Here they all come -- socialists and terrorists and (though still not a certain evangelist) -- plus a plumber who gets a late chance to join them. (Surely, the president's invitation was lost like a swing-state mailer.)
So Sen. John McCain sets an interesting table for these final two weeks, and throws everything he can onto it. (Is that really a Republican candidate calling a Democratic candidate a liberal? And your campaign is really all about the economy, senator?)
But voters may no longer be hungry, even for red meat. (And how many dishes can they stomach, anyway?)
McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin will work it hard on their diminished map. But that's no guarantee that anyone will still be listening. And there's a trap here: the more they fight, the more they fall into the flailing/erratic quicksand put in place by their rivals.
Sen. Barack Obama will be able to take two days off the trail to visit his ailing grandmother in Hawaii, most likely without serious worry about ceding ground.
He's got it to spare (even if Sen. Joe Biden does his best to wear it down): It's a nine-point Obama edge -- 53-44 -- in the first day of the ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll. The fundamentals, shall we say, appear soundly in place: "John McCain has climbed back from his record shortfalls on economic empathy and 'change' since the final presidential debate last week -- but not enough to alter the basic dynamic of his contest with Barack Obama," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes.
With apologies to Joe the Plumber . . . Obama "still leads in trust to handle the economy overall, voters' overwhelming issue, by 16 points, 55-39 percent, essentially the same as pre-debate," Langer writes.
How does McCain win without this edge? "Here is Barack Obama's favorite number right now: 49 percent of likely voters say he is the best candidate to handle an unexpected crisis. Only 45 percent of likely voters say that about McCain, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports in his new blog. "What a difference four months makes."
A glimmer: "While Obama's lead is steady across these polls, there were indications that McCain has improved his position on some issues and some attributes important to voters' decision-making," Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post. "Since the Post-ABC poll taken before the final debate, McCain has narrowed the gap with Obama on understanding the economic problems people in the country are facing, on bringing needed change to Washington and on the question of which candidate is the 'stronger leader.' "
It's a 12-point Obama advantage -- 53-41 -- in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
"As voters have gotten to know Senator Barack Obama, they have warmed up to him, with more than half, 53 percent, now saying they have a favorable impression of him and 33 percent saying they have an unfavorable view," Megan Thee writes in The New York Times. "But as voters have gotten to know Senator John McCain, they have not warmed, with only 36 percent of voters saying they view him favorably while 45 percent view him unfavorably."
An opening, from Sen. Joe Biden: "Mark my words," Biden said Sunday, per ABC's Matt Jaffe. "It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. . . . Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy."
His words have been marked: "We face many challenges here at home, and many enemies abroad in this dangerous world," McCain told a rally in Belton, Mo. "We don't want a president who invites testing from the world at a time when our economy is in crisis and Americans are already fighting in two wars."
The AP's Glen Johnson: "John McCain's criticism that Barack Obama isn't experienced enough to be president got a boost when the Democrat's own running mate, Joe Biden, told donors that he expected his boss to be tested, if elected, by a 'generated crisis' shortly after taking office."
McCain still has Bill Ayers on his mind. On Palin's criticism of robo-calls, McCain said Tuesday on "The Early Show": "Sarah is a maverick. That robo-call is absolutely accurate. And by the way, Sen. Obama's campaign is running robo-calls as we speak. I'm sure that Sarah and I have disagreed on some issues, you know, and to think somehow that we are saying something untrue in those calls is absolutely false. He was friends with a terrorist and his wife. He was, and we need to know the full relationship."
Is it about personal attacks? ""Listen to me, I'm the candidate. And this campaign is about the economy." (Good to know.)
Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are friends again: "We are going to win. This campaign has so much momentum for all the right reasons," Clinton, D-N.Y., told ABC's Cynthia McFadden Monday, in a joint interview with Obama to air on "Nightline" Tuesday (check out the hug).
Clinton: "Not only are people concluding in their own self-interests that they need Barack as our president, but external circumstances in the economy have focused attention on what's been going on for the last eight years."
Obama loves the help, particularly in Florida: "There are some passionate supporters of hers that may still be trying to figure out who to vote for. She's got some great crossover appeal," said Obama. "She's been consistent in campaigning down here in Florida for us. . . . I think it's why we're doing a little better here than we were a month ago."
In Florida, "it was the words of his Republican rivals that Obama used to urge supporters to the polls on the first day of early voting in this tropical battleground," Mark Z. Barabak writes in the Los Angeles Times. Said Obama: "Ugly phone calls. Misleading mail. Misleading ads. Careless, outrageous comments. All aimed at keeping us from working together. All aimed at stopping change."
What sayeth the wise men?
Mark Penn is impressed: "The presidential campaign's homestretch is looking a lot more like President Bill Clinton's 1996 solid reelection over Republican nominee Bob Dole than like Ronald Reagan's late-breaking 1980 landslide over incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter," Penn writes in a Politico column. "Obama need only keep this election on track -- hold big rallies in key states; roll out any remaining endorsements, such as Colin Powell's; flood the airwaves with ads; and mobilize young people to show up at the polls."
Just enough time to panic? "Two weeks to go -- time enough for one last case of Democratic wobbles and one last resort fueled by Republican desperation," Bob Shrum writes in his The Week column. "A study of the election state by state reveals McCain has a virtually impossible tight rope walk to victory while Obama has five or six different avenues to win -- some of which are veritable boulevards."
The main McCain message now: Obama is a typical liberal, who wants to "redistribute the wealth."
"We all are inspired and certainly invigorated by the handmade signs in the crowd, in English or in Spanish," McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace told ABC's Robin Roberts, on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "People are really disturbed by what Sen. Obama described to Joe the Plumber [about] spreading the wealth. . . That certainly has given us the kick in the pants that we needed."
But The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib writes that it might be too late for that argument to work: "Sen. McCain's hope has to be that the same giant force that has been moving the campaign in his Democratic rival's favor -- the economy -- can somehow be used to create an opening," Seib writes. "It's still a long shot. He has to hope that voters now leaning toward Sen. Obama get cold feet, and the tax argument may help there. . . . While the McCain campaign hopes to induce cold feet, Gen. Powell represents a useful foot-warmer for Team Obama."
Overwhelming force from the general: "The one-time chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff systematically marshaled his assets to neutralize the Republican endgame strategy, which is to suffuse the air around Obama with a vague mist of terrorism, socialism and 'otherness,' " Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post column. "What I found fascinating was how he framed it more as a set of reasons to vote against the McCain-Palin ticket than a set of reasons to vote for Obama and Joe Biden."
The flipside of Powell: "His purported reasons for endorsing Obama sound more like excuses," National Review's Rich Lowry writes. "Does Powell want to be with the front-runner? Is he hoping to cleanse his reputation after the WMD fiasco? His ultimate motives are known only to him. We must do Powell the courtesy of taking his case at face value and note only how unconvincing it is, if thoroughly conventional. He'll be back on Meet the Press."
(Does McCain have a response to Powell's critique? "No," he told The Weekly Standard's Stephen F. Hayes. "I accept it. I would say I'm disappointed.")
What does it say that McCain is still, at this very late stage, trying to accomplish Task One? "At virtually every campaign stop, McCain is reprising a line he used last Wednesday in his final debate with Sen. Barack Obama: 'I am not George Bush.' And in a television ad introduced last week, McCain looks into the camera and says, 'The last eight years haven't worked very well, have they?' " Michael Abramowitz and Michael D. Shear report in The Washington Post. "As he struggles to pull his campaign out from beneath the shadow of a president whose approval ratings have reached historic lows, McCain is offering some of his toughest criticism of the Bush White House."
McCain's barriers are steeper still: "Swing voters have tilted Obama's way as the economy has overwhelmed all other issues as the top priority for Americans. In interviews with [Julia] Cavenaugh and a dozen others who participated in a recent Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, demeanor emerged as a dominant theme in their explanations for why they trusted Obama more than McCain to guide the nation out of its financial crisis," Michael Finnegan reports in the Los Angeles Times.
Will he go here? (Almost certainly not.) McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said, despite McCain's prohibition on using the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a campaign issue, giving the tenor of the race, "you've got to rethink all these things," he told conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt. "And so I think we're in the process of looking at how we're going to close this campaign."
"No, there has been no decision to revisit that issue. Our candidate has spoken clearly on that," Nicolle Wallace said on "GMA" Tuesday.
McCain has messaging -- and messaging, and messaging. Says the Obama campaign: "John McCain still hasn't found a compelling message to persuade voters that he is offering something other than four more years of the same failed policies and destructive politics of the last eight. Instead he's offered up the kitchen sink, with at least ten different attacks and messages today alone -- and not one of them had a thing to do with turning the economy around."
Then there's the biggie -- that $150 million pile that keeps growing. "Republican John McCain has a $47 million budget for October, but his campaign insists he will have enough to overtake Democrat Barack Obama and his deeper pockets," USA Today's David Jackson writes. Said McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, on what's left strategically: "We've got to win one of the three or four big states in play or a combination of any two of the littler ones."
"Here's what real Americans are doing: writing checks to Mr. Obama," Thomas F. Schaller writes in a Baltimore Sun column. "And here is what real Americans are not doing: making angry outbursts at campaign rallies."
The good news for McCain: He has fewer states to spend in every day. "While Iowa, New Mexico and Colorado are still officially listed as McCain target states, two top strategists and advisers tell CNN that the situation in those states looks increasingly bleak," per CNN's John King. "Iowa and New Mexico always have been viewed as difficult races, but the similar assessment of Colorado reflects a dramatic shift for a campaign that had long counted on the state. 'Gone,' was the word one top McCain insider used to describe those three states."
Counters the RNC: "We're still in all those states -- the race is tightening and we're well within striking distance. Obama would believe we're pulling out of states at his own peril," spokesman Alex Conant says.
Per a Republican official, RNC ads are still slated for Colorado, and McCain and the GOP continue to outspend Democrats in New Mexico.
And Palin was just in Colorado Monday.
But watch the map open up:
In North Carolina: "This once-red state is now a raging battleground, along with a few others where Mr. Obama has sought to expand his electoral map," Katharine Q. Seelye writes in The New York Times. "The turnabout can be traced to an influx of new voters and a change in demographics; a slowing of the state's economy and the collapse of the nation's financial system; Mr. Obama's extensive ground organization, huge financial advantage and amount spent on television (seven to one over Mr. McCain); the state's large population of blacks and students; and Mr. McCain's neglect of the state."
In Missouri: "Two days after Barack Obama drew 100,000 supporters to a rally in St. Louis, John McCain attracted about 2,500 people to a field in this nearby suburb Monday, a visible symbol of the challenge the Republican nominee faces in this crucial state," Bob Drogin reports in the Los Angeles Times. "McCain barnstormed Missouri, hammering his opponent on taxes, healthcare and foreign policy in hopes of rebuilding the coalition of rural conservatives, evangelicals and others who helped deliver the state twice to President Bush."
In Florida: "Like most other states holding early-voting sessions, Florida was the target of an intense voter-registration drive spearheaded by the Obama campaign. In Florida, the drive yielded nearly one million new registrations, the majority Democrats," The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Christopher Cooper report.
"Locking in votes before Election Day is a top priority for Obama's massive field organization in Florida, which appears significantly behind John McCain's campaign in ballots already cast by mail," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times.
"Spurred by a close contest that could inspire even a centenarian to go to the polls, Florida's early-voting crowds swelled Monday with two- and three-hour waits for many people who wanted to vote on the first day possible before the Nov. 4 election," Mary Shanklin and Aaron Deslatte write in the Orlando Sentinel.
"For the first time, Cubans no longer are the majority of Hispanics in the state, and some younger and less well-off members of the community are more likely to consider voting Democratic than their elders," Bloomberg's Indira A.R. Lakshmanan reports.
"Beneath the obvious challenges he faces lies a deeper source for McCain's troubles in Florida, the swing state which, he acknowledged at the Miami rally, his struggling campaign 'must win,' " Time's Tim Padgett writes. "It's not so much that McCain didn't tap [Gov. Charlie] Crist for his ticket; rather, it's the widespread feeling that McCain hasn't tapped into the more civil, issues-driven political style that most Floridians have embraced since Crist was elected in 2006."
McCain's offense: "Despite polls showing him trailing Democrat Barack Obama by double digits in Pennsylvania, John McCain continued to treat the state as if the whole election depended on it," the Philadelphia Inquirer's Larry Eichel writes. "Today, the Republican nominee has three appearances in Pennsylvania, starting with a morning rally in Bensalem. He made two visits to the Philadelphia suburbs last week, and running mate Sarah Palin was in Lancaster over the weekend."
"Despite a double-digit deficit in polls, Sen. John McCain is throwing almost everything he can into Pennsylvania, seeking to flip soft supporters of his Democratic rival -- many of whom favored Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the primary, with some boldly acknowledging that race was a factor," Joseph Curl reports in the Washington Times.
Is McCain scared of Bob Barr? "Libertarian presidential nominee Bob Barr says Republicans are so afraid that he will spoil things for Sen. John McCain that the Republican presidential nominee is shadowing him, scheduling appearances in battleground states to match Mr. Barr's own campaign events," Stephen Dinan writes for the Washington Times.
Says McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds: "This from the same man that also believed Borat was a Kazakh journalist."
Barack Obama continues his Florida visit with two rallies on Tuesday -- he appears at a jobs summit with battleground-state governors in Lake Worth at 10:30 am ET, then is joined by wife Michelle in Miami at 5:45 pm ET.
After a Thursday morning event in Indianapolis, Obama is off to Hawaii: "Because his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, 85, has taken ill, Barack Obama is canceling events scheduled for Thursday in Madison, Wis., and Des Moines, Iowa, and flying to Hawaii, his campaign announced this evening," ABC's Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report. "[Robert] Gibbs said Obama would return from Hawaii late Friday evening or early Saturday morning."
John McCain has three rallies in Pennsylvania on Tuesday -- first in Bensalem at 10 am ET, then in Harrisburg at 2 pm ET, and finally in Moon Township at 5:30 pm ET.
Sarah Palin is in Nevada with two rallies planned, in Reno at 12:30 pm ET, then in Henderson at 4:45 pm ET.
Joe Biden is still out west, campaigning in Colorado Tuesday. He holds a rally in Greeley at 10:30 am ET, followed by a community gathering in Commerce City at 2:30 pm ET.
Michelle Obama holds her own Florida rally in Pensacola at 11:45 am ET before joining her husband for the joint rally.
Also in the news:
Coming to a stump speech near you: "Zach Bencal has become something of a celebrity after his scheduled singing of the national anthem at Sen. Barack Obama's New Hampshire rally last week was canceled at the last minute," per the New Hampshire Union-Leader's Alec O'Meara. "Bencal will be back in the spotlight tomorrow -- he has accepted Sen. John McCain's campaign's offer to sing the anthem at the Republican's campaign event at St. Anselm's College in Manchester."
New Tuesday -- to pressure the Obama campaign to do the same: A searchable database of all small-dollar donors to the Republican Party.
Great lede, from the Chicago Sun-Times: "Princess Nudelman won't be voting on Nov. 4 because she's dead. And she's a goldfish."
Botched joke, anyone? "Barack got asked the famous boxers or briefs question," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., per PolitickerMA's Jeremy P. Jacobs. "Then they asked McCain and McCain said, 'Depends.' "
Palin: The college years. "Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, however, is barely remembered at all," Robin Abcarian reports in the Los Angeles Times. "In the five years of her collegiate career, spanning four universities in three states, Palin left behind few traces."
From the Hillary Clinton/Rudy Giuliani school of baseball . . . somebody find out how David Plouffe feels about this: "I've said from the beginning that I am a unity candidate, bringing people together," Obama said in Tampa Monday. "So when you see a White Sox fan showing love to the Rays and the Rays showing some love back, you know we're onto something right here."
Labor buy-in: "The Obama-backing labor federation Change to Win is about to drop some 750,000 mailers in the battlegrounds slamming John McCain and George W. Bush for having 'wrecked our economy,' with a fun play on the question, 'how do they look themselves in the mirror?' " per Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent.
Transcending race, in House races: Obama is poised to help as many as 10 white Democrats in congressional races, per The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton. "Most are challenging incumbent Republicans, and they are central to Democratic hopes of picking up as many as 25 additional seats, strengthening the party's control of the House."
How not to get famous: "Rep. Michele Bachmann's call for a media investigation into "anti-American" members of Congress may have been the macaca -- or McCarthy -- moment of 2008, but it has also given the Minnesota Republican something she's been angling for since arriving in Congress two years ago: the national spotlight," per Politico's Daniel Libit.
Should Sen. Ted Stevens have taken the stand? "Stevens' appearance in the witness chair Friday and Monday appeared to help solidify the prosecution's theory of the case, as he struggled to explain how myriad items that appeared in his home were not gifts," Roll Call's Paul Singer reports.
It wasn't a gift: "Bill Allen stole our furniture and put his furniture in our chalet," said Stevens, R-Alaska. Closing arguments come Tuesday, and jury deliberations start Wednesday.
"We have lots of furniture in our house that doesn't belong to us." -- Ted Stevens, on his last day on the stand.
"Quite frankly, it's a big mistake to let her go on. What was brilliant about Lorne Michaels was that he had nothing written for Sarah and that apparently she cannot improvise herself out of a paper bag." Chevy Chase, not impressed by Sarah Palin.
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