The Note: Bailing Out?

Maybe this is the day Gov. Sarah Palin has been waiting for (does New York City -- not to mention the United Nations -- count as a visit to a foreign country?).

Maybe Sen. Joe Biden just committed the type of gaffe we thought he'd be reeling off at the pace of about one a week (and did his statement of clarification make things even a little bit better?).

Maybe (surely) George Will is not happy that Sen. John McCain has targeted his friend.

Maybe the person who has the best read on what will come out of Friday's debate is Alan Keyes (has anyone else debated both McCain and Sen. Barack Obama?).

Maybe the real story of race in the race has yet to be told.

And maybe we should feel bad for the bailout bill.

After all, it was born morbidly obese in a town that likes to pretend it's all about being lean. Its parents never really wanted one like it -- and we know they'll be out of the picture in a few months anyway.

The men who would be president sure aren't eager to adopt it. Oddly, their critiques sound similar -- reflecting a shared fate: Both McCain and Obama will have to take a stand on a very big issue that could be either economic salvation or a spectacularly expensive failure -- and could wind up being cast as either decisive leadership or a gigantic Wall Street handout.

"Either choice involves political risk," The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler, Elizabeth Holmes and Nick Timiraos report. "Opposing the plan could look irresponsible in the face of financial meltdown. But supporting a bailout for Wall Street firms while voters are suffering their own economic hardships could be hazardous, too."

"The similarity in the rhetoric between the candidates matched the similar outlooks of voters in their separate crowds Monday -- an unusual twist, as the two men tend to attract voters with different political perspectives," they continue. "Obama and McCain supporters alike said they saw the bailout as a necessary but upsetting move -- and said it had better include proper protections."

The teams in Arlington and Chicago are game-planning the sequence that will come about as one of the particular pleasures of having candidates who are sitting senators. (Will it be another one of those fun scenes on the Senate floor, the two rivals eyeing each other's thumbs on the eve of their first debate?)

It's McCain who at this moment appears more likely to oppose the bill, a maybe-too-tempting chance to signal a break with the Bush administration in an area where he's still building a political identity.

"Senator John McCain struck a sharply more critical tone about the proposed federal bailout of the financial sector on Monday, calling for greater oversight of how the Treasury secretary administers the program because 'when we're talking about a trillion dollars of taxpayer money, "trust me" just isn't good enough,' " Michael Cooper and Patrick Healy report in The New York Times.

"For Mr. McCain, who has sometimes struggled to connect with voters on the economy, the crisis offered a chance to strike a populist tone and buck an unpopular administration," they write.

But populism comes with a price: "Under the pressure of the financial crisis, one presidential candidate is behaving like a flustered rookie playing in a league too high. It is not Barack Obama," George Will writes in a column that blasts McCain for playing to the cheap seats.

"It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?"

McCain's play: "John McCain cast Barack Obama as indecisive in the face of the financial crisis, accusing him of resorting to partisan attacks rather than proposing concrete ideas for stabilizing the economy," Peter Nicholas and Bob Drogin report in the Los Angeles Times.

Headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer: "McCain says Obama MIA on rescue plan."

Obama's play: "Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama moved to claim the mantle of fiscal responsibility in a roiling economy, vowing Monday to slash federal spending on contractors by 10 percent and saving $40 billion," per the AP's Mike Glover. "Obama has focused tightly on the economy in recent days, urging Democrats and Republicans to join forces to approve a bailout of the troubled financial industry that not only saves the industry but protects taxpayers."

From the Green Bay Press Gazette: "Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama slammed rival John McCain for being a latecomer to reform before laying out his vision for streamlining government and managing the economy." Said Obama: "We cannot give a blank check to Washington with no oversight."

Want to complicate things on the bailout? The candidates aren't the only ones seeking daylight: "Members of President George W. Bush's own party are voicing their opposition to his financial rescue plan even as Democratic leaders narrow their differences with the administration," Bloomberg's James Rowley and Alison Vekshin report.

If it's doesn't turn out to be a close vote (and don't bet on that yet), it will surely be an interesting one, with the left and the right rallying against a measure that hasn't even been finalized.

"Rank-and-file Members on both ends of the political spectrum -- fearing a voter backlash -- are resisting the deal between Congressional leaders and the White House for a $700 billion Wall Street bailout package," per Roll Call's Steven T. Dennis and Emily Pierce.

"Nationalizing every bad mortgage in America is not the answer," Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said in a letter to his colleagues. "Cash for trash," said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif.

"Some members of Congress worry they're about to sign off on a $700 billion disaster," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "Right now, two sticking points remain in negotiations with the Bush administration: Congress wants to add bankruptcy reform to the bill on behalf of homeowners, so judges can re-negotiate mortgages and avoid foreclosures. The bigger issue: Congress wants modest limits on compensation for executives of these bailed-out firms."

The fight is joined: "Members of Congress were pressed hard Monday by financial industry lobbyists and consumer advocates alike seeking favorable language in the massive bailout bill expected to come for a vote this week," Tom Hamburger and William Heisel write in the Los Angeles Times. "Through conference calls, e-mail and personal emissaries, lenders and other business groups sought to block language that would allow struggling homeowners to have mortgage debt forgiven in bankruptcy cases."

"Democratic leaders said they were near agreement with the Bush administration yesterday on key provisions of a massive plan to revive the U.S. financial system, but the two sides remained at odds over other issues and were struggling to gain the support of rank-and-file lawmakers on both sides of the aisle," Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane report in The Washington Post.

"The Bush administration is resisting changes to the measure being sought by Democratic leaders and many Republicans, including one that would grant the government authority to cut executive pay at firms that participate in the bailout and another that would guarantee that taxpayers share in the profits if those firms recover financially," they write. "Meanwhile, rank-and-file lawmakers -- returning to Washington after a weekend in their districts -- voiced outrage that taxpayers were being asked to pay for the excesses of Wall Street and that Congress was being prodded to rubber-stamp the biggest federal intervention in the private market since the Great Depression."

On the right, some cover from Newt: "If this were a Democratic proposal, Republicans would remember that the Democrats wrote a grotesque housing bailout bill this summer that paid off their left-wing allies with taxpayer money, which despite its price tag of $300 billion has apparently failed as of last week, and could expect even more damage in this bill," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., blogs for National Review.  

Gingrich, on NPR's "All Things Considered" Monday: "I think what they're doing is just wrong. And I think that it's likely to fail and it's likely to make the situation worse over time."

Try explaining this one back home: "After 7 1/2 years of drift, President Bush has finally returned to his compassionate conservative roots with a heartfelt plea to Congress to help a needy and deserving group: those Wall Street CEOs who, for all their hard work, have been unable to lift themselves up by their wingtips," Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column.

Says Bill O'Reilly, on "Good Morning America" Tuesday: "I think the people have a right to be furious. The federal government has let them down. Both parties are at fault. . . . But what's the alternative -- a depression in this country?"

On the trail, it's about looking for openings, though tentatively: "Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain are walking a campaign tightrope -- staying nimble on the economic news while maintaining an assault position on their rival," The Hill's Sam Youngman writes.

A fresh problem for McCain -- who has the Fannie and Freddie connections now?

"The lobbying firm of the man Republicans say John McCain has chosen to begin planning a presidential transition earned more than a quarter of a million dollars this year representing Freddie Mac, one of the companies McCain blames for the nation's financial crisis," reads the scoop from Bloomberg's Jonathan D. Salant and Timothy J. Burger.

"Timmons & Co., whose founder and chairman emeritus is William Timmons Sr., was registered to lobby for Freddie Mac from 2000 through this month, when the federal government took over both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Newly available congressional records show Timmons's firm received $260,000 this year before its lobbying activities were barred under terms of the government rescue of the failed mortgage giant."

And on the McCain ad's claims of Obama connections with Franklin Raines -- Raines says he only met Obama once, and he hasn't contributed to Obama's campaign.

New Obama line of attack Tuesday: "Bermuda. It's more than just a vacation destination for John McCain," says the new Obama cable ad. "McCain went to Bermuda -- and while he was there pledged to protect tax breaks for American corporations that hide their profits offshore."

But Obama just might be distracted: "Sen. Barack Obama has been navigating two very different worlds in recent days -- lashing out on the stump against 'an ethic of greed, corner-cutting and inside dealing' as he courts voters facing economic hardship, then spending evenings soliciting campaign contributions from the affluent," Nick Timiraos writes in The Wall Street Journal.

"The Illinois senator attended two fund-raisers Monday night, one with a minimum $1,500 contribution at an exclusive Chicago club that raised $1 million from 700 attendees, and a $28,500-a-plate dinner and dessert reception at a Chicago restaurant expected to draw around 50 donors. The Chicago fund-raisers come on the heels of five events that drew several million dollars in Florida, California and New Mexico last week."

In case you need convincing on the economy as an issue: "Economic jitters and a favorable Democratic climate are contributing to a competitive presidential contest in Virginia," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes. Obama "holds a 10-point lead over John McCain among registered voters in trust to handle the economy; a bigger, 23-point advantage in understanding Americans' economic problems; and large head-to-head leads in vote preference among those who cite the economy as their top issue and who express worry about its direction."

The head-to-head in Virginia: Obama 49, McCain 46.

How it's happening: "Neighbors are the key to the Obama campaign's strategy in Virginia, what they call their 'persuasion army.' Their plan focuses on personal initiatives in the neighborhood, such as backyard barbeques, that they believe may win more voters than a TV ad," ABC's John Berman reports.

The fundamentals: "The poll gives Democrats a slight advantage in terms of partisan identification, echoing shifts in national polling data. Adjusting this sample to the slim GOP advantages from previous Virginia elections would give McCain a small boost, but the contest would remain extremely tight," Tim Craig and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.

New Quinnipiac Polls out Tuesday -- good news in Obamaland:

Colorado: Obama 49, McCain 45 Michigan: Obama 48, McCain 44 Minnesota: Obama 47, McCain 45 Wisconsin: Obama 49, McCain 42

From the write-up: "By 19-24 point margins, voters in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin say Democrat Barack Obama, not Republican John McCain, is the candidate of change, helping lift Sen. Obama into the lead in these battleground states, according to four simultaneous Quinnipiac University polls of likely voters in these battleground states."

New Hampshire numbers: McCain 47, Obama 45

Meanwhile -- look who doesn't like the ads the Obama-Biden campaign is running. "I thought that was terrible by the way," Joe Biden told Katie Couric, referring to the ad that mocks McCain for being out of touch because he doesn't use a computer. "I didn't know we did it and if I had anything to do with it, we would have never done it."

Damage control: Biden said in a statement that he hadn't seen the ad he thought was "terrible" a few hours earlier, and -- look over here! "Having now reviewed the ad, it is even more clear to me that, given the disgraceful tenor of Sen. McCain's ads and their persistent falsehoods, his campaign is in no position to criticize, especially when they continue to distort Barack's votes on an issue as personal as keeping kids safe from sexual predators."

In fairness, we were waiting for it: The comment was "perhaps his most off-message statement yet since being tapped as Barack Obama's running mate," per Politico's Jonathan Martin.

Adds his colleague, Ben Smith: "Joe Biden does what the old, pre-discipline John McCain used to, and condemns his own campaign's tactics."

If you really want to know how the candidates are viewing the bailout: "Neither presidential candidate seemed ready yesterday to readjust his campaign promises to match a changing reality that could push the federal budget deficit next year toward $1 trillion," Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post.

"Advisers in both campaigns said they are not about to shelve their own plans to get the economy back on track," Weisman continues. "Given the drama on Wall Street, economists of all economic stripes say the candidates' reluctance to adjust to the new landscape, as well as their focus on such peripheral issues as lobbying ties to mortgage giant Fannie Mae, are turning the campaigns into a sideshow."

"It could complicate McCain's efforts to sell his plan to make permanent a series of Bush administration tax cuts that are due to expire at the end of next year," USA Today's Kathy Kiely and David Jackson write. "Obama's wish list includes a series of middle-income tax breaks that he estimates would cost $85 billion a year and expanded health care coverage at about $65 billion a year."

Says Leon Panetta: "They're operating in never-never land," if they don't think they need to lower their expectations.

A fascinating take on race: "Barack Obama's candidacy for president both underscores sharp racial divides in this country and offers avenues for progress: Political engagement by blacks is up sharply, Americans across racial lines think the 2008 campaign will change blacks' self-image for the better and most see Obama's nomination as a sign of broader racial progress," per ABC polling director Gary Langer.

"Seven in 10 Americans, similarly, think his candidacy represents broader progress for all blacks, not a single case of individual advancement," Langer writes. "But beyond that agreement this ABC News/USA Today/Columbia University poll also finds broad divides among the races, in vote choices, issue concerns, life experiences and identity. And there are further divides among blacks themselves, on fundamental questions of racial identity, individual initiative and the root causes of social problems."

And it all comes back to the economy: "By overwhelming margins, all three [ethnic] groups agree that the country is on the wrong track. One-third or a bit more of whites, blacks and Hispanics say they feel financially insecure," per USA Today's Susan Page and William Risser.

From the AP-Yahoo poll on race: "It shows that a substantial portion of white Americans still harbor negative feelings toward blacks. It shows that blacks and whites disagree tremendously on how much racial prejudice exists, whose fault it is and how much influence blacks have in politics," per the AP's Charles Babington. "One result is that Barack Obama's path to the presidency is steeper than it would be if he were white."

Debate Prep:

The New York Times take on McCain: "He has used fairly consistent techniques during his roughly 30 debates on the national stage: he is an aggressive competitor who scolds his opponents, grins when he scores and is handy with the rhetorical shiv," Elisabeth Bumiller writes. "A review of several of Mr. McCain's debates shows that he is most comfortable and authentic when the subject is foreign policy. . . . Mr. McCain is likely to steer the conversation, as he has in past debates, to his captivity in Vietnam."

John M. Broder judges Obama to be "uneven" as a debater -- because he's too smart (?). "Mr. Obama has a tendency to overintellectualize and to lecture, befitting his training as a lawyer and law professor. He exudes disdain for the quips and sound bites that some deride as trivializing political debates but that have become a central part of scoring them. He tends to the earnest and humorless when audiences seem to crave passion and personality. He frequently rises above the mire of political combat when the battle calls for engagement."

How does this play in? "In recent days, John McCain has made a series of verbal gaffes that have undercut his campaign claim that he is the candidate who is ready to safeguard the nation's struggling economy, some political analysts believe," per ABC's Jennifer Parker. "The verbal stumbles may have wider ramifications for the GOP presidential pick by reminding voters of earlier flubs and calling into question other aspects of his candidacy, including his foreign policy experience."

"Whenever the issue turns to the economy, McCain's going to be at a disadvantage," says presidential historian Stephen Hess.

Debate No. 1 is about foreign policy -- unless it also becomes about the economy. "McCain now has something of a breakwater from the economic questions where he seems constantly, dangerously at sea," Bob Shrum writes in his The Week column. "In the end, however, Obama's calculation may let the Democrat have it both ways. On Friday, he'll tie the nation's economic difficulties to the trillion-dollar mistake in Iraq that McCain championed."

Setting expectations: "John McCain has boasted throughout the campaign about his decades of Washington foreign policy experience and what an advantage that will be for him," Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro tells ABC. "This debate offers him major home court advantage and anything short of a game-changing event will be a key missed opportunity for him."

Obama starts his down stretch on Tuesday -- time Republicans are labeling "Foreign Policy Camp." (Time to raise expectations -- GOPers assert that surely he'll be ready to debate, but is he ready to lead?)

On that topic: "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has never met a foreign leader and has a team of advisers briefing her on foreign policy, will get a two-day crash course this week, meeting a half-dozen presidents and prime ministers from political hot spots around the globe," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times.

"Her meeting with the heads of some of the most sensitive and politically volatile counties in the world could be a means for Palin to silence her critics, who claim her résumé is light on foreign policy," Jennifer Fermino reports in the New York Post.

"Sarah Palin swooped into New York Monday night to meet world leaders, but New York won't be meeting her," Richard Sisk writes in the New York Daily News. "The GOP veep hopeful has served as a crowd magnet in other parts of the country -- she drew 60,000 to a Florida rally on Sunday. But the Alaska governor will be kept largely under wraps during her stay in New York, where Dems outnumber GOPers 5 to 1."

Does she need a tutorial? "John McCain's campaign is scrapping, rescheduling or offering surrogates for nearly every one of the fundraisers Sarah Palin was to hold this month, instead having her campaign jointly with McCain, prepare for her sole debate next month and get some foreign policy exposure," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports. "According to an internal fundraising calendar put together in late-August just before McCain's vice presidential selection, Palin was to have headlined nine fundraisers across five states by now. She's attended just one to date."

A glimmer of cooperation? "Attorneys for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin met with a special investigator for the Alaska Personnel Board earlier today to broker her cooperation with the panel's own probe of the scandal now known as 'Troopergate,' according to sources close to the matter," per ABC's Rhonda Schwartz and Justin Rood.

The Sked:

Obama is down in Tampa on Tuesday, as he prepares for Friday's first general-election debate.

Joe Biden speaks to the National Jewish Democratic Counsel in Washington, at 5 pm ET.

John McCain begins his Tuesday in Strongsville, Ohio with a statement at 10:30 am ET. He then tours Nova Machine Products in Middleburg, Ohio at 11:20 am ET, and heads to Freeland, Mich. to tour Dow Corning Corporation at 4:00 pm ET.

Sarah Palin has her first big day at the UN, meeting with President Karzai of Afghanistan at noon ET, then with President Uribe of Colombia at 1 pm ET. She meets with Henry Kissinger at 2:15 pm ET.

President Bush addresses the UN's General Assembly at 10:30 am ET.

Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

Coming next -- in the wake of the Rezko/Blagojevich/Emil Jones ad -- now it's getting personal?

"The McCain campaign is gearing up to criticize Senator Obama for his past associations with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and a former Weather Underground operative, William Ayers, in the home stretch of the presidential race," per the New York Sun's Eli Lake. "The McCain campaign, according to one aide, decided it would play the Wright and Ayers cards after Mr. Obama's campaign ran ads linking Senator McCain to a talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh."

On the ad that's already out there: "The Chicago machine concept is one that Republicans in Illinois had long urged the McCain campaign to tell the nation about, noting the dysfunction of Democratic-controlled Illinois government," Rick Pearson writes in the Chicago Tribune. "Yet it also is a premise that McCain draws overly broadly in the ad and one that risks confusing voters unfamiliar with the day-to-day players in Chicago politics."

The Duke sees the race card having already been dealt: "The same thing is happening again this year," Michael Dukakis tells PolitickerMA's Jeremy P. Jacobs, drawing a straight line between Willie Horton and Franklin Raines.

Some substance, on Bill Ayers: "From 1995 to 1999, he led an education foundation called the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), and remained on the board until 2001. The group poured more than $100 million into the hands of community organizers and radical education activists," Stanley Kurtz writes in a Wall Street Journal column. "The CAC was the brainchild of Bill Ayers, a founder of the Weather Underground in the 1960s."

The NRA fires away: A series of new ads takes aim at Obama's record on guns, per ABC's Jake Tapper.

The Washington Post fact-checkers rap Obama, on his Social Security claims about McCain: "Obama has distorted McCain's position on Social Security, just as McCain has twisted Obama's position on taxes. . . . As the presidential campaign enters its final phase, both candidates have resorted to scare tactics and a barrage of misleading, sometimes false statistics to drum up votes."

The big GOP split on global warming: "Although Palin established a sub-cabinet to deal with climate change issues a year ago, she has focused on how to adapt to global warming rather than how to combat it, and she has publicly questioned scientists' near-consensus that human activity plays a role in the rising temperatures," Juliet Eilperin reports in The Washington Post.

Who's drawing the bigger crowds now? ABC's Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller have the visual evidence.

Look who's running for reelection -- entourage diminished: "This year, there are no marching bands, no campaign jet with his name emblazoned on the side, no huge crowds chanting, 'Kerry! Kerry!' " Matt Viser writes in The Boston Globe. "Running for a fifth Senate term after coming within 118,000 votes of the presidency, Kerry has a unique challenge before him: He has to put aside thoughts of what might have been and recollections of the status he briefly enjoyed, all while stoking up excitement to hold onto the job he has now."

Said Kerry: "You'd be blind or idiotic not to acknowledge the big difference between being able to give a speech on a daily basis that the nation is listening to, and going out and talking to small groups of people. . . . I don't know if I want to do it all my life. . . . I haven't made that decision."

Great detail: "His first debate with President Bush in 2004 was seen by nearly 63 million people. His first and only debate with his primary opponent two weeks ago -- a debate Kerry didn't seem eager to do -- aired at 8:30 on a Sunday morning, and it lasted 19 minutes."

Bill Clinton, doing the publicity rounds, is set to hit the trail next week. Campaign events are on tap in Florida, Nevada, and Ohio, as are fundraisers in New York, California, and Ohio.

More on the Palin hacker: "FBI agents swooped down on the party pad of a 20-year-old University of Tennessee economics student -- and son of a Democratic lawmaker -- who allegedly hacked into the personal e-mail account of Republican veep nominee Sarah Palin," per the New York Post. "One source told a Knoxville television station agents served a warrant early Sunday at the apartment of David Kernell just five blocks from campus while several students were having a party there."

On the Hill races -- Republicans have a bounce in their steps, though not so much with the bulge in their wallets. "With a favorable wind at their backs, Senate Democrats have largely succeeded in expanding the national playing field into previously impregnable Republican territory," Reid Wilson writes for Real Clear Politics. "That isn't the case for the GOP. Though the National Republican Senatorial Committee outraised their Democratic counterparts by a small margin, few Republican incumbents have invested significant resources in the NRSC's efforts to defend their minority."

The Kicker:

"I want to ask you a few questions, Media." -- Sarah Palin -- in Media, Pa. (but still not letting the media ask her questions).

"Whatever the New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization." -- McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt, maybe just slightly over-the-top in playing media critic.

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