bars somehow disqualified him from the presidency. Now they're saying that spending a week near his childhood home--and his elderly grandmother -- is proof of his snobbery. Here's hoping that America's voters aren't as silly as its pundits."

A new question on the McCain campaign's Georgia ties: "Sen. John McCain's top foreign policy adviser prepped his boss for an April 17 phone call with the president of Georgia and then helped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepare a strong statement of support for the fledgling republic," Matthew Mosk and Jeffrey Birnbaum write in The Washington Post. "The day of the call, a lobbying firm partly owned by the adviser, Randy Scheunemann, signed a $200,000 contract to continue providing strategic advice to the Georgian government in Washington."

Think McCain sees an opening? "McCain's rhetoric has become increasingly sharp. On Tuesday, he called Russia an unrepentant combatant against a 'brave little nation' and compared Russian 'killing' in the 'tiny little democracy' to Soviet aggression during the Cold War era," Michael Shear and Alec MacGillis report in The Washington Post.

They continue: "Obama's more nuanced tone may reflect the debate going on among his advisers, who say they must bear in mind the messy geopolitical reality that America relies on Russia on a host of issues, from Iran to nuclear proliferation to energy and climate change."

"What remains to be seen is whether the endgame to the Georgia crisis makes McCain seem prophetic or headstrong and whether his muscular rhetoric plays a role in defining for voters the kind of commander in chief he would be," Politico's Ben Smith writes. "What is not in doubt is McCain's view of Russia."

McCain knows President Saakashvili so well he calls him "Misha." And there's this: "I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, 'Today we are all Georgians,' " McCain said Tuesday, per ABC's Jake Tapper.

As for Obama: "He could not afford to be perceived as AWOL on this just because he is vacationing in his native Hawaii," Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. "Obama has issued three statements since Friday -- one read before cameras en route to Hawaii on Friday -- another session with cameras Monday, where he interrupted his Hawaiian vacation to call for a cease-fire and international intervention. At first he urged restraint for both nations, but that changed as Obama, President Bush and rival John McCain recognized Russia as responsible for bringing the countries to the brink of war."

Dems are stirring up: "Republican presidential candidate John McCain so far is ignoring calls from several watchdog groups to cancel an Atlanta fundraiser promoted by Ralph Reed, a longtime friend and business partner of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff," Susan Crabtree reports in The Hill.

"The oddity here is that much of the information about the Abramoff-Reed relationship was uncovered in an investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, chaired by John McCain," Al Kamen writes for The Washington Post.

What would it say about Obama's forthcoming numbers if there's something to this? "Senator Barack Obama will start looking the other way when it comes to the role 527s and other independent groups play in the election, a source close to his campaign told the Huffington Post," Sam Stein reports.

And while we're talking books -- anyone think this is just approximately 3 1/2 years late? From the press release: "Alexandra Kerry brings us inside the bubble of her father's bid for the presidency and traces her campaign experience from its infancy to her father's ultimate defeat."

The Sked:

McCain will be touring an aerospace and defense plant in Detroit on Wednesday, with a 2:15 pm ET public event.

Obama continues his weeklong Hawaiian vacation.

Meanwhile, the President and First Lady will participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Secretary of War suite, at 10:25 am ET.

Also in the news:

Of texts and subtexts: ABC's Kate Snow offers up the new McCain Web ad. "Notice anything? The women praising Obama are all white," Snow reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday. "Some ad watchers saw the same thing in the Britney-Paris McCain ad. Are the images an accident? Not usually."

Those tapes Mark Penn referred to just weren't that interesting: "The answer, according to former Clinton aide, is a set of tapes from Obama's Chicago days, showing him taking positions more liberal on issues from Cuba to marijuana than the ones he says he's always had," Politico's Ben Smith reports. "They ran on ABCNews and in the Washington Times, but didn't have much impact."

A veepstakes tidbit: Former rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, "has been rumored to be on John McCain's list of potential running mates, but says he hasn't been asked for the financial information required as part of a candidate's background check, and doesn't expect to be," per Eric Berman of WIBC radio in Indianapolis.

The John Edwards story won't go away: "A Texas publicist who says she was Rielle Hunter's confidant when her secret affair began with John Edwards is convinced the ex-senator fathered her friend's baby," per the New York Daily News. "She would not have a child with someone that she didn't love -- and she loves him," Pigeon O'Brien, "who says she was pals with Hunter for 20 years until they lost touch a year ago," told CBS.

Sally Quinn is upset -- with Elizabeth: "The problem is, SHE LET HIM DO IT. She not only agreed to his run for the presidency, she encouraged him to do it, knowing the toll it would take on the family given her health problems. But, worse, she let him do it knowing that he had had an affair," Quinn writes for Newsweek. "Yes, I want to smack John Edwards across the puss. But more than that I want Elizabeth Edwards to do it for me. Not just for me but for all of us."

A Barna Group poll is getting buzz in the religious/political community. "Among the 19 faith segments that The Barna Group tracks, evangelicals were the only segment to throw its support to Sen. McCain. Among the larger faith niches to support Sen. Obama are non-evangelical born again Christians (43% to 31%); notional Christians (44% to 28%); people aligned with faiths other than Christianity (56% to 24%); atheists and agnostics (55% to 17%); Catholics (39% vs. 29%); and Protestants (43% to 34%). In fact, if the current preferences stand pat, this would mark the first time in more than two decades that the born again vote has swung toward the Democratic candidate."

Writes David Brody, of the Christian Broadcasting Network: "The McCain campaign CAN NOT be satisfied with thinking Evangelicals and conservative faith voters will vote for McCain as long as they thoroughly demonize Obama. It won't work."

Here's a small hint as to why and how it's happening: "In an attempt to address the moral convictions of evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics, the Democratic Party has proposed a platform that speaks a new language on abortion rights, featuring a focus on reducing the number of abortions. If ratified at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, the language could usher more evangelical Christians and Catholics toward Sen. Barack Obama," Manya Brachear writes for the Chicago Tribune.

They're keeping his faith: "When John McCain and Barack Obama appear on the same stage Saturday at the sprawling religious campus of Orange County's Saddleback Church, their presence will vividly underline the reach that has made Pastor Rick Warren among the most significant evangelists of his generation," Duke Helfand reports for the Los Angeles Times.

Will work for ticket? "Some of those hoping to wrangle a seat for Barack Obama's speech were told this week they have to put in six hours of volunteer work for his campaign by Friday to have a shot at a ticket," Kevin Vaughan reports in the Rocky Mountain News.

But don't get out of line: "Some protesters arrested at the Democratic National Convention could be jailed in a city- owned warehouse, complete with metal cages and barbed wire, CBS4 News has learned. Investigative reporter Rick Sallinger discovered the location and managed to get inside Tuesday for a look. The newly created lockup, in a warehouse northeast of Denver, contains dozens of metal cages made of chain-link fence material, topped by rolls of barbed wire."

Better behave in St. Paul, too: "With thousands of protesters expected on the streets facing thousands of police officers, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is predicting that 800 people will be arrested during the week of the Republican National Convention and will have 75 lawyers on call to defend them," Randy Furst reports in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

New numbers in Pennsylvania: "Buoyed by a widespread disdain for President Bush and concern about the economy, Democrat Barack Obama holds a lead over Republican John McCain in the latest Daily News/Franklin & Marshall Poll," Dave Davies writes in the Philadelphia Daily News. "Obama leads McCain by eight points, 44 percent to 36 percent among registered voters, and by five points, 46 percent to 41 percent, among likely voters."

And New Jersey: "With the support of 94 percent of black voters and a 15-point lead among women, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama tops Arizona Sen. John McCain 51 – 41 percent among New Jersey likely voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. Independent voters go 45 percent for Sen. Obama and 42 percent for Sen. McCain."

Bloomberg's Laura Litvan looks ahead to the fall's fallout: "House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio was dumped from a top post 10 years ago after his party lost seats on Election Day. He may face another fall this year if Republicans lose too much ground in his home state."

Bouquets for everyone, from "Entrepreneur Jared Polis, the first openly gay candidate for Congress from Colorado, won the 2nd Congressional District's Democratic primary on Tuesday night," Jessica Fender reports in the Denver Post. "Polis is a favorite to succeed U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, because the seat is considered safe for Democrats. Udall is the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. . . . At $5.3 million at last count, Polis easily demolished previous Colorado records for self-funding a race."

The Kicker:

"Apparently we aren't worthy." -- McCain spokesman Brian Rogers, after the campaign had to remove "Wayne's World" footage from a Web ad when Mike Myers' people objected to its use.

"I have never texted or emailed Senator Obama. And I'll offer a million dollars to anyone who could prove otherwise." -- George Clooney, in a challenge worth pursuing.

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