The Note: Veep's Week

All he needs is experience . . . that reinforces his message of change . . . while bringing geographic/ethnic/ideological diversity . . . and fluidity at world affairs . . . without upsetting Hillary Clinton supporters . . . or the liberal left . . . in the package of someone who's ready to be president . . . who won't make it harder to hope and dream . . . or overshadow the man at the top of the ticket . . . or say something dumb . . . or be too boring to be relevant.

(Still wondering why it's taken him so long to choose?)

It's decision time for a back-from-vacation Sen. Barack Obama -- and yes, our cell phones are charged and ready to receive any important communications.

(DQMOT -- but the smart money puts the pick in the latter part of the week -- when Obama's schedule is wide open.)

(And have recent events changed the criteria? How many contenders are in Georgia by invitation right now?)

One thing the Obama campaign has done right: We are now so conditioned to think it won't be Hillary Clinton that the why-isn't-it-her storyline won't have a long shelf life. (And if it is Hillary -- oh boy.)

One thing the campaign hasn't proven it's done right: We are now so close to the start of the convention that a the pick takes on more importance and is guaranteed more quick, harsh scrutiny -- which will mean a welcome-to-the-big-leagues couple of news cycles for Obama's No. 2.

It's an uneasy time for Democrats -- winning in the polls, but not by enough; behind the standard-bearer, but still dealing with Clinton drama; excited about the ticket, but not sure yet what that ticket will look like.

"Think of the choice Sen. Obama has to make about his running mate as if it's a horserace of contenders running through his head his heart and his gut," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday -- with Tim Kaine surging early and Joe Biden coming on strong.

And don't forget a dark horse: "There's talk of Hillary Clinton and former senator Sam Nunn," Tapper reports.

ABC's George Stephanopoulos tags Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who's in Georgia on Monday at the request of the Georgian leader, as the favorite: "I think he probably is [the favorite] right now -- which means he's not going to get it." And regarding Clinton: "If you gave me 50-1, I'd take it."

On timing: "A person familiar with the campaign's planning noted that Obama's schedule at the end of this week is open, but said the announcement could come 'as late as the weekend,' " Ben Smith and Glenn Thrush write for Politico. "As a candidate whose currency has been his personal story, in choosing his running mate, Obama will also be choosing a narrative."

Given the stakes -- what's one more turn on the Sunday shows between friends? "Appearing on TV talk shows, the could-be running mates from both parties strived for a delicate balancing act -- at once demonstrating their loyalty, appearing vice presidential and avoiding over-eagerness," Amy Chozick writes in The Wall Street Journal.

The schedule drives the early-week speculation: "On Monday, Sen. Obama plans to hold a town-hall style event in Gov. [Bill] Richardson's home state [of New Mexico]. On Wednesday he will campaign in Virginia, the home of Gov. Tim Kaine, another shortlister."

Virginia gets a second day of Obama time, too, on Thursday: "Kaine spent 20 minutes huddled in a backroom, where he said he was 'filming a little thing' for the Obama campaign," Tim Craig reports for The Washington Post. "The cameraman later followed Kaine to Henrico County, where he held a town-hall meeting for Obama. But campaign officials stress the 'filming' of Kaine has nothing to do with Obama's choice of a running mate.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., showed he can make the soundbites sting (who's bland now?): "We are not all Georgians now," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation," per ABC's Matthew Jaffe and Julia Bain. "If we were Georgians and the Russians were invading our country and killing our people, we'd be in a state of war. And clearly, that's not what we want. And John sometimes, he's a good person, but he's a little bit given to this kind of bellicose rhetoric, which has a tendency to inflame conflicts rather than to diffuse them, and that's not what you want in a president."

Biden is auditioning from afar. "Mr. Biden's visit to Georgia (he was expected to return to Washington on Monday) highlighted his standing as an expert on foreign policy -- he is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- who is known and respected in capitals around the world," John M. Broder writes in The New York Times. "But it also emphasized his status as a Washington insider at a time when Americans say they are hungering for change."

Only Nunn, D-Ga., was named by Obama as a "wise" adviser Saturday at Saddleback.

David Broder gets a hint of how few hints are being dropped: "Patti Solis Doyle, the ousted Clinton campaign manager who will run the race of Obama's No. 2, told me that -- because she is flying blind -- she had started an office pool. Her entry: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. Two days later, Kaine's predecessor, Mark Warner, was announced as keynoter, apparently a signal that Kaine will not be No. 2."

Whoever it is, he (or she) will have to help with this, too: "Democrats face a number of imperatives at their convention, none trickier than making more voters comfortable with the prospect of putting a candidate with a most unusual background -- the son of a black Kenyan father and a white Kansan mother, who grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia -- and his family in the White House," Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg write in The New York Times. "No one, his advisers believe, makes the case better for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois than his wife, who will expand her profile by delivering one of the marquee speeches carried by television networks."

(And look for the Obama campaign Tuesday to announce a Thursday night convention speech by Al Gore, per ABC's Jennifer Duck.)

No free shots in this game -- and here's your public financing in action: "Sen. John McCain has so much spare cash on hand -- he collected a record $27 million in July -- that the Republican candidate plans to run campaign ads during the networks' coverage of the Democratic National Convention later this month," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times.

And this, as The New York Times' Patrick Healy takes the (quickened) Democratic pulse: "Party leaders -- while enthusiastic about Mr. Obama and his state-by-state campaign operations -- say he must do more to convince the many undecided Democrats and independents that he would address their financial anxieties rather than run, by and large, as an agent of change -- given that change, they note, is not an issue."

What else can a No. 2 do for him? "Now, Obama plunges back into the campaign at a pivotal moment, with the Democratic convention a week away and the announcement of his vice presidential nominee expected any day," Thomas Fitzgerald reports in the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer. "The selection process has been free of serious leaks, just the way 'No Drama' Obama likes it, but Democratic strategists hope that whomever he picks will help him get his mojo back."

It's early -- but Obama does seem more aggressive since he got back from vacation. "Sunday, after praising the Arizona senator as a 'genuine American patriot,' the Democratic presidential hopeful got back to business -- methodically tearing into McCain's health care, tax and energy policies and criticizing his advisers," the AP's Beth Fouhy reports.

"Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail Sunday after a week off in Hawaii and argued that he is the presidential candidate who can fix the nation's economic woes, repeatedly slamming John McCain as a continuation of the Bush administration," Seema Mehta writes in the Los Angeles Times.

Per ABC's Andy Fies: "Could it be that he spent time during the vacation absorbing the catalogue of criticisms tossed at his campaign lately?  Much of his talk [Sunday] morning -– his first campaign event since his return -- appeared to be a point-by-point response to those arguing he has not forcefully battled McCain's more negative message," Fies writes. "Maybe on the beach in Hawaii, Obama woke up and smelled the fear."

Obama didn't bite when a questioner in Reno criticized McCain's war record: "Respectfully, I'm going to disagree with you when it comes to McCain and his service. I think his policies are terrible, I think his service was honorable," Obama said, per ABC's Jake Tapper.

He won't Swift boat any Swift boaters, either: ""He's got a lot longer track record'' than the 2004 campaign against Sen. John Kerry, Obama said of T. Boone Pickens, after a meeting with the oilman in Reno, per the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva. "He's a legendary entrepreneur and one of the things that I think we have to unify the country around is having an intelligent energy policy.''

He sounds confident: "I will win. Don't worry about that," Obama said Sunday at one of three California fundraisers -- which raised him a cool $7.8 million.

An emerging convention message? "The Illinois senator said it is 'a testament to the American spirit that I'm even standing here before you' as the Democratic Party's presumed nominee, because some Americans are 'still getting past' his name, which he said some consider funny," Carla Marinucci reports in the San Francisco Chronicle.

The campaign is fighting -- just not always in a way that we can see it: "The Obama campaign has started running negative advertisements against Mr. McCain in battleground states -- often without announcing them beforehand. The reason, Obama aides say, is to try to convince voters that Mr. McCain is barely different than President Bush through a day or two of uncontested advertisements -- until the Republicans learn about them and begin to counter the ads," the Times' Patrick Healy reported Sunday.

Michael Dukakis remembers that you have to be ready for what happens after the convention, too: "You think you've addressed every issue under the sun. You try to do so in your acceptance speech. But it's a whole new ballgame, and you've got to begin, post-convention, as if the campaign has just begun," Dukakis tells the Rocky Mountain News' M.E. Sprengelmeyer.

Getting Religion:

Saddleback fallout: Who sinned here? "Senator John McCain was not in a 'cone of silence' on Saturday night while his rival, Senator Barack Obama, was being interviewed at the Saddleback Church in California," Katharine Q. Seelye reports in The New York Times. "Members of the McCain campaign staff, who flew here Sunday from California, said Mr. McCain was in his motorcade on the way to the church as Mr. Obama was being interviewed by the Rev. Rick Warren."

"The matter is of interest because Mr. McCain, who followed Mr. Obama's hourlong appearance in the forum, was asked virtually the same questions as Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain's performance was well received, raising speculation among some viewers, especially supporters of Mr. Obama, that he was not as isolated during the Obama interview as Mr. Warren implied."

Team McCain denies that he listened to any of the questioning -- and remember that this crowd is willing and eager to cry foul. "McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis asked Sunday for a meeting with Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, to protest what the campaign called signs that the network is 'abandoning non-partisan coverage of the Presidential race,' " Politico's Mike Allen reports. "The campaign is objecting to a statement by NBC's Andrea Mitchell on 'Meet the Press' questioning whether McCain might have gotten a heads-up on some of the questions that were asked of [Obama.]"

Rick Warren takes McCain's side on the question of unfair advantages: "They're dead wrong. That's just sour grapes," he tells's Dan Gilgoff. On Democrats' chances with evangelicals: "Just because a person can say 'God' and 'Jesus' and 'salvation' and whatever doesn't mean they have a worldview. And people want to know what do they believe, not just their personal faith," Warren said.

On the faith forum's substance "The Republican candidate had the easier task in the back-to-back interviews before about 2,800 members of the evangelical church in Lake Forest. He drew frequent applause with crisp answers intended to reinforce his conservative credentials," Maeve Reston and Seema Mehta write in the Los Angeles Times. "Obama offered more nuanced and analytical answers on some issues important to conservative voters: abortion, same-sex marriage and stem-cell research. But Obama, a Christian who until recently attended Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, was more revealing about his faith."

On the big question that split the candidates -- abortion -- McCain's clear answer went over better than Obama's duck . . . for now. "Watching Barack Obama and John McCain handle Pastor Rick Warren's questions about abortion, you could see the whole presidential race in miniature taking shape before our eyes. The clear answer beats the clever one any time . . . unless you worry about the chaos that clarity can bring," Time's Nancy Gibbs writes.

Obama got heated in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Networks David Brody, swinging back on the subject of the "born-alive" bill: "I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying," Obama said.

Feel this rumble spreading? "Sen. Obama is currently misleading people about what he voted against, specifically claiming that the bill he voted against in his committee lacked 'neutrality' language on Roe v. Wade," National Review's David Freddoso reports. "The bill did contain this language. He even participated in the unanimous vote to put it in."

Michael Gerson, in his Washington Post column, sees the GOP ready to saddle up post-Saddleback: "It is now clear why Barack Obama has refused John McCain's offer of joint town hall appearances during the fall campaign. McCain is obviously better at them. . . . McCain's performance at the Warren forum helps change the political psychology going into the conventions."

"Republicans have spent the past few weeks pleasantly surprised at the closeness of the presidential race," Gerson continues. "But they have generally chalked this up to Obama's weakness, not McCain's strength. After Saturday night, even Republicans most skeptical of McCain must conclude: 'Perhaps we aren't doomed after all.' "

Frank Rich tries to shift a paradigm: There is a candidate we don't know enough about -- and it's McCain. "Why isn't Obama romping? The obvious answer -- and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it -- is that the public doesn't know who on earth John McCain is," Rich writes in his Sunday New York Times column. "What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image."

Envy of Green?

If the Obama campaign was really, truly proud of its $51 million July -- why did word come out on a Saturday?

It was a good number, but not a great number: "It will be . . . fairly easy for Obama to dramatically increase his totals, assuming that he can rely on his early maxed out primary donors for an immediate primary infusion," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports. "But Obama's $51m last month reflects generosity AND hard work; he spent an inordinate amount of time at fundraisers. After the convention, Obama will be campaigning full-time and won't be able to lend his personal charisma to private fundraisers."

Feel that burn? "He saw his campaign bank account drop slightly from $71.7 million at the end of June to an estimated $65.8 million at the end of July," John McCormick writes in the Chicago Tribune.

The DNC beat the RNC last month, with a very big but: "The RNC reported having nearly $75 million cash on hand at the end of July compared to the DNC's $28.5 million," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "If you combine the cash on hand for RNC/McCain, you get approximately $96 million in available funds. The combined DNC/Obama money puts the Democrats in the same ballpark, which is no small feat for the Democrats who usually suffer financially compared to the GOP."


Checking in with McCain's prospects: Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., takes himself out of the running (just about): "I don't want to be vice president. I'm not going to be the nominee," Jindal said on NBC's "Meet the Press," per ABC's Kate McCarthy. Was he still leaving a "window" open to accept the nomination, Jindal replied, "No, no, no. No window's open there."

Now starring former governor Tom Ridge, R-Pa., as George H.W. Bush. "At the end of the day, I think the Republican Party will be comfortable with whatever choice John makes," Ridge said on "Fox News Sunday."

"The vice president is not an independent voice. He echoes the position of the president of the United States," Ridge added. "I think that's the responsibility of the vice president. If you're unwilling or unable to do that, then I think you should defer to someone else."

Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., did another turn talking up McCain, on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopolous. The situation in Georgia, he said, "shows one more time that, in a dangerous and troubled world, it's helpful to have a leader of the nation that knows these places, knows the people, understands the setting." Added Romney: "John McCain didn't have to search around to figure out what to say about what was going on."

The Sked:

McCain is in Florida (outside the hurricane's path) Monday morning, with a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Orlando.

Obama on Monday has two events in Albuquerque -- an economic discussion and a town hall -- and overnights in Florida.

From the Obama campaign: "Also today, the Obama campaign formally launches its 'Next Generation Veterans for Obama' organization, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who support Barack Obama for the presidency because he has the judgment, vision and character to lead this country in the 21st Century.  These veterans will play a prominent role in Denver at the Democratic National Convention, lead Veterans for Obama efforts in the states, participate in grassroots fundraising efforts and serve as surrogates before veterans and general audiences across America."

Also in the news:

Obama gets spacey: "Barack Obama called Sunday for astronauts to be sent to the moon by 2020 and then possibly to Mars, once again reversing his earlier stance in favor of scaling back the space program," Beth Reinhard writes in the Miami Herald.

"Obama wants to add at least one additional shuttle mission after NASA's planned May 2010 conclusion of the program. And he wants to get us back to the moon by 2020," Tom Abrahams reports for ABC's Houston affiliate, KTRK-TV. "This is a marked change from Obama's late 2007 position in which he called for massive cuts to NASA and a longer moon timetable."

Writes Richard S. Dunham, in the Houston Chronicle: "Obama has not always been a strong supporter of additional money for NASA. Indeed, in December 2007, his campaign Web site declared that he would finance an early childhood education initiative by reducing funding for the Constellation program. And Obama told the Houston Chronicle's editorial board in February that he was not convinced that human exploration was worth the cost."

The McCain tax evolution: "The switch has been some time in the making. As one of just two Republican senators to vote against the 2001 tax cuts, and one of just three to oppose the 2003 cuts, he angered members of his own party and raised his image of bravery among Democrats. He defended those votes at late as 2005," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times. "But by 2006, he was voting with Republicans to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. He still holds that position, although he would raise the estate tax slightly higher than what is in Mr. Bush's plan."

More spice for Randy Scheunemann: "Randy Scheunemann operated for years deep inside Republican foreign policy circles, a burly, bearded lobbyist with powerful patrons, neoconservative credentials and little public profile," Bob Drogin writes in the Los Angeles Times. "Today, as John McCain's top foreign policy and national security advisor, Scheunemann serves as spokesman and surrogate for the probable GOP presidential nominee on issues from NATO enlargement to gun control in American cities. . . . In all, the files show, Orion has earned $2.5 million lobbying for foreign governments since 2001."

McCain is OK with it: "Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain told USA TODAY on Sunday that he has no problem with his top foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann's past lobbying work," per USA Today's Matt Kelley and David Jackson. "The fighting between Russia and Georgia has brought renewed attention to Scheunemann and the lobbying firm he founded, Orion Strategies, which received more than $730,000 from Georgia since 2001, records show."

A new Change to Win effort targeting McCain launches Monday. From the press release: "In a multifaceted, multimedia effort, Change to Win is launching a McCain Truth Squad tour; starting a new website that allows workers to directly question McCain and his agenda; and premiering a three-part online sketch comedy series, the first of which is a response to the infamous McCain 'Celebrity' ad." 

Can't wait for Congress to come back? Neither can the speaker: "When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set out to promote her new motivational book this month, she simultaneously touched off her national why-haven't-you-impeached-the-president tour," The New York Times' Carl Hulse writes in a Web column. "As she made the coast-to-coast rounds of lectures, television interviews and radio chats the past two weeks, Ms. Pelosi found herself under siege by people unhappy that she has not been motivated to try to throw President Bush out of office – even if only a few months remain before he leaves voluntarily."

Denver, one week out: "The stage is nearly set at the Democratic National Convention's main venue a week before doors open, though organizers must wait until Saturday to start prepping for the event's banner night at Invesco Field at Mile High," Jessica Fender writes for The Denver Post. "Working through Denver's recent downpours, a 600-person crew is sweeping up construction dust, furnishing leaky media tents and individually checking thousands of electrical and Internet hookups in and around the Pepsi Center, on schedule to meet the Aug. 25 deadline."

Labor peace: "Qwest and its two unions have reached tentative agreements on new, three-year contracts, averting a potential strike one week before the National Democratic Convention in Denver," Jeff Smith reports in the Rocky Mountain News.

And labor pains: "I'm hearing [Robert] Rubin's name more and more associated with the campaign's economic policy," James Torrey, a top Obama fundraiser and chief executive officer of a hedge fund investor, tells Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Matthew Benjamin.

Could crime become an issue for Obama? "Murders [in Chicago] have risen 18 percent over a year ago. Assaults in the city involving guns are also rising. City officials, Police Supt. Jody Weis and the police force are increasingly coming under criticism," James Oliphant writes in the Chicago Tribune. "But some Republicans say part of the blame also lies with Obama."

Howard Dean misspoke when he almost called the Republican Party the "white" party (it had been a while, hadn't it?): "Paging Dr. Freud," ABC's Ron Claiborne writes. "Dean raised an issue that is rarely discussed in public and almost never by politicians: the marked racial division by party in American politics. Members of the country's largest minority groups -- blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans -- are predominantly Democratic."

Keeping Virginia interesting: Bloomberg's on the ballot. "Just in case Mayor Bloomberg changes his mind about that whole running for President thing, the Independent Greens of Virginia have a ballot line with his name on it -- literally," Elizabeth Benjamin reports for the New York Daily News. "Late last week, 'Indy Greens' Chairman Carey Campbell got word from the Virginia state Board of Elections that his minor party's petition drive to get Bloomberg on the ballot had been successful."

Bob Barr is running for president -- and this is a campaign book we'd buy: "I still plan someday to do a book on Bob Barr's laws of the universe," Barr tells The Washington Post's Libby Copeland. Some laws: "The world is full of idiots. . . . The most difficult thing about politics is dealing with people with really bad breath."

The Kicker:

"If you look at folks of color, even women, they're more successful in the Democratic Party than they are in the white, uh, excuse me, in the Republican Party." -- Howard Dean, last week.

"They all behave the same. They all look the same. It's pretty much a white Christian party." -- Howard Dean, on Republicans, in June 2005.

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