Now that Paris and Britney have been replaced by Vladimir and Dmitry, things look very serious for Sen. Barack Obama in a race that's seen its landscape shift faster than shaved ice melts in the Kailua sun.
(If he could only figure out that Hillary thing before we get to Denver . . . )
(And the poll we've all been waiting for has arrived -- the one that declares the race just about even.)
Yet on the home front, it's Sen. John McCain who's playing a dangerous game, even while he has the field all to himself.
While he's busy trying not to reignite the Cold War, is he restarting a GOP civil war? (And might a war hero be ready to enter Obamaland -- though not, he says at the convention.)
It's easy to forget, amid the Democratic discord, the difficulty with which so many key Republican players swallowed the notion of a McCain nomination.
And they have this to chew on now: "I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party," McCain tells The Weekly Standard's Stephen F. Hayes. "And I also feel that -- and I'm not trying to equivocate here -- that Americans want us to work together. You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don't think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out."
Actually, he is trying to equivocate -- and just maybe lay the groundwork for the pick he really wants to make. He'd love to capture some of those disaffected Clinton supporters, sure -- but does he want to enrage the party base at the very moment that GOPers are starting to believe he may have a chance?
"Either Ridge or [Sen. Joe] Lieberman would be a 'transformative' VP pick who could help open up the Republican Party and deliver moderate voters and Independents, some McCain advisers believe. McCain is seriously weighing that option, sources say," ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg reports. "But it's a tough calculus: A pro-choice nominee would infuriate the anti-abortion element of the conservative base and potentially be a bitter divorce from the Religious Right."
The party has rallied behind McCain -- but there's work that's never really done. The reaction is key -- and McCain, while always liable to go his own way, will be listening.
"In opening up the possibility of choosing a pro-choice nominee just a few weeks (or even days) before he is expected to make his vice presidential pick public, McCain is likely testing the waters to see how such a move would be received by the base voters who have long been skeptical about his conservative bona fides," Washingtonpost.com's Chris Cillizza writes.
Some early words: "If he picks a pro-choice running mate, I don't see how he can win this race," Family Research Council President Tony Perkinstells the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan and Ralph Z. Hallow.
Add Dinan and Hallow: "Naming Mr. Ridge also could raise the thorny issue of immigration, because by some measures, immigration enforcement dropped under Mr. Ridge's tenure, only to pick up when his successor, Michael Chertoff, took office."
Contrast McCain's moves with the nuanced way the Democrats are handling their party disagreements over abortion: Some new platform language, and a symbolically significant speaker in Sen. Bobby Casey Jr., D-Pa. -- but it's all being done with the cooperation (or, at least, without the vocal objections) of the major interest groups.
"The Democratic Party is planning a convention designed to soften the edges on the party's support for abortion rights, with a revamped platform and a speaking lineup that reinforces efforts to broaden Democrats' appeal on the hot-button issue," per ABC News.
Now that the base is coming home, does McCain want to be making the kind of noise that might drive them out of the house?
"With less than two weeks to go before the start of the presidential nominating conventions, Barack Obama's lead over John McCain has disappeared," per the write-up of the new Pew Research Center poll. "McCain is garnering more support from his base -- including Republicans and white evangelical Protestants -- than he was in June, and he also has steadily gained backing from white working class voters over this period."
Another provocation from McCain (and what does it say that he still doesn't have this answer down pat?): "Ignoring the warnings that Social Security can derail political careers, Senator John McCain has infuriated his party's right wing by saying that 'everything has to be on the table' in discussions about keeping Social Security solvent," Larry Rohter writes in The New York Times.
"In the space of one week, he opened the door to an increase in Social Security taxes, denied he would raise payroll taxes and then, through an ally, called a tax increase a 'dumb idea,' " Rohter writes. "He has also sowed confusion about whether he favors privatizing Social Security, or continuing with the current system."
(The DNC on Thursday offers a happy 73rd birthday to Social Security -- yes, it's older than McCain -- with a new Web video featuring James Roosevelt Jr., FDR's grandson. "Like President Bush, [McCain] wants to privatize our Social Security," Roosevelt says in the video.)
(At RNC headquarters, they're ready to receive the DNC's birthday cake delivery by giving leis in return -- the better to welcome their candidate back to the contiguous 48.)
(In case you're scoring at home: "Combined with Saturday's round, Obama has spent close to 12 hours on the links while in Hawaii," per the Honolulu Advertiser.)
McCain continues to press his advantage on foreign policy. He's sending Lieberman and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to Georgia. (Wondering out loud here: If Obama dispatched a few top surrogates to monitor a war zone on his behalf, how long before a Republican would be on TV calling him "presumptuous"?)
"It was all part of a continuing effort by the McCain campaign to seize on the events overseas to appear presidential and in command on the world stage while at the same time not appearing to be political," The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye reports. "At several points today, he emphasized that he had visited Georgia many times and was familiar with the players."
"This does have echoes of the cold war," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Thursday. "It ends up, I believe, helping in the short run John McCain. He has been somewhat prescient on this issue. . . . Barack Obama is playing it a little more safe."
McCain writes an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Thursday: "The world has learned at great cost the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked. A cease-fire that holds is a vital first step, but only one. With our allies, we now must stand in united purpose to persuade the Russian government to end violence permanently and withdraw its troops from Georgia. International monitors must gain immediate access to war-torn areas in order to avert an even greater humanitarian disaster, and we should ensure that emergency aid lifted by air and sea is delivered."
Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili lays out the stakes in a Washington Post op-ed: "If the international community allows Russia to crush our democratic, independent state, it will be giving carte blanche to authoritarian governments everywhere. Russia intends to destroy not just a country but an idea."
Here's a big way to blunt McCain's perceived edge on foreign policy/national security: Might Colin Powell be ready to jump? "I do not have time to waste on Bill Kristol's musings," Powell told ABC's Teddy Davis, after Kristol reported on Fox News that Powell was set to speak at the DNC. "I am not going to the convention. I have made this clear."
And yet: "While Powell was emphatic about his intention not to attend the Democratic National Convention, his endorsement in the presidential race remains an open question," Davis and David Chalian write.
Does this tee up the Georgia issue in a new light for Obama? "The White House grasp of developments in war-battered Georgia has been hampered by confusing reports from the ground and intelligence resources that initially were focused more on Iraq and Afghanistan than the former Soviet republic," the AP's Deb Riechmann reports. "The Defense Department has limited intelligence-gathering assets, including satellites, and defense officials said the bulk of the military's eyes and ears have been focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Try untangling these ties: "When Senator John McCain led a Senate investigation three years ago of Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who later pleaded guilty to fraud charges, Mr. Abramoff's old firm turned to a former McCain campaign adviser for help," Michael Cooper writes in The New York Times. "The firm, Greenberg Traurig, which had quickly cut its ties to Mr. Abramoff, hired Randy Scheunemann, who had been the McCain campaign's foreign policy adviser in 2000 -- and is again this year -- for advice on handling the Senate investigation."
More on Scheunemann: "John McCain's chief foreign policy adviser and his business partner lobbied the senator or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2-year span while being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the government of the former Soviet republic of Georgia," the AP's Pete Yost reports.
While this bubbles up (can the cash really be worth the cost to the brand?): "Ralph Reed's involvement in an upcoming Atlanta fund-raiser for John McCain has the presidential candidate fending off an onslaught of criticism from Democrats," Aaron Gould Sheinin writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, was tied to the corruption scandal involving Jack Abramoff, the highly paid Washington lobbyist now serving a six-year prison term. Much of the Abramoff scandal was exposed by an investigation led by McCain when he chaired the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs."
In absentia, Obama is getting more aggressive on the economy, hitting hard with a new ad featuring "Economics by John McCain." Says the ad: "Support George Bush 95% of the time. Keep spending $10 billion a month for the war in Iraq while the Iraqis sell oil for record prices, giving Iraq a $79 billion oil surplus and hurting our economy."
New Thursday: "The Obama campaign will unveil a new TV ad later today to run during the Olympics highlighting Senator Obama's plan to put the middle class first. The ad will air on national cable and broadcast in all 50 states beginning Monday," per Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
On taxes: "Both candidates for president have proposed tax plans," Obama advisers Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee write a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "But they are starkly different in their approaches and their economic impact. Sen. Obama is focused on cutting taxes for middle-class families and small businesses, and investing in key areas like health, innovation and education. He would do this while cutting unnecessary spending, paying for his proposals and bringing down the budget deficit."
Worth tracking: "As Obama sharpens and amplifies a negative message against McCain, a key question is if he can -- again -- keep the perceived high ground that McCain's recent hyperbolic attack ads gave him, even while punching hard," Politico's Ben Smith writes.
Why might Indiana be getting its own version? "Here's one reason Indiana wasn't on the list of states getting the new Obama ad earlier -- Hoosiers are getting their own ad slamming Sen. John McCain for saying in January he doesn't think the nation is headed into a recession," Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times. "The spot stars residents of Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana disagreeing with a 7-month-old quote from McCain."
Try to explain this response from the McCain campaign (and just one read is enough to tell you exactly where this race stands vis a vis the current occupant of the office): "In the Senate, Barack Obama has voted in lockstep with President George W. Bush nearly half the time," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.
ABC's Jake Tapper: "Okay, first of all, if you vote with the president less than 50% of the time, it can hardly be called 'lockstep.' Second, the senator who voted with [President] Bush 9 out of 10 times is faulting an opponent for voting with him 4 out of 10 times?"
A new McCain effort on the economy Thursday: "Under fire for being a technophobe, John McCain will unveil a technology agenda that bundles previously announced pro-business proposals with continued support for a hands-off approach to regulation," Elizabeth Holmes and Amy Schatz report in The Wall Street Journal.
"The plan, dubbed 'John McCain and American Innovation,' is set to be released Thursday on the Republican presidential candidate's campaign Web site," they continue. "It will call for a 10% tax credit on wages paid to all research-and-development employees. At the same time, it will reiterate Sen. McCain's opposition to Internet taxes and new laws guaranteeing net neutrality, the idea that Internet providers must treat all legal Internet traffic equally."
Meanwhile -- how does Obama react without overreacting?
"Both Democrats and Republicans think the election could hinge on whether Obama's narrative loses its luster," Eli Saslow writes in The Washington Post. "In the past few months, other storytellers have proved that a market for skepticism remains. In addition to [Jerome] Corsi's book, two other anti-Obama books rank in the top 35 on Amazon.com's bestseller list. Their titles reveal their intent: 'Fleeced,' by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, and 'The Case Against Barack Obama,' by David Freddoso. In all three books, the authors state that they share the mission of destroying the idealized image of Obama that is popular among Democrats."
"Right now, I would be very aggressive with reporters and factually going through the book and responding and making it clear that this is a bunch of [BS]," former Kerry '04 spokesman Steve Elmendorf tells Politico's David Paul Kuhn.
(And, as always, consider the source: Corsi "penned another tome asserting oil is a nearly infinite resource that continues to generate naturally, and posted a series of online comments through 2004, including suggestions that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a lesbian and Muslims worship Satan," Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel reminds us.)
John Kerry to the rescue! Kerry's team on Wednesday launched a new Website to push back at scurrilous rumors and accusations. ("020 SMEARS TRACKED" as of Thursday morning.)
Of Democratic worries: "The Master Narrative shifts over time but can be hard to change once it sets," strategist Dan Payne writes in his Boston Globe column. "Obama's soft response to McCain's attacks has raised déjà vu fears among Democrats. Will we look back at this period as the time when yet another Democrat lost control of his storyline?"
Speaking of storylines -- what of the one that won't die? "It may be Barack Obama's party, but that may not prevent an emotional show of support for former rival Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Democratic National Convention later this month," Kathy Kiely writes for USA Today.
"Aides to Obama, who will formally accept the Democratic nomination in Denver on Aug. 28, are girding for the possibility that Clinton's backers will force a roll call vote that would demonstrate the extent of support for the New York senator," she reports.
"There's no perfect solution for anybody," Steve Hildebrand, Obama's deputy campaign manager, tells Kiely. "I think we will end up being just fine roll call or no roll call."
Not everyone thinks in such a manner: "One [pro-Clinton] group intends to paper the city with fliers, promote a video detailing what they contend were irregularities in the nominating process and unleash bloggers to give their take on the proceedings. Another group has purchased newspaper advertisements demanding that Clinton be included in a roll-call vote for the nomination," the AP's Stephen Ohlemacher reports.
"At the very least, the activists want Clinton's name put in nomination, with a full roll-call vote. Some won't be satisfied unless Clinton is declared the nominee -- an unlikely prospect. Others would be happy if Clinton were asked to run for vice president - also unlikely."
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports that a deal is near that would involve Clinton's name being placed into nomination -- with the cooperation of Obama aides: " If Clinton's name is formally offered up, she could be afforded the normal complement of nominating and seconding speeches, and the official role call of votes will include participation from her delegates," Ambinder writes. "It is possible that Sen. Clinton, having had her name submitted, would use the occasion to release her delegates to Obama; depending on how the roll call is staged, Clinton's released delegates could put Obama over the top."
A warning from Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr.: "Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have a lot to lose if the spirit of the rest of the memos affects her thinking now. If bad blood between the Clinton and Obama camps persists, it's highly unlikely that an Obama defeat this fall would lead inexorably to a Clinton nomination the next time. Consider Obama's shrewd announcement yesterday of Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate, as the convention keynote speaker. This not only gives a central role to a moderate Democrat from a swing state, but it also points to a future that transcends the Clinton-Obama feud."
Oprah will be there to witness the big moment -- though not to speak. "Oprah Winfrey, one of Barack Obama's best-known supporters, plans to be on the field when Obama accepts the Democratic presidential nomination at Mile High Stadium in Denver, but an associate says Winfrey will have no stage role," Mark Silva reports in the Chicago Tribune. "Good friend and colleague Gayle King told Entertainment Tonight that Winfrey will be in the audience of 75,000 people on the presidential nomination night of Aug. 28, but expects no starring role in the historic event."
(Does she have to put in the phone-bank hours to earn a ticket?)
He had the math way back when, so let's let him have the map: Karl Rove sees the race coming down to Colorado, Virginia, Michigan, and Ohio.
"If Mr. McCain lost Colorado and Virginia, he would likely have 264 electoral votes (assuming he carried the other states President Bush won in 2004). To win, he would have to pick up a state Democrats are counting on winning, such as Michigan," Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column. "If Mr. McCain carries Michigan as well as Ohio, it would make Mr. Obama's Electoral College math very difficult. And if Mr. McCain can limit GOP losses to one or two small states from those won by the GOP in 2004, he'll be America's 44th president."
Is Obama too busy looking for 370 to focus on 270? "Every dollar and every hour spent in places like deeply Republican Georgia divert resources from must win battlegrounds like Michigan," writes Mark Halperin of Time and ABC News. "Some strategists wonder, then, if Obama's campaign risks trying to win by a landslide and possibly losing by a hair."
Anyone get the feeling that we'll see this list played up by the GOP? Obama fundraisers are being headlined by Sarah Jessica Parker, Anna Wintour, George Clooney, Ellen Pompeo, and Scarlett Johansson, per The New York Times' Patrick Healy. (And who forgot to Google the famous names?)
ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports that Obama's ad team was filming his appearance with Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., last week. Could the fact that Wednesday's theme is national security be another hint that it's going to be Bayh or Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del.?
He also notes that three prominent Democrats -- Al Gore, John Kerry, and Bill Richardson -- are still conspicuously missing from the convention speaking schedule.
The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet is picking up Biden hints: "I'm just passing on the latest I'm hearing -- that Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) is moving up on the list of potential running mates for presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama."
Is there such a thing as too much Virginia? "The choice of [Mark] Warner [as keynote speaker] appeared to dim chances that the state's current governor, Timothy M. Kaine, would be selected as the Democrats' vice presidential nominee," Jonathan Weisman and Michael Shear write in The Washington Post. "If Kaine were chosen as Obama's running mate, two Virginians would have back-to-back prime-time speaking slots, a scenario that party officials regard as unlikely."
Which makes this profile maybe a week late: "What Mr. Kaine stood for, voters decided, was a new kind of Democrat, not just another liberal, but a man of faith who could talk about religion without it seeming like a prop," Kate Zernike writes in The New York Times.
"Now the Obama campaign is eyeing Mr. Kaine as a potential running mate, seeing in him a like-minded breath of fresh air who has also shown he can win in a red state. But Mr. Kaine's similarities to Senator Barack Obama are also a potential weakness: he has a legislative record that even some supporters say is thin, and virtually no experience in foreign policy or military affairs."
Another light day on the trail Thursday: John McCain will be in Colorado, appearing at the Aspen Institute for a conversation with Walter Issacson at 5 pm ET.
Obama is still down in Hawaii -- with convention details dribbling out just enough to keep him healthily in the headlines for things other than golf.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Also in the news:
Tragedy in Little Rock: "A man armed with a revolver shot and killed Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney at party headquarters in Little Rock late Wednesday morning, then led police on a 34-mile chase before confronting officers, who shot and killed him less than an hour later," Jacob Quinn Sanders reports for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "A member of the state Senate for a decade and the owner of three auto dealerships, Gwatney, 48, died at 3:59 p.m. at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Medical Center."
Movement on energy? "Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is considering legislation that would permit new offshore drilling as part of a broad energy bill, a response to growing anxiety within her party that Republicans are gaining traction with election-year attacks that Democrats aren't doing enough to address high gasoline prices," Richard Simon reports in the Los Angeles Times. "One proposal under consideration would let states decide whether to permit new energy exploration off their coasts while possibly maintaining the drilling ban off the Pacific Coast. . . . A vote is likely to be held next month, after the House returns from its summer recess."
The latest from the Edwardses: "Faced with the betrayal of her husband, former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, those close to Elizabeth Edwards say she experienced 'excruciating anguish' in her decision to stand behind him through his 2008 campaign but that ultimately her terminal illness forced her to 'move forward' for the sake of her family," ABC's Nitya Venkataraman reports, writing up the latest edition of People magazine.
When will cities learn? "Located in St. Paul's Lowry Building, the Actors Theater of Minnesota would seem to be a prime location for a party during the Republican National Convention," Jason Hoppin writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "It has a full bar, a kitchen, a stage and enough space for 220 sit-down guests to rub elbows in a cozy, red-hued theater. It's also within blocks of the Xcel Energy Center, the venue for the Sept. 1-4 event. But so far, there are no takers."
"Similar stories can be found across the Twin Cities. While some venues are booked solid -- the historic Landmark Center is one -- other potential downtown St. Paul party spots have seen their expectations crash to the ground."
"Consider the source. . . . He was the person who advertised himself as Dan Quayle's brain." -- Colin Powell confidante Ken Duberstein, responding to Bill Kristol's report that Powell might attend the Democratic National Convention.
"I'm 10, daddy." -- Malia Obama, reminding her father that the child-sized shaved ice serving is recommended for those 8 and under.
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