The Note: General Malaise

All Sen. John McCain needs is one new storyline -- but Sen. Barack Obama went out and found three.

You could find one in the masses of humanity that greeted Obama in St. Louis and Kansas City over the weekend.

A second resided somewhere in the $150 million Obama collected in September. (Is there anywhere he can't play now?)

A third burst through in the only endorsement still out there that carries any weight. (Is this the true Palin effect?)

(What better day for a fourth? With early voting starting in Florida, Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton hold their first joint rally since June Monday evening in Orlando. Remember when these events were going to mean endless drama? Neither does Team McCain.)

(And it's the swing-state Series -- question one for candidates: Rays or Phillies? Florida or Pennsylvania? Per ABC's John Berman, Obama has already declared himself a Phillies fan for the month -- and they may know how to boo at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.)

Colin Powell's endorsement stings McCain from a few different directions: with independent voters, with Republicans, with anyone thinking about Obama but harboring a final few doubts.

For several precious days, perhaps, it keeps McCain from changing the subject -- even Sarah Palin at 30 Rock ("laughing with her . . . or at her?" "Good Morning America" asks Monday) -- couldn't trump this one.

The map continuing to slip, his opponent continuing to pour it on, party unity crumbling, McCain needs to break through the queasiness in GOP camps with a bold campaign message -- a final argument for the final stretch.

Yet Powell's endorsement has the power to live for a few more news cycles in part because it was coupled with an indictment of McCain's campaign -- on Bill Ayers, on the economy, and running through a running-mate selection "that raised some question in my mind as to the judgment that Sen. McCain made."

In its sweep, Powell's lasting impact may be that he rendered McCain's last best weapons ineffective.

"His stamp of approval is likely to improve Obama's already favorable chances in once-reliable Republican states such as Virginia, and with the military community," The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung reports. "In explaining his decision, Powell was more critical of the Republican Party and McCain's campaign than of the candidate himself."

Would this have happened if McCain had chosen someone other than Sarah Palin? Powell tells the Post his decision to endorse was "emerging since the conventions, when I heard the convention speeches, saw who the vice presidential candidates were and then watched the debates."

The Palin choice "pushed this over the edge," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "This wasn't just an endorsement of Barack Obama. This was a rejection of Sen. McCain, President Bush, and the Republican Party. . . . It was very direct, and very cutting."

It's the "latest sign that the Republican Party's coalition is fracturing amid the stresses of the campaign," The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Amy Chozick write. "Late last week, conservative radio talk-show host Michael Smerconish endorsed Sen. Obama, as did conservative columnist Christopher Buckley, the son of National Review founder William F. Buckley. The Chicago Tribune endorsed Sen. Obama last week, the first time the paper has endorsed a Democrat in its 161-year history."

More roads back for McCain are looking like they're blocked off (and Powell wasn't speaking just for himself): "Likely voters overwhelmingly reject his effort to make an issue of Barack Obama's association with 1960s radical William Ayers," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes. "Fallout continues from McCain's pick of Sarah Palin for vice president, with 52 percent saying it weakens their confidence in his judgment. And on optimism, it's Obama by 2-1."

Among independents, in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll: "They see Obama as more optimistic by 57-31 percent and as better-suited temperamentally by 52-36 percent. The Palin pick makes them less rather than more confident in McCain's judgment by 51-39 percent, while the Biden selection makes them more rather than less confident in Obama by 50-33 percent."

Endorsements don't move votes, except: "Powell's endorsement may be unusual in that it both crosses the partisan aisle and comes from a particularly well-liked quasi-political figure -- one, as a bonus, who's steeped in the military experience Obama lacks," per ABC's John Berman, Jake Tapper, Tahman Bradley, and Arnab Datta.

The Powell endorsement "eliminated the experience argument," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" Sunday.

"Powell is a brand unto himself in American politics, and clearly transcends the media's tendency to hype endorsements more than their actual importance to voters," Time's Mark Halperin writes. "However, the indisputable benefit that Powell brings Obama is that the former Secretary of State and general is sure to block out any chance McCain has of winning the next two or three days of news coverage, as the media swoons over the implications of the choice. It is simple political math: McCain has 15 days to close a substantial gap, and he will now lose at least one fifth of his total remaining time."

The cruelest cut: "He also made clear his belief -- despite McCain's 'I'm not President Bush' disclaimer at last week's debate -- that a McCain presidency would be an unwelcome policy rerun of the discredited Bush-Cheney years," Thomas M. DeFrank writes in the New York Daily News.

Powell "massively undercuts Obama's critics and undermines John McCain's selling points about being the maverick and military man the nation needs at this point in history," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.

El Rushbo's take: "I am now researching his past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal, white candidates he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with," Rush Limbaugh writes in an e-mail to Politico, per Mike Allen and Jonathan Martin.

"The events Sunday, taken together, dealt another dispiriting setback to Republicans, particularly since Mr. Powell is a longtime friend of Mr. McCain's and even donated to his campaign," Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times.

(Speaking of dispiriting . . . "I've had a wonderful life," McCain said on "Fox News Sunday, contemplating the possibility of defeat. "I have to go back and live in Arizona, and be in the United States Senate representing them, and with a wonderful family, and daughters and sons that I'm so proud of, and a -- and a life that's been blessed. I'm the luckiest guy you have ever interviewed and will ever interview. I'm the most fortunate man on earth, and I thank God for it every single day.")

From here: "Mr. Obama intends to devote most of his time over the next 15 days in states that President Bush won, aides said, going to Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia. Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, has ruled out trying to expand his electoral map but is waging an aggressive effort defending those states, the largest of which still could fall either way," Jeff Zeleny reports in the Times.

"Exuding confidence, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama intends to spend the overwhelming amount of his time in the campaign's final two weeks in states that voted Republican in 2004 as he reaches for a decisive victory," per the AP's David Espo.

"In a sign of confidence, Obama is trying to expand his battlefield in the final two weeks," USA Today's Kathy Kiely and David Jackson report. "His visit here [in North Carolina] was in a county won by Bush in 2004 by about 3,400 votes. He plans stops this week in Florida, Virginia, Iowa and Ohio -- all won by Bush in 2004."

Obama keeps the pressure on -- even while stretching some facts. "In Virginia, Sen. Barack Obama launched a new attack, saying John McCain plans to gut Medicare to pay for his health care proposal," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "And it's false. The $882 billion number comes from a liberal think tank. The McCain campaign says the savings would not come from cutting benefits but from program changes such as encouraging the use of more generic drugs."

Lessons learned: "A lot of the messages I've had to my team is that we don't let up. We won't let up," Obama said Monday morning on "Today." "Every time we've gotten in trouble in this campaign, it has been because we were trying to play ball control offense."

(And is Palin ready to president? Said Obama: "Frankly, I just don't know enough about Sarah Palin, I haven't heard a long discussion about her foreign policy. . .")

As for the money, it's "shock and awe," campaign-finance style: "Obama is now outspending McCain on television ads by a margin of nearly four to one, according to Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of CMAG, a service that tracks political advertising. In some key TV markets in battleground states, Obama has been airing $1 million or more in ads a week, while the McCain campaign has aired no ads," per ABC's Joel Siegel.

The McCain-Palin FEC report filed late Sunday shows the campaign started October with $46.9 million in the bank -- roughly what Obama would raise between now and Election Day if he just kept up his September pace -- and remember that public funds means no refueling the tanks for McCain. (The RNC started the month with roughly $77 million in cash on hand, per ABC's Tahman Bradley.)

"The Democratic candidate's one-month figure is nearly double what Sen. McCain received in public financing for the final two months of the campaign," Christopher Cooper and Laura Meckler write in The Wall Street Journal. "The news comes as an average of the national polls suggests Sen. Obama's lead over his opponent may be narrowing a bit, even as Sen. Obama remains ahead in several pivotal battleground states."

"Barack Obama's record-breaking September fundraising puts him on track to have as much as a half-billion dollars for the general election, or almost double the resources of Republican opponent John McCain" -- even including RNC money, Bloomberg's Jonathan D. Salant and Julianna Goldman write.

What does this say about confidence on the other side? "Florida Republicans already are looking ahead to 2010 when Crist runs for re-election. State party officials announced to their state executive committee Saturday that they expect to carry over at least $2-million into 2009, rather than spend all their money on this election," Adam C. Smith reports in the St. Petersburg Times.

In Florida Monday, it's Obama and Clinton together at a campaign event for the first time since Unity, in Orlando at 6 pm ET.

"Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama arrives in Florida on Monday to promote early voting with a significant advantage: 657,775 more registered Democrats than Republicans in a state that could catapult him to the White House," The Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard reports. "The deeper pool of Democrats stems from the campaign's aggressive voter-registration drive, combined with the Republican administration's waning appeal. In the 2004 presidential election, Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 368,757 voters, but President Bush still won the state."

More McCain problems, further north: "Veteran Virginia Republicans don't think much of McCain's organization and were dumbfounded as to why it took them so long to bring the candidate and his running mate back into the state. Likewise, McCain aides are annoyed at what they see as provincialism among Virginia Republicans and some of Frederick's off-message comments about the campaign," per Politico's Jonathan Martin.

(And that was before a McCain adviser went on TV and said northern Virginia -- where, by the way, McCain headquarters is located -- is not "real Virginia.")

You can do this when you can't spend money fast enough: "As the election draws near, polls show Obama within striking distance in a half-dozen states like Indiana that are usually safely red," Lisa Wangsness writes in The Boston Globe. "The economy is driving that advance, but the Obama campaign is working to capitalize on it by pushing hard in rural areas where Democrats generally don't bother competing. If he can narrow his losing margin in such places, Obama might win states like Indiana, which hasn't voted for a Democrat for president since 1964."

With all that -- what can McCain do? Some fresh name-calling: "At least in Europe, the Socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives," McCain said in his weekend radio address, per the AP's Glen Johnson.

"The nominee's conservative allies got the message," per The Washington Post's Matthew Mosk. " 'Obama = Socialist' was emblazoned atop the online Drudge Report. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said on MSNBC that she is 'very concerned that [Obama] may have anti-American views.' "

Palin is using the S-word too, but Obama now has an easy response: "Warren Buffett endorsed me, Colin Powell endorses me, and John McCain thinks I'm embracing socialism?" Obama told the crowd in Fayetteville, N.C.

McCain is stoking fears about undivided government -- a tactic that may just contradict his efforts to convince the public that he's not a Republican like those other Republicans who've been running Washington.

Plus, there's still Joe: "Barack Obama may have Colin Powell in his corner, but John McCain still has Joe the Plumber," Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post. "As he barnstormed the Buckeye State on Sunday, McCain hailed Joe Wurzelbacher, the 34-year-old tradesman from Holland, Ohio, who has become famous since McCain repeatedly pointed to him in the debate last Wednesday as an example of someone he says would be harmed by Obama's tax policies."

Bill Kristol defends the Joe-the-Plumber tactics against the media elites who want to call the race: "It's hard to blame the public for preferring Obama at this stage -- given the understandable desire to kick the Republicans out of the White House, and given the failure of the McCain campaign to make its case effectively. And some number of the public may change their minds in the final two weeks of the campaign, and may decide McCain-Palin offers a better kind of change -- perhaps enough to give McCain-Palin a victory," Kristol writes in his New York Times column.

He continues: "At least McCain and Palin have had the good sense to embrace [Wurzelbacher]. I join them in taking my stand with Joe the Plumber -- in defiance of Horace the Poet."

A preview of what else may come, according to Palin: The Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody scores a fascinating interview with the GOP vice-presidential nominee.

Her thoughts on Obama "palling around with terrorists" stand: "I would say it again because again it. . . . The association that he's had with Bill Ayers wasn't just one or two time sitting on a board together where, No, there's been quite a few associations and events and meetings and discussion and emails and calls and to not disavow that too, I think is troubling."

She's ready to call out the haters -- if she hears them: "What we have heard through some mainstream media is that folks have hollered out some pretty atrocious and unacceptable things like 'kill him' or some, we have not heard that. If I ever were to hear that standing up there at the podium with the mic, I would call 'em out on that, and I would tell these people, no, that's unacceptable, let's rise about that please."

Palin breaks with McCain on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: "I wish on a federal level that that's where we would go because I don't support gay marriage."

And why she doesn't do cable interviews: "Well sometimes it just doesn't do any good. I mean you set yourself up just to continually be mocked, you know so sometimes that doesn't do any good," Palin said.

Per ABC's Imtiyaz Delawala, Palin met the press on her plane Sunday night -- and would "wave a magic wand" to end robo-calls (yes, she really said this): It's "kinda draining out there in terms of Americans' attention span, they get a bit irritated with just being inundated, and you're seeing a lot of that of course with the huge amounts of money that Barack Obama is able to spend on his ads and his robo-calls also." But: "I'm not calling for an end to the robo-calls, no, uh-uh."

Another stab at a new story to tell: Every day this week, the McCain campaign will put out new messaging outlining Obama's connections with ACORN. From a McCain aide: "This five day series will take a look at Barack Obama's relationship from his days as a community organizer to the egregious connections his campaign currently has with ACORN as the Democrat nominee for president. Our hope is that Barack Obama will understand that the American public has a right to know about this troubling relationship with a quasi-criminal organization that is conducting wide-scale election fraud."

First installment: "While serving as the director of Project Vote, Barack Obama formed the roots of his political career alongside ACORN, which is currently under investigation in thirteen states for election fraud and is also under investigation by the FBI."

But can it still work? Howard Wolfson, at his New Republic blog: "John McCain, raised in Nixonland, calls Senator Obama a socialist, trots out a plumber to stoke class and cultural resentments, and employs his Vice-President to question Obama's patriotism by linking him to terrorists. Nixonland 101 -- and if its rules still applied, Senator Obama would be in trouble. But they don't. . . . Nixonland is dead. Obamaland, anyone?"

Is this how hockey moms run? Jane Mayer charts Palin's political rise in The New Yorker. Palin "owes more to members of the Washington élite than her rhetoric has suggested," Mayer writes. "Upon being elected governor of Alaska, Palin began developing relationships with Washington insiders, who later championed the idea of putting her on the 2008 ticket."

"McCain was intent on naming his fellow-senator Joe Lieberman," Mayer reports. But, according to David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, "McCain was scared off." Says a longtime friend: "[Bill] Kristol was out there shaking the pompoms."

Cue the lawyers: "On Election Day, I will be managing the largest law firm in the country, albeit for one day," Democratic lawyer Charles H. Lichtman tells Bloomberg's James Rowley.

Checking in with Michelle: "Once portrayed as unpatriotic, Michelle Obama has quietly carved a niche on the campaign trail as a sounding board for military families, taking up a cause that could define her agenda as first lady," Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown writes. "Every few weeks, Obama meets with military spouses in swing states, where she presents herself as a kindred spirit and Barack Obama as the best choice for their families. She attended the two debates with military family members. And at the Democratic National Convention, she led a day of service on behalf of Blue Star Families for Obama, a two-month old group with the tagline: 'Pro-Military, Pro-Obama.' "

Bradley effect? Bloomberg's Al Hunt says no. "The 'Bradley effect' is the Murphy's law of U.S. politics, more accepted than demonstrated," he writes. "Overall, it's a good bet that turnout on Nov. 4 will exceed 140 million, up more than 15 percent from the relatively high number of four years ago. For the first time since 18-year-olds were given the vote almost four decades ago, turnout might exceed 60 percent of eligible voters. If so, this election will be seen as the one where the Bradley effect was replaced by the Obama effect."

Next up in "Troopergate": "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband will meet this week with an investigator determining whether she violated state ethics law when firing her public safety director," the AP's Rachel D'Oro reports.

The Sked:

Barack Obama spends Monday in Florida -- beginning the day with a rally in Tampa at 12:45 pm ET, at the spring training home of the New York Yankees (whose fans are happy for the Rays, since they knocked off the Red Sox Sunday night).

Former rival-turned-surrogate Hillary Clinton is also in Florida -- she begins her day with a rally in Fort Lauderdale at 12 pm ET.

The two then team up in Orlando for a joint rally at 6 pm ET.

A busy day for John McCain -- he holds a rally in St. Charles, Mo. at 11 am ET, then heads to Columbia for a 2:25 pm ET event before finishing the day in Belton with another rally at 5:45 pm ET.

Sarah Palin is out west this Monday -- she holds back-to-back-to-back rallies in Colorado. Her first rally in Colorado Springs begins at 11 am ET, then heads to Loveland for the second rally at 3:15 pm ET and finishes in Grand Junction with a 9 pm ET rally.

Joe Biden rolls out his medical history Monday in Seattle..

Cindy McCain campaigns in Pennsylvania -- and she has lots of company from top Republican surrogates. Together with Brooke Burr, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, Judith Giuliani, Supriya Jindal, Kitty Martinez, Mary Pawlenty, and Sen. Arlen Specter, she holds a rally in Philadelphia at 10 am ET. She and Giuliani then head to Yardley for a 3:30 pm ET rally.

Also in the news:

Will a regional realignment be complete? "US Representative Christopher Shays, of Connecticut, the last remaining Republican representing New England in the US House, is fighting for his political life against a rising Democratic challenger and a backdrop of generalized voter anger and uncertainty," Stephanie Ebbert reports in The Boston Globe.

Casting against type: Usually it's Republicans who make the leap from Hollywood to Wasthington. "[Al] Franken, who has been even or ahead in recent polls in his Senate race in Minnesota against incumbent Norm Coleman, would be somewhat of a breakthrough: an entertainment figure from Hollywood's progressive wing who makes it to high office," Variety's Ted Johnson writes.

2012 watch: Former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., on Tuesday starts a three-day, eight-state tour for GOP House candidates -- including Tom Rooney, who's taking on Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fla. Since leaving the race for president, Romney's PAC has spread around nearly $150,000 to candidates, and he has personally campaigned for 27 House candidates, 5 Senate candidates, and two GOP candidates for governor.

New hire: "Fox News is expected to announce today the hiring of a new contributor, a veteran national security correspondent who has shared a Pulitzer Prize. Her name is Judith Miller, and she is nothing if not controversial," The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reports.

Blame Ditka? Yahoo's Chris Chase recalls the GOP push to get football legend Mike Ditka to run for the Senate in Illinois in 2004: "There's no way to know whether Ditka would have won but, remember, Obama was still a virtual unknown in Illinois in June of '04. Had Ditka run and won, Obama most-assuredly wouldn't be running for president today. Either way, the Hall of Famer almost certainly would have received more than the 27% of votes that eventual nominee Alan Keyes garnered in November."

The Kicker:

"Some of the questions that were being fired at me, I was kind of impatient and I think that showed, it's like come on Katie, let's talk about the things that really matter and two, the other part of that was I knew that whatever I threw out there, whether it's the USA Today, or New York Times or whatever I said, that's just more fodder for someone to not only mock, but tear apart and presume to at least claim that that is a reflection of my own beliefs, so you know, so I just felt like, let's just move on to the next question." -- Sarah Palin (the real one), on why she didn't answer Katie Couric's question about what newspapers she reads, to the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody.

"Now I'm not gonna take any of your questions . . ." -- Sarah Palin (again, the real one), to a collection of reporters (fake ones), on "Saturday Night Live."

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