The Note: Now Batting, No. 44

Sen. John McCain used to say he'd rather lose an election than lose a war. Well -- what about an economy, senator?

This is a moment for presidential leadership, a chance for a Mr. September -- and it's McCain who has the most at stake in how he handles the bailout bill nobody loves but everybody seems to realize you cannot in good faith hate.

The measure is a tempting target for McCain to ramp up the populism and signal a major break with President Bush -- and maybe leave Sen. Barack Obama clinging to an unpopular bag. But actions have consequences -- and McCain's actions could be particularly consequential given the curious politics of this most curious of measures.

"If Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain doesn't vote for the Bush administration's $700 billion economic bailout plan, some Republican and Democratic congressional leaders tell ABC News the plan won't pass," per ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

"If McCain doesn't come out for this, it's over," a top House Republican tells ABC.

As for Democrats: "A Democratic leadership source says that White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten has been told that Democratic votes will not be there if McCain votes no -- that there is no deal if McCain doesn't go along," Stephanopoulos reports.

"McCain's aides say he has not made up his mind, and one [aide] told me that McCain is determined to, quote, 'be the champion of the little guy here,' " Stephanopoulos reported on "World News."

ABC's Jake Tapper: "Senior Democrats on the Hill are worried that Sen. McCain, R-Ariz., will 'demagogue' the bill, continue to voice opposition to it, use it to run against both Wall Street and Congress, as well as to distance himself from the Bush White House. Democrats worry McCain will not only vote against the bill, he will provide cover for other Republicans to do so, leaving Democrats holding the bag for the Bush administration's deeply unpopular proposal."

Why wait for January when we could use a president today? (And why wait another day when the race's dynamics are shifting by the hour?)

Your much-altered race, swirled by the economic wake: "Barack Obama has seized the reins of economic discontent, vaulting over John McCain's convention gains by persuading voters he both better understands their economic troubles and can better address them," ABC's Gary Langer writes. "Fifty-three percent of registered voters in this new ABC News/Washington Post poll call the economy the single most important issue in the election, up 12 points in two weeks to an extraordinary level of agreement."

"He's recovered to a 14-point lead over McCain in trust to handle the economy, and leads by 13 points specifically in trust to deal with the meltdown of major financial institutions," Langer writes -- and trust in other areas falls into place around the big ones.

It's 52-43 among likely voters, the first statistically significant lead either candidate has had this election in this poll -- and the first time in the past three election cycles that the Democratic candidate has broken 50 percent in am ABC/Post pre-election poll. (Last McCain bastion? McCain 72, Obama 48, on who would make a good commander-in-chief.)

Per George Stephanopoulos -- not since 1948 has a candidate with a lead this big this late lost the election.

"Turmoil in the financial industry and growing pessimism about the economy have altered the shape of the presidential race, giving Democratic nominee Barack Obama the first clear lead of the general-election campaign over Republican John McCain," Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.

Palin popped? "In the face of bad economic news, the two candidates now run about evenly among white women, and Obama has narrowed the overall gap among white voters to five percentage points," they write. "Two weeks ago, when those surveyed were asked who they trusted to deal with a major unexpected crisis, McCain led 54 percent to 37 percent. That lead is gone."

What does McCain do? Pressure from Newt: "dead loser on Election Day," is how former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., describes the bailout bill, per ABC's Teddy Davis. He tells Davis: "I don't know how [McCain] can vote for this and with a straight face go around and say that he's for real change and he's the reform candidate."

If McCain opposes it . . . "You'll have 'Bush-Obama ads' on the one side and 'taking on the Bush-Obama establishment' on the other side, and that will be, frankly, one of the more amazing elections," Gingrich said.

Careful -- who's the elitist now?

"The McCain campaign wants to cast Sen. Barack Obama as an arugula-munching, Hawaii-vacationing, Ivy League-educated limousine liberal who's eager to raise your taxes and outlaw your guns in cahoots with his effete intellectual friends," per ABC News. "But such a message -- similar to ones that have been driven by GOP campaigns for decades -- is getting lost, perhaps somewhere in Sen. John McCain's seven homes and 13 cars. In a reversal from recent presidential campaigns, this year's race features a Democrat who is portraying the Republican as an elitist who can't relate to the concerns of ordinary Americans."

And a widening Fannie and Freddie problem for McCain: "One of the giant mortgage companies at the heart of the credit crisis paid $15,000 a month to a firm owned by Senator John McCain's campaign manager from the end of 2005 through last month, according to two people with direct knowledge of the arrangement," Jackie Calmes and David D. Kirkpatrick write in The New York Times.

"The disclosure contradicts a statement Sunday night by Mr. McCain that the campaign manager, Rick Davis, had no involvement with the company for the last several years," Calmes and Kirkpatrick write. "Mr. Davis took a leave from Davis & Manafort for the duration of the campaign, but as a partner and equity-holder continues to share in its profits."

They've been warning us about The New York Times (who might be the scarier McCain enemy in New York this week -- Bill Keller, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?)

"The New York Times is trying to fill an ideological niche. It is a business decision, and one made under economic duress, as the New York Times is a failing business. But the paper's reporting on Senator McCain, his campaign, and his staff should be clearly understood by the American people for what it is: a partisan assault aimed at promoting that paper's preferred candidate, Barack Obama," Michael Goldfarb blogs for the McCain campaign.

But it's not just the Times: "Almost up until the time it was taken over by the government in the nation's financial crisis, one of two housing giants paid $15,000 a month to the lobbying firm of John McCain's campaign manager, a person familiar with the financial arrangement says," the AP's Pete Yost writes. "The money from Freddie Mac to the firm of Rick Davis is on top of more than $30,000 a month that went directly to Davis for five years starting in 2000."

It's not just the Times and the AP: "The firm, Davis Manafort, has collected $15,000 a month from the organization since late 2005, when Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae dissolved a five-year-old advocacy group that Davis earned nearly $2 million leading, the sources said," Roll Call's Tory Newmyer reports.

It's not just the Times and the AP and Newsweek: "Since 2006, the federally sponsored mortgage giant Freddie Mac has paid at least $345,000 to the lobbying and consulting firm of John McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis, according to two sources familiar with the arrangement," Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reports.

Says David Donnelly, Director of Campaign Money Watch: "John McCain's campaign manager and Freddie Mac essentially had what amounts to a secret half a million dollar lay-a-way plan."

Back on the bailout bill, still no commitments, from either candidate, beyond new sets of principles: "The financial meltdown is bedeviling both candidates, who know the Nov. 4 election could turn on voters' sense of who can best keep the country from a deep recession," Charles Babington reports for the AP. "They have acted cautiously so far, avoiding the intense debate in Congress and offering similar calls for greater oversight and taxpayer protections, which rank among the less controversial criticisms of the plan."

"John McCain and Barack Obama both talked Tuesday about the urgency of Congress passing legislation bailing out the financial sector, but refrained from saying they'd back the bill if it failed to meet conditions they set for changing it," Matthew Dolan and Corey Dade write in The Wall Street Journal. "Sen. McCain declined to say if he saw any deal-breakers that could force him to vote against the proposal. He said that Democrats in Congress waiting to see if he would support the legislation should instead focus on the nature of the financial crisis and not worry about his vote."

They could hammer out a pretty good deal just between the two of them: "For all their disputes, the plans put forward by the pair are nearly identical in important respects," Peter Nicholas and Bob Drogin report in the Los Angeles Times. "Both candidates said they were uncomfortable with the sweeping powers the Bush proposal would give to the secretary of the Treasury. They recommended creation of an independent board that would oversee the rescue."

In all of this -- a chance for McCain? "For a man who's sworn to keep us safe, McCain seems to have been presented with a new opportunity," Sridhar Pappu writes for the Washington Independent. "McCain now has the chance to use the nation's economic straits to his advantage, to take ownership of an issue that could dominate the national debate through Election Day and after. He can be the steady force of reason -- a candidate who puts the public ahead of party for the greater good."

Who makes this move? "It might make tactical sense for both Obama and McCain to return to Washington to lead the effort to get ball moving again (not just vote on the package but lead the effort to craft the package)," Phil Singer blogs. "From a tactical vantage point, this crisis allows for a substantive congressional role which means that presidential candidates who are senators can participate."

Stepping it up: Obama "was more critical than Mr. McCain of the bailout plan, and in both his tone and remarks sought to come across as the leader of the opposition party at a time of national crisis," Elisabeth Bumiller and Patrick Healy report in The New York Times. "Although he was in large part reiterating the concerns that Congressional Democrats have been expressing to reporters and at hearings in Washington, his goal was to encompass the various Democratic messages in one voice that would be a counterweight to the Republican position coming from the Bush administration."

Another poll to chew over: "By a margin of 55 percent to 31 percent, Americans say it's not the government's responsibility to bail out private companies with taxpayer dollars, even if their collapse could damage the economy, according to the latest Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll. Poll respondents say Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama would do a better job handling the financial crisis than Republican John McCain, by a margin of 45 percent to 33 percent."

Things are moving on the Hill -- but this is a tough sell to both Democrats and Republicans -- and surely anyone who's prepared to face the voters in seven weeks wants to get this one right.

"Lawmakers in both parties voiced anger over the steep cost and even skepticism about the plan's chances of success," David M. Herszenhorn writes in The New York Times. "As heated debate began on Capitol Hill, Congress and the administration remained at odds over the demands of some lawmakers, including limits on the pay of top executives whose firms seek help, and new authority to allow bankruptcy judges to reduce mortgage payments for borrowers facing foreclosure."

Try sorting this out: "$700 billion is on the table as Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson . . . congressional Democrats . . . congressional Republicans . . . Wall Street . . . Barack Obama . . . and John McCain play their hands," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Wednesday.

"The issue transcended party lines. Democrats voiced doubts, and many Republicans, particularly in the House, balked at the entreaties from Cheney, [Josh] Bolten and other officials," Lori Montgomery, Paul Kane and Neil Irwin write in The Washington Post. "The remaining sticking points in talks with the Treasury, [Barney] Frank said, are whether to limit executive pay and whether bankruptcy judges should be given authority to modify mortgages on primary residences."

Still pushing: "The Bush administration's forceful lobbying effort failed Tuesday to win support from rank-and-file Republicans or Democrats for a $700 billion Wall Street bailout package, though GOP and Democratic leaders still planned to move a bipartisan bill by the end of the week," Steven T. Dennis and Emily Pierce report for Roll Call.

Even the vice president couldn't get it done: "Cheney's inability to turn around members of his own party said plenty about how congressional Republicans view the Bush White House these days -- but maybe even more about their discomfort with a bailout plan many of them see as an attack on their free market principles," Politico's Patrick O'Connor reports.

Where's the juice? "In talking to their respective caucuses in the days since, party leaders have underlined the gravity of the problem. But having heard doom and gloom from the Bush administration to justify everything from the Iraq war to the Patriot Act, rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats remain very skeptical about the rescue plan. In many legislators' minds, President Bush has cried wolf one too many times," reports Time's Jay Newton-Small.

And Democrats won't let the Bush proposal be portrayed as theirs: "[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi (D-Calif.) has effectively sent the message that if she is going to jump off a cliff to rescue Wall Street, she wants House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and George W. Bush holding her hands when she leaps," Mike Soraghan and Jared Allen report for The Hill.

On the trail, get ready to downsize: "The crisis in the nation's financial system and the prospect of chronic, large federal budget deficits will probably delay many of their most ambitious proposals," Brian C. Mooney writes in The Boston Globe. "Both Obama and McCain outlined their ambitious agendas in convention acceptance speeches before the enormity of the financial turmoil became clear with the string of bankruptcies, buyouts, and bailouts. But yesterday they and their campaigns insisted that they can carry out their tax and spending proposals."

Watching the attacks: "Hundreds of times in the past three weeks, cable television viewers here [in Michigan] have been the exclusive audience for two of the roughest advertisements of the political season," Jim Rutenberg writes in The New York Times. "One links Senator Barack Obama to the former mayor of Detroit, Kwame M. Kilpatrick, an African-American whose political career unraveled in scandal. The other features Mr. Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A Wright Jr., also black, and his now infamous sermon marked by the words 'God damn America.' "

"The advertisements point up the unusual nature of this year's more potentially pernicious political attacks: They are not coming with the loud, nationally recognized cannon blast of the type launched by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth against Senator John Kerry in 2004, but, rather, as more stealthy, narrowly aimed rifle shots from smaller groups armed with incendiary material."

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has his own idea for an Obama attack ad -- something to do with Charles Keating Jr. "If people start throwing dirt and mud -- remember, it comes back and hits you right in the face," Daley said, per the Chicago Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos. "It would be a great ad. People lost their life savings. Life savings, their own homes, for a guy named Keating out of Arizona."

The New York Times' Michael Luo looks at Obama fundraising efforts through the eyes of one former Clinton money man, Hassan Nemazee. "There are at least some signs that money from former Clinton backers is starting to pick up for the Obama campaign," Luo writes. "But that does not mean that finding people who could write a check for $28,500 -- the ticket price per couple for the intimate dinner on Monday at Mr. Nemazee's Park Avenue apartment -- was particularly easy, especially among a New York donor base heavily dependent upon the fortunes of Wall Street."

Which states matter most? "The Obama campaign sent the Florida Democratic Party a $250,000 check on Aug. 22, $200,000 to Colorado Democrats and lesser amounts to 22 other states -- all but one a battleground -- on the same day, according to FEC records," per the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet.

The Veeps:

Gov. Sarah Palin did New York Tuesday, for the first of two days of meetings with world leaders. But as press access restrictions reached ludicrous levels, we almost didn't see the pictures. (Lesson learned: When you really don't care about the filter, sometimes it filters.)

"For a time this morning, the McCain-Palin campaign refused to allow any editorial presence -- no reporters or producers -- to go with a network pool camera to take pictures of Palin meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger," per ABC's Kate Snow. "The McCain campaign eventually relented after the television networks threatened to ban and not use any footage of Palin meeting with leaders."

Not that it was fascinating television: "It was a tightly controlled crash course on foreign policy for the Republican vice presidential candidate, the mayor-turned-governor who has been outside North America just once," AP's Sara Kugler reports. "Palin sat down with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. The conversations were private, the pictures public, meant to build her resume for voters concerned about her lack of experience in world affairs."

"It was Ms. Palin's introduction to motorcade diplomacy, a lightning round of meetings and photo opportunities designed to portray Ms. Palin -- who lacks much in the way of foreign policy experience, has traveled abroad little and had not met a foreign head of state before Tuesday -- at ease with world leaders," Michael Cooper and Kate Zernike report in The New York Times. "And while she rode from leader to leader, sometimes causing gridlock along the way, her husband, Todd, took their 5-month-old son, Trig, and two of their daughters, Willow, 14, and Piper, 7, about town. They took pictures with the Statue of Liberty in the background, ate hot dogs in Central Park and stopped in at F.A.O. Schwarz, where Piper tried on some princess dresses, the campaign said."

Actual words spoken by the actual candidate: "They were very, very good meetings. Very helpful," Palin told the New York Daily News at the end of the day, as she hustled toward the elevators at her Times Square hotel.

Michael Saul and David Saltonstall, in the Daily News: "In a photo op with Kissinger, Palin sounded more like a gushing student than a seasoned globetrotter. After Kissinger praised McCain's tough stance against the Russian invasion of Georgia, Palin replied, 'Good, good. And you'll give me more insight on that, also, huh? Good.' "

More from the annals of the Fourth Estate: "It was like a miniature mutiny. Reporters frustrated by weeks of limited access to Republican presidential nominee John McCain shouted questions at him during a photo opportunity event near Cleveland this morning," ABC's Ron Claiborne reports.

(By day's end, McCain had held his first press conference in 40 days. There are only 41 days left to the election, by the way.)

As for the Democratic running mate -- forget taking it to world leaders. For now, they'll settle for brokering piece between No. 1 and No. 2.

"Barack Obama slapped his loose-lipped running mate Tuesday, chastising Joe Biden for speaking too fast and contradicting him on one of the massive financial bailouts," Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News.

One to challenge the spinners: "Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden appeared to undermine Barack Obama's backing of clean-coal technology when he told voters in Maumee last week that neither he nor Obama 'are supporting clean coal,' " Jack Torry and Jonathan Riskind report in the Columbus Dispatch. "We're not supporting clean coal," Biden said.

Except they are: "Senator McCain knows that Senator Obama and Senator Biden support clean-coal technology," said Biden spokesman David Wade.

All in one place: The RNC's Biden gaffe timeline.

See this coming? "As Joseph Biden addressed the rope line of supporters following his speech at the National Jewish Democratic Council conference Tuesday evening, an aide to the Senator was asking reporters to leave the area," Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports. "At least three journalists were told that they couldn't listen in on what Biden was saying to the throngs of people who had lined up to have their picture taken with the Senator. Instead, they were directed back to the press section - well removed from and out of view of the vice presidential candidate."

The Sked:

Barack Obama remains in Florida Wednesday for debate prep. He will hold a rally in Denedin, Fla. at 1 pm ET.

Joe Biden works through more Midwest battlegrounds. He gives a "major" foreign-policy address in Cincinnati at 9 am ET, then heads to Jeffersonville, Ind., for a 4:15 pm ET rally.

Michelle Obama spends Wednesday campaigning in Pennsylvania. She heads to Allentown for a roundtable with military spouses at 1:30 pm ET, followed by a rally in Philadelphia at 4:30 pm ET.

John McCain and Sarah Palin are in New York City Wednesday. McCain starts his Wednesday with an economic meeting and a statement at 8:15am ET, followed by a meeting with newly proclaimed supporter Lady Lynn de Rothschild at 10:45am ET.

Palin will then join McCain for two meetings: with Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko at 11:15am ET, then with Bono at 3 pm ET.

In between, Palin will also meet with President Jalal Talabani of Iraq at 12:45 pm ET followed by President Asif Ali Zardari, the newly elected leader of Pakistan.

Palin sits down with Katie Couric for an interview Wednesday.

McCain will sneak in a "Letterman" taping before rejoining Palin for a meeting with Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, at 6 pm ET. Then McCain is on his own for a meeting with John Chambers, at 7 pm ET.

President Bush has cancelled his Wednesday events and is in Washington -- prime-time address, anyone? "No decision had been made as of this morning but it's being strongly considered," per Politico's Mike Allen.

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

Also in the news:

They can't really refuse to stray from foreign policy, can they? "The televised debates could have an unusually large impact on the presidential race this year, but organizers and candidates face an immediate challenge of making sure the first session this Friday, which is supposed to cover only foreign policy, does not seem strangely detached from the economic crisis facing America," Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun.

Why Obama is where he is: "The Tampa Bay area is the biggest regional battleground in the war for Florida's 27 electoral votes, and Obama's visit to Pinellas underscores the state's importance to him," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times. "His Tampa-based campaign already has more than 400 paid staffers and 50 offices across Florida, and this week he can focus on the debate in seclusion while easily popping out to generate local excitement and publicity."

Expecting expectations: "The campaigns are actively trying to lower expectations, with McCain officials pointing to Obama's three days of debate camp in Clearwater, Fla., and Obama advisers noting that McCain has engaged in debates over the course of his 26-year political career," Jill Zuckman and John McCormick write in the Chicago Tribune.

Advice from Howard Wolfson: Don't stop watching at the end of the debate. "Forget about the debate. Focus on the spin. What really counts is who wins the debate over the debate," Wolfson blogs for The New Republic. "It begins with the post-debate spin rooms -- much derided by the media but still well attended by reporters -- in which operatives from each side rush out to to shape the immediate coverage. It continues on conference calls to give hundreds of surrogates across the nation their marching orders. And it plays out for days as candidates and staff weigh in on the stump and on cable TV."

Clintons . . . everywhere? "Americans turning on the television the last couple of days could be forgiven if they thought the calendars had been turned back: On every channel, it seemed, were the Clintons," Russell Berman writes in the New York Sun. "President and Senator Clinton have conducted at least 10 separate television interviews since Monday morning, with most focused on their recommendations for handling the financial crisis that has rocked the markets and taken center stage in Congress."

What is Bill up to? "It's striking how one of the world's great's political salesman is acting as an analyst, and not a surrogate, when it comes to this race, and making no real effort to boost Obama," Politico's Ben Smith writes.

New from the DNC, playing off the Obama campaign's Bermuda ad -- the John McCain Bermuda Survival Kit: A Care Package From His Favorite Tax Haven.

The Kicker:

"Oh, nice." -- Sarah Palin, responding to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's description of his son's name as "light of the house," in the most meaningful exchange overheard by reporters Tuesday.

"When the stock market crashed, Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, 'Look, here's what happened.' " -- Joe Biden, fumbling history twice over.

"Sen. Schumer is going to submit a question in writing he has for you." -- Sen. Chris Dodd, to Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, when Sen. Charles Schumer's CNBC hit kept him out of the hearing room.

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