The Note: RIP, Lipstick

Like the last fans walking out of a now-abandoned Yankee Stadium, let's usher out the age of frivolity in the race.

Take the lipstick with you -- yes, even that tube you put on a pig. Pack up the arugula. Bubble-wrap the tanning bed. Paris and Britney -- you can resume your regularly scheduled places in the nation's consciousness.

From global finance to world crises, a high-stakes congressional debate and a (possibly) higher-stakes presidential one, the real world has now crashed into the political world. It's about time (since this is a presidential campaign and everything), but finally, this race is about who can be the best president.

This week will demand versatility: As the Hill grapples with the recovery package thrust in its lap, a debate on foreign policy looms Friday -- the last big scheduled game-changer on the calendar.

Watch the paradigms shift: "So far, the presidential race has focused extensively on the life stories of the two candidates and their running mates. The government bailout of Wall Street will shift the focus onto more grounded concerns -- both domestic and overseas, where increasing amounts of the American government's debts are being held in unfriendly nations," Peter Canellos writes in the Sunday Boston Globe.

"At such a time, considering whether a tanning bed was installed in the governor's mansion in Alaska amounts to holding a barbecue on the lip of the volcano," Anna Quindlen writes for Newsweek. "Maybe this campaign, which looked so promising, so dedicated to real issues and real change a year ago, can now get back on course."

"Once again it's about the economy, stupid -- and financial markets and how they are best regulated," Time's Michael Duffy writes. "That shift should benefit Democratic nominee Barack Obama for many reasons, as economics in difficult times rarely help Republicans. But this race has proven conventional wisdom wrong time and again. What seems more certain is this: though virtually no one was calling for it, a new era of big government has arrived."

"This could be the single-most important week for these candidates to sell themselves to voters as potentially good stewards of the economy -- and to attack each other," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday.

The scope, per ABC's Martha Raddatz: "All together, a stunning number of taxpayer dollars are now at risk. More than double the entire cost of the Iraq war. More than the Pentagon, education, health and human services, agriculture and Homeland Security budgets combined."

Back on the trail -- who really wants this? It's a scenario that calls for bold leadership -- but might Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama be as confused and conflicted as the rest of us?

(Even if everyone can agree the bailout is necessary, no one can agree how this one will go over with voters who want bailouts of their own.)

"Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama traded fresh jabs Sunday but offered no new policy prescriptions to lead the nation out of its economic morass," Bob Drogin and Michael Finnegan write in the Los Angeles Times. "Both candidates have grown far more assertive in recent days in accusing the other of misguided economic policies -- and both have moved more cautiously in suggesting remedies to the fast-moving crisis."

"Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain are trying to influence the course of the Bush administration's Wall Street bailout plan as they prepare for their first debate this week," USA Today's David Jackson and Jill Lawrence write. "Congress is expected to vote on the administration bailout plan this week. Neither campaign would say if the candidates would interrupt their week to fly to Washington and vote, or how they might vote on a final plan."

Here come the candidates' caveats: "Republican John McCain complained that the plan gives too much power to the Treasury secretary, and Democrat Barack Obama cautioned that any final deal must offer protection to taxpayers and homeowners as well as to Wall Street," Robert Barnes and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post. "Both men offered a set of principles -- strikingly similar -- that the final agreement should contain."

How serious are they? "Neither candidate said the $700 billion bailout would stop their tax cuts or spending plans," Elizabeth Holmes and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal. "Asked whether he could still balance the budget in his first term, Sen. McCain said he could as long as spending is restrained. Sen. Obama said he would continue to press his domestic agenda as long as it is all paid for with offsetting cuts and tax increases."

"Mr. McCain said in an interview here with CNBC and The New York Times that he would press on with his plan to extend the Bush tax cuts and to cut others," John Harwood and Michael Cooper write in The New York Times. "Mr. McCain also stuck by his support for allowing workers to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes in stocks and bonds, an approach that Democrats call privatization and that Mr. Obama has used to suggest Mr. McCain would subject retirees to excessive market risk."

(Who will be the first senator-who-would-be-president who heads back to Washington to help hammer out a deal?)

And yet -- two candidates who are trying to remake their parties could be brought back to reality by the fact that there are congressional elections looming, too.

On the Hill, where important bills rarely move quickly (if at all), the negotiations are fast turning into a legislative poker game -- plenty on the table, and the clock less important than winning the big pot.

"Congressional Democrats considering the Bush administration's emergency plan to shore up the U.S. financial system countered with their own demands yesterday, presenting draft legislation giving the government power to cut salaries of chief executives at firms that participate in the bailout and slash severance packages for their top management," Lori Montgomery and David Cho write in The Washington Post.

"We want to limit those [big payouts to executives] as a condition for giving them the aid. If the [Treasury] secretary would agree to that, we would move fairly quickly," House Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told ABC's Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" Monday.

"Congressional Republicans, too, put the Bush administration on notice that they would not rubber-stamp the bailout proposal but would insist on a number of changes, including specific protections for taxpayers. Those would include a requirement that any profits from the program be returned to the Treasury," David M. Herszenhorn, Stephen Labaton and Mark Landler write in The New York Times.

"Democrats said they planned to consider the bailout proposal separately from an economic recovery program that would include new public works spending, aid to states and added unemployment and food-stamp benefits. Congress could consider that plan and a stop-gap funding plan for the federal government before taking up the Treasury proposal later in the week," they report.

This may not move as fast as some would like: "This is of such import that if it takes a little longer to get it right, so be it," Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., tells the Times.

The context: "The current generation of Democratic congressional leaders feels burned -- and not a little humiliated -- by the Bush administration's use of the 2001 attacks to justify both the speedy enactment of the controversial and complex USA Patriot Act and congressional authorization of the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq," Politico's Glenn Thrush writes.

"They can't get away with what they did in 2001," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

As for the pure politics -- advantage, Obama (for now), writes Bloomberg's Al Hunt. "Obama, as more than a few Democrats are complaining, hasn't been as quick, sharp -- or demagogic -- as they would like. McCain has been beset by deeper difficulties: an inchoate and inconsistent message that seems to reflect political exigencies more than principled convictions. On the financial crisis, last week belonged to Obama."

Pressing that point, a new cable ad from the Obama campaign: "McCain just published an article praising Wall Street deregulation . . . A prescription for disaster."

David Yepsen also sees good fortunes for the Democrats: "If this is a repeat of the 1930s, the Democratic gains of 2006 can be recorded as akin to the Democratic gains in the election of 1930. That election presaged Franklin Roosevelt's victory in 1932, which ushered in 20 years of Democratic control of the White House," Yepsen writes in his Des Moines Register column.

"The events of last week related to the financial meltdown of established institutions could cause this lead to grow, or at least solidify for Obama," Matthew Dowd writes in his ABCNews.com column. In Friday's first debate, "McCain needs a win to overcome Obama's built in advantage in this race," he writes.

Is something still missing? "Barack Obama is a more persuasive messenger, but his economic message has yet to transcend the Gore-Kerry muddle," Jacob Weisberg writes for Slate. "Obama lacks any compelling storyline about why unemployment, inflation and inequality are rising; why the middle class is stagnating; or why the financial system has stopped working."

Could it work for the GOP? "Mr. McCain's tough talk on reforming a bureaucratic, outdated, ineffective regulatory system is just the right tone the Republicans need to strike in this hysterical, fear-ridden political environment," Donald Lambro writes in his Washington Times column.

"I say the Bush administration has failed," McCain said on CBS' "60 Minutes." "I remind you the Democrats have had the majority in Congress for the last two years. So everybody's failed."

McCain is painting Obama as part of the problem. Team McCain's latest ad highlights Obama's Chicago "friends": "His economic adviser, William Daley. Lobbyist. Mayor's brother. His money man, Tony Rezko. Client. Patron. Convicted Felon. His 'political godfather.' Emil Jones. Under ethical cloud. His governor, Rod Blagojevich. A legacy of federal and state investigations. With friends like that, Obama is not ready to lead."

Says Gov. Sarah Palin: "This week he voted present on the major economic issues of the day, and that is not leadership, America," she said in Florida, per ABC's Imtiyaz Delawala.

Think she's still popular? "In the biggest event of the 2008 campaign in Florida so far, Sarah Palin drew tens of thousands of people Sunday to a Central Florida town square decked out like the Fourth of July for a speech aimed at pumping up the state's Republican heartland," Beth Reinhard writes in the Miami Herald.

McCain's new play: He wants Andrew Cuomo at the SEC, and wants to take the political office out of the White House. "I think we've got to have a White House that is without politics," McCain said.

Politico's Mike Allen and Ben Smith: "After holding his tongue for eight years, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is getting his revenge on Karl Rove."

"The Sunday night proposals were the latest in a series of attempts by McCain to draw a dramatic contrast between himself and President George W. Bush as the campaign appeared to shift decisively away from his chosen turf of culture wars and national security, and toward the economy," Politico's Ben Smith writes. "Obama, for his part, will have a final chance this week to duct tape McCain to the economic crisis and an unpopular president, and bury him in the flood of bad economic news."

The wrong optics for McCain: "Senator John McCain's campaign manager was paid more than $30,000 a month for five years as president of an advocacy group set up by the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to defend them against stricter regulations," David D. Kirkpatrick and Charles Duhigg report. "Several current and former executives of the companies came forward to discuss the role that Rick Davis, Mr. McCain's campaign manager and longtime adviser, played in helping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac beat back regulatory challenges when he served as president of their advocacy group, the Homeownership Alliance, formed in the summer of 2000."

And you knew these folks looked familiar for a reason: "The clutch of Bush veterans helping to coach Palin reflects a larger reality about Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign: Far from being a group of outsiders to the Republican Party power structure, it is now run largely by skilled operatives who learned their crafts in successive Bush campaigns and various jobs across the Bush government over the past eight years," Anne Kornblut and Juliet Eilperin report in The Washington Post.

They continue: "One Republican with long-standing ties to the Bush administration described the situation as a paradox in which Palin is especially vulnerable." As for Mark McKinnon's pledge: "Bush confidant Mark McKinnon stopped formally advising McCain once Obama became the Democratic nominee -- but he, too, is continuing to advise the group and crafted Cindy McCain's convention speech."

Said one "Republican strategist": "It's insane to me that at the same time that it's running saying it's not going to be the Bush administration, this campaign looks like the Bush campaign on steroids."

It's also a bad time to still be supporting private Social Security accounts: "Financial turmoil may not just boost government's role in markets. It could undermine a push in recent years by conservatives, including John McCain, to inject more market forces into government-run and heavily regulated programs," Laura Meckler and Nick Timiraos report in The Wall Street Journal.

Said Obama (misleadingly): "If my opponent had his way, the millions of Floridians who rely on it would've had their Social Security tied up in the stock market this week."

Here's a stab at what might be the real story of the race: "Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks -- many calling them 'lazy,' 'violent' or responsible for their own troubles," per the AP's Ron Fournier and Trevor Tompson. "The poll, conducted with Stanford University, suggests that the percentage of voters who may turn away from Obama because of his race could easily be larger than the final difference between the candidates in 2004 -- about 2.5 percentage points."

Add some anecdotes: "Obama's name and his African heritage are obstacles to the party's chances of capturing the White House, party activists are finding," Dave Davies reports in the Philadelphia Daily News. "I'm hearing a lot of people saying, 'He's too young, he's too inexperienced,' " said Philadelphia AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding. "What they're really saying is, 'He's black.' "

The map shrinks by one (more): "Barack Obama, who has deployed more than 50 staffers in North Dakota in an attempt to become the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1964, is pulling out," the AP's Dale Wetzel reports. "An Obama spokeswoman, Amy Brundage, confirmed Sunday that the campaign's 11 North Dakota offices are being shut and its staffers dispatched to Minnesota and Wisconsin, where recent polls have shown a tight race between Obama and Republican John McCain."

It's already been shrinking, per the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcolm: "Earlier, Obama halted television advertising in Georgia. Idaho was conceded a Democratic write-off early on, as is Alaska now, given the presence of its popular Republican Gov. Sarah Palin as the vice presidential running mate on the GOP ticket."

At stake in Friday's debate (on foreign policy): David Broder sees an even match, though uneven challenges. "To win the election -- and not just this debate -- McCain must somehow convince voters that he would be fundamentally different from George Bush, whose policies and methods have been overwhelmingly rejected," Broder writes in his column. "To win the election -- and not just the debate -- Obama must show enough of himself that voters come to believe that despite not being able to identify with aspects of his exotic life story, they can trust him to look out for their interests as president."

Start the expectations-setting: Obama spokesman Bill Burton: "Anything short of a game-changing event will be a key missed opportunity for him." McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds: "It's likely that Obama will be quite impressive in this debate."

With the General Assembly convening, a statement of principles from a new, bipartisan group, United Against Nuclear Iran. "We do not aim to beat the drums of war. On the contrary, we hope to lay the groundwork for effective U.S. policies in coordination with our allies, the U.N. and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the Iranian regime's current course," reads The Wall Street Journal op-ed, by Richard Holbrooke, R. James Woolsey, Dennis B. Ross, and Mark D. Wallace. "The American people must have a voice in this great foreign-policy challenge, and we can make a real difference through national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures."

What Palin would have said if she could have said it in person: "Ahmadinejad may choose his words carefully, but underneath all of the rhetoric is an agenda that threatens all who seek a safer and freer world. We gather here today to highlight the Iranian dictator's intentions and to call for action to thwart him," she writes in the speech she says she would have delivered at the UN, published as an op-ed in the New York Sun. "He must be stopped."

Gov. Palin still gets some big-time meetings in New York: "Palin has added everyone from Bono to the presidents of Iraq and Pakistan to her dance card during her international waltz through town this week," David Saltonstall writes in the New York Daily News. "The Alaska governor is set to meet Tuesday with Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, followed by a sitdown with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. On Wednesday, she'll huddle with the presidents of Georgia and Ukraine, plus Jalal Talabani of Iraq and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan."

More from the Palin files: "Gov. Sarah Palin's administration has fought federal protections announced in May for polar bears, going to court to assert that the projections for a dramatic shrinking of the bears' icy habitat are unreliable and that polar bears are already protected enough," Kim Murphy reports in the Los Angeles Times.

On accountability: "Haven't we heard this soap opera before?" asks Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page. "Suddenly Troopergate is taking on echoes of the type of stonewalling practiced by the current White House. Suddenly, we are reminded of President Bush's unexplained dismissal and replacement of seven U.S. attorneys in late 2006 -- and repeated refusals by Bush political adviser Karl Rove and others to honor congressional subpoenas."

The first dude is keeping busy: "To a degree that has surprised many state government observers, Todd Palin also has become involved in policy, sitting in on his wife's meetings, traveling on state business and weighing in on some legislative issues," Alec MacGillis and Karl Vick write in The Washington Post. "Political hands in both parties say the Palins are often referred to as a team -- 'Sarah and Todd' -- and one Democratic lawmaker said Todd Palin has become her 'de facto chief of staff.' "

Time to spend: "Their campaign finance reports, filed before Saturday's midnight deadline, show that more than half of their $3-million-a-day spending rate was devoted to advertising that became increasingly negative during the month," the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn reports. "McCain spent about $23 million on advertising, his highest as he jockeyed for position against Obama in battleground states. Obama vastly outspent him -- about $33 million -- as he practically matched McCain's advertising in several key states and tried to expand his field to typically Republican-voting states such as Alaska and Georgia."

And: "McCain increased his staff spending, building up a payroll of nearly $1.2 million. He also spent more than $3 million on travel, at least twice as much as what he spent in July. Obama, however, was ahead of him in those categories as well. Obama spent about $2.8 million on payroll, an increase over his July spending. He also spent nearly $4.9 million on travel."

Getting ready for Friday, in the sunshine: "The democratic nominee will leave Chicago on Tuesday to set up debate prep shop in the Tampa area, complete with a litany of advisors in tow," per ABC's Sunlen Miller. "Friday's debate in Mississippi focuses on foreign policy -- and Greg Craig, one of Obama's top foreign policy advisors -- will play the role of John McCain in mock debate situation."

On that other debate: "At the insistence of the McCain campaign, the Oct. 2 debate between the Republican nominee for vice president, Gov. Sarah Palin, and her Democratic rival, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., will have shorter question-and-answer segments than those for the presidential nominees, the advisers said. There will also be much less opportunity for free-wheeling, direct exchanges between the running mates," Patrick Healy reports in The New York Times.

The Sked:

Before camping out in Florida for debate prep starting Tuesday, Obama holds a 1 pm ET event in Green Bay, Wis.

Michelle Obama is also in Wisconsin Monday. She holds a women's rally in Madison at 11 am ET, followed by a roundtable discussion on the economy in Wausau at 2:45 pm ET.

Joe Biden will address the National Guard Association at 11:30 am ET in Baltimore.

John McCain starts his Monday in Scranton, Pa. with an Irish-American Town Hall Meeting at 10:30 am ET.

In the evening, running mate Sarah Palin will join McCain in Media, Pa. for a rally at 5:30 pm ET.

Also in the news:

Newsweek counted cars: "Based on public vehicle-registration records, here's the score. John and Cindy McCain: 13. Barack and Michelle Obama: one."

That's not even two per house. But they're not all American-made: " 'Buy American' can't just be a slogan John McCain rolls out when he's in Michigan," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger told the Detroit News' Gordon Trowbridge.

Another day in the life of a Senate candidate: "[Al] Franken, who hasn't been a staff writer on ["Saturday Night Live"] for 13 years, 'phoned in' a spoof of McCain recording campaign ads in an edit booth, said an NBC source. Seth Meyers, the show's current head writer, wrote it, but the sketch was hatched by Franken, a longtime liberal satirist and comedian," Politico's Jonathan Martin and Josh Kraushaar report. "Franken's input to the show blindsided his campaign staff, who have been forced to explain away some of the more crass and profane parts of his past writing and acting that have been used as fodder against him in a state known for its polite manners."

A new Democratic 527: "With just weeks to go before the November election, a former aide to John Edwards is starting a so-called 527 political organization that may seek to boost Democrats' chances at the polls. Citizens for Safety & Security was formally registered with the Internal Revenue Service last week by the chief financial officer of Mr. Edwards's unsuccessful bid this year for the Democratic presidential nomination, Lora Haggard," Josh Gerstein reports in the New York Sun.

Did Joe Biden get what he wanted in Iraq? "While there remain many detractors who insist that Biden's proposal is unworkable, a growing number of them assert that a rough approximation of what Biden envisioned -- a decentralization of power -- appears to be taking shape anyway," Bryan Bender reports in The Boston Globe.

The election is quite literally upon us: "Voters by the thousands will begin casting ballots for president this week in an early voting process that's expected to set records this year," Richard Wolf writes for USA Today. "Residents of Virginia, Kentucky and Georgia are among the first in the nation eligible to vote in person, as well as by mail. During the next few weeks, at least 34 states and the District of Columbia will allow early in-person voting for Nov. 4 elections."

The Kicker:

"John who?" -- Response by newly installed press officer to a query submitted to the office of John Cramer, the head of Alaska's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. (The new press officer was installed by the McCain campaign.) http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-troopergate21-2008sep21,0,829160.story

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