The Note: Rogue Wave

Just on the off-chance that Barack Obama isn't right where John McCain wants him (in front of 100,000 people in Denver?) -- and since we already know that Sarah Palin isn't always where McCain wants her to be . . .

What's at stake now for McCain and the GOP has morphed into something much larger than a presidential campaign.

On the ballot in eight days' time is the fate of a political party -- in an election that will align government for at least the next two critical years, if not considerably more.

We all know better now that to start talking "permanence," but the question for McCain and party leaders is less about how to win but how to avoid a wipeout that will take more than an election cycle or two to climb back from.

As Obama starts his turn to a closing argument -- his speech in Canton, Ohio Monday hits on themes of "new politics" he first sounded back in Springfield last winter -- Team McCain is left arguing over whose fault the closing is.

It's not just a running mate who's on her own (which worked so well for Dan Quayle) . . . or angry money folks . . . or GOPers saving reputations if they can't their party . . . or new clothes making another new story (but is a $50,000 spending spree really that much better?).

It's a party on the precipice of historic, across-the-board defeat -- and this is when it starts getting ugly.

"John McCain is losing in a way that threatens to take the entire Republican Party down with him," David Frum writes in the Sunday Washington Post. "In these last days before the vote, Republicans need to face some strategic realities. Our resources are limited, and our message is failing. We cannot fight on all fronts. We are cannibalizing races that we must win and probably can win in order to help a national campaign that is almost certainly lost. In these final 10 days, our goal should be: senators first."

"The Obama campaign is marching toward the biggest nonincumbent Democratic presidential victory since 1932, and the Democratic Party is fighting its way toward its best overall presidential and Congressional year since 1964," Bill Kristol writes in his New York Times column. "Situation not-so-excellent. Time for McCain to attack -- or, rather, finally to make his case."

Kristol has an expensive (and impractical) wish-list, and: "McCain has a chance to close this election in a big and positive way. He has a chance to get voters to rise above the distractions and to set aside the petty aspects of the campaign. He has a chance to remind them why they have admired him, and perhaps to persuade them to vote for him on Nov. 4."

A new GOP talking point (via Drudge): Obama, in a 2001 radio interview said the Warren Court "wasn't that radical," and said it was "one of the tragedies of the civil rights movement" that it sought to use the courts to achieve "redistributive change.": "The Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth."

Red-state blues: "Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama are heading into the final week of the presidential campaign planning to spend nearly all their time in states that President Bush won last time, testimony to the increasingly dire position of Mr. McCain and his party as Election Day approaches," Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "From here on out, Mr. Obama's aides said, attacks on Mr. McCain will be joined by an emphasis on broader and less partisan themes, like the need to unify the country after a difficult election."

"Any serious Republican has to ask, 'How did we get into this mess?' " said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker.

"The Republican Party is in the toilet for a reason," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Past tense: "Something fundamental and significant happened," Ken Mehlman, the former RNC chairman, tells The New York Times' John Harwood.

"Democrats and Republicans alike say it will be extraordinarily difficult for McCain to change the trajectory of the campaign before the Nov. 4 election," per the AP's Liz Sidoti.

Even inside the ticket? "Aides to Sen. John McCain anonymously attacked Palin in several reports today, criticizing the Alaska governor for diverting from the McCain campaign's message, suggesting Palin was unhappy with certain campaign aides and accusing her of thinking more about her political future than about the success of the McCain-Palin ticket," ABC's Kate Snow and Imtiyaz Delawala report.

Politico's Ben Smith: "Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image -- even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline."

Said Karl Rove on Fox News, of the backbiting: "It's generally a sign that people are throwing in the towel and thinking that they're going to lose."

Leaving the clothing behind: "I'm back to wearing my own clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska," Palin said Sunday, ABC Kate Snow reported on "Good Morning America" Monday.

Not too early to rebuild: "Even as Republican nominee John McCain seeks to separate himself from an unpopular President Bush, some Republicans are rejecting McCain as well as Bush," Susan Milligan reports in The Boston Globe. "And many party leaders are preparing to remake the damaged party after what they unhappily anticipate will be a bad day for the GOP on Nov. 4."

Not too early to worry, either: "Democrats, who are within reach of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster in the Senate, would also face high expectations, especially from the party's more liberal quarters, that could be difficult to meet even with enhanced numbers in the Senate as well as the House. And they would be at risk of overreaching, a tendency that has deeply damaged both parties in similar situations in the past," Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn report in the Sunday New York Times.

Don't get comfortable: "Despite the nation's polarization along partisan and ideological lines, the number of swing voters remains large enough to rapidly undercut any Democratic or Republican coalition in reaction to shifting events," John Harwood writes in The New York Times.

Obama: ready to disappoint? "He suggests the country can have universal health-care coverage, make a huge downpayment on energy independence and fund expensive alternative-energy sources, enact a variety of new domestic initiatives and cut taxes for 80 percent of Americans. All in his first term," Bloomberg's Al Hunt writes. "That is good politics in the fall of 2008; it will make for difficult governance in 2009."

It's Obama 52, McCain 44 in Virginia -- the state that could make election night an early one -- in a new Washington Post poll. "By wide margins, Virginia voters think that Obama is the candidate who would do more to bring needed change to Washington, who understands the economic challenges people are facing and who is the more honest and trustworthy of the two rivals," the Post's Tim Craig and Jon Cohen write. "Still, there remains widespread apprehension over whether the Democratic nominee would make a good commander in chief."

"More than half of all voters surveyed said they have been contacted in person, on the phone or by e-mail or text message about voting for Obama, far more than said so about McCain," Craig and Cohen continue.

"The intensity of their ground operation is just unreal," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Monday.

Obama 49, McCain 46 in Ohio, per the poll by the state's largest newspapers.

It's Obama 54, McCain 39 in New Hampshire -- the state that could keep McCain's wins pure red -- in a new Boston Globe poll. "The poll also found that the Arizona senator is being dragged down by a deeply troubled Bush administration, an increasingly unpopular running mate, Sarah Palin, and the perceived negativity of his campaign," the Globe's Lisa Wangsness writes.

There was a reason Obama was in Colorado: "Forget Ohio, forget Florida, forget Missouri and North Carolina and Indiana. John McCain could sweep them all and still lose the presidency -- unless he can engineer a comeback worthy of local football legend John Elway here in Denver's swing suburbs and their Virginia cousins," Jim Tankersley reports in the Chicago Tribune.

And yet: "[McCain's] central argument -- that the race is not over, that he might still pull this thing out -- is not completely unreasonable," Time's James Carney writes. "Eschewing the attacks revolving around Bill Ayers and ACORN that appeared to backfire earlier this month, McCain is focusing most of his firepower on two primary targets: Obama's readiness to be a world leader . . . and the threat of higher taxes and out of control government spending (where Joe the Plumber references keep coming up). Just in case neither of those are particularly persuasive, McCain is also making the argument that the country needs a Republican in the White House to check the ambitions of the almost sure-to-grow Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate."

"It's difficult to imagine a more daunting set of circumstances," Byron York writes for National Review. "Inside the campaign, McCain has displayed his well-known stoicism, mixed with a dose of black humor, in the face of each new obstacle. Among his staff, it has become something of a mantra to say that whatever has to be done, no matter what it is, will have to be done the hard way."

The messaging from here: Palin (wearing her OWN jacket) is calling on Obama to delay the "coronation": "Where I come from, you have to win the game before you start cutting down the nets," Palin said Sunday, per ABC's Imtiyaz Delawala.

(Inconvenient fact: That "inaugural address" McCain is attacking just plain doesn't exist. "Obama aides said [John] Podesta's book was written in March, well before Obama clinched the nomination June 3. They said that Podesta, who is now helping to lead Obama's transition, did rewrite the introduction to the book later but did not change the sample speech," per The Washington Post.)

McCain is raising the prospect of united government: "Senator Obama is measuring the drapes and planning with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid to raise taxes, increase spending and concede defeat in Iraq," he said over the weekend. "If we get an Obama, Reid, Pelosi combo in Washington, my friends, we're in trouble. Grab ahold of your wallets."

"McCain's closing argument: The three-headed liberal monster," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "GMA" Monday.

Tapper: "You're going to hear this argument a lot this week; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has even come up with a handy nickname for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and (in this construct) President Barack Obama: 'RePO'."

Closing argument time, on the other side. Per the Obama campaign, an excerpt from his Canton speech Monday: "And now, after 21 months and three debates, Senator McCain still has not been able to tell the American people a single major thing he'd do differently from George Bush when it comes to the economy. Senator McCain says that we can't spend the next four years waiting for our luck to change, but you understand that the biggest gamble we can take is embracing the same old Bush-McCain policies that have failed us for the last eight years."

Plus, Jon Favreau soars: "But as I've said from the day we began this journey all those months ago, the change we need isn't just about new programs and policies. It's about a new politics -- a politics that calls on our better angels instead of encouraging our worst instincts; one that reminds us of the obligations we have to ourselves and one another," Obama plans to say.

Responds the RNC's Alex Conant: "Barack Obama is a weak closer precisely because his closing arguments ignore voters' underlying concerns about his inexperience. At a time when America faces historic crises, we should not elect somebody as untested and inexperienced as Obama. Make no mistake: Obama is asking voters to turn the keys to our economy over to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Obama's latest speech is more of the same empty rhetoric repackaged with the urgency of tightening polls and still-undecided voters."

Who would you rather be? "John McCain hopes to eke out victory in nine days by winning several states he is now losing and making a case against Barack Obama on taxes, experience and Democratic control of Washington," Mark Z. Barabak and Maeve Reston report in the Sunday Los Angeles Times. "Obama, by contrast, is marshaling the most lavishly funded presidential campaign in history, with more than 1.5 million volunteers locking down Democratic states and pushing deep into Republican territory. His message of change, which has remained consistent since he started running, will stay the same."

Why was he in Iowa, anyway? "Republican John McCain dismissed national polls and said Sunday that he is gaining ground on rival Barack Obama, while the Democratic nominee urged supporters in a key Western state to vote early," David Jackson reports in USA Today. "Obama, meanwhile, drew 100,000 people to an outdoor rally in Denver, in a state that has twice voted for President Bush."

This is things looking not-so-happy in Republican-land: "The disclosure that the Republican National Committee spent more than $150,000 on clothing and accessories for vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and her family set off recriminations among GOP officials -- and, more important, party donors," Michael Isikoff and Suzanne Smalley report in Newsweek.

Lobbyist Andrea McWilliams, a GOP fundraiser in Texas, unfurls a quote Bill Burton would be proud of: Palin's "transformation from low couture to haute couture isn't the kind of change that voters had in mind," she said.

"Case clothed? Not yet," Michael Saul writes in the New York Daily News. "Sarah Palin and guest campaigner Elisabeth Hasselbeck from 'The View' denounced chatter about Palin's $150,000 wardrobe Sunday as a sexist diversion from the nation's problems. But just nine days before Election Day, the GOP vice presidential nominee took a detour from her stump speech to argue at length that she's more at home in the bargain bins. She even itemized her accessories."

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., is loyal -- but also realistic. "Unfortunately, I think John McCain might be added to that long list of Arizonans who ran for president but were never elected," Kyl tells the Arizona Daily Star, listing Barry Goldwater, Mo Udall, and Bruce Babbitt. "Maybe, we'll be able to say Arizona's the only state where your child can't grow up to be president. Let's hope that doesn't happen."

(Kyl hails from the Lieberman school on Palin: "She doesn't have to be ready on Day One, because John McCain is, let's assume, going to be in office for a while. . . . By the time she is required to be president, my answer to the question is: Yes, I think she will be ready to be president if she's called upon to be president.")

Fred Barnes comes to Palin's defense: "In judging Palin, it comes down to who is more credible. Is it those who've worked with her, or know her, or have at least met and talked with her? Or those who haven't? The answer is a no-brainer," Barnes writes in The Weekly Standard.

GOP consultant Alex Castellanos can't figure out McCain's Pennsylvania plan: "They're smoking crack. It's one thing for a working-class Democrat to vote against Obama on culture in a Democratic primary. You're still voting for a Democrat; you still get to be a Democrat. But to vote for McCain, you have to become a Republican. I don't see it," Castellanos tells New York Magazine's John Heilemann.

A party coming unglued: "Four years [after 2004], a much different God Gap has emerged: between religious conservatives and the secular establishment of the Republican Party," Dan Gilgoff writes in the New York Daily News. "Today, the unraveling of the alliance is raising questions about the party's ability to win the White House again."

It's been a month since Obama held a press conference -- but he did find time to chat with A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez, that is) on the TV show "Extra," per ABC's Jake Tapper.

The Sked:

John McCain begins his Monday with an economic meeting in Cleveland at 9 am ET. He then heads to Dayton for a rally at 2:30 pm ET, followed by an event in Pottsville, Pa. at 6:30 pm ET.

Barack Obama outlines his "closing argument" in a speech to supporters at 12:30 pm ET in Canton, Ohio. He then heads to Pittsburgh for a rally at 5:10 pm ET.

Sarah Palin meets with the Israeli ambassador Sallali Meridor at 9:15 am ET. She then holds three rallies in Virginia -- first in Leesburg at 10 am ET, then in Fredericksburg at 1 pm ET, and finally in Salem at 6:45 pm ET.

Joe Biden holds three rallies in southern states -- first in Greenville, N.C. at 10 am ET, then in Greensboro, N.C. at 2:15 pm and finally in New Port Richey, Fla., at 7:30 pm ET.

Michelle Obama holds a rally in Las Vegas at 9:15 pm ET. She shares Leno's couch on "The Tonight Show" Monday night.

Also in the news:

Spotted in Manhattan Sunday: Bill Ayers (with a T-shirt reading: "This is ridiculous.") "William Ayers, the '60s radical who is one of John McCain's talking points in his criticism of Barack Obama, told a Manhattan panel discussion audience he was tired of being used as cannon fodder in America's political wars," Richard Vanderford writes in the New York Daily News. "[Fox host] Bill O'Reilly comes on his show and first thing he says is, 'Why won't this Ayers story die?' " Ayers told well-wishers. "And then he spends 10 minutes talking about it."

A big Wednesday is shaping up for the Obama campaign. First the primetime TV infomercial, then a joint Bill Clinton-Barack Obama campaign event, at 11 pm ET in Orlando, ABC's Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report.

Maybe available before that: "Governor Sarah Palin's campaign plans to release information regarding her medical history early this week, according to campaign spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt," per ABC's Kate Snow. "Schmitt told ABC News by email on Sunday that she was not sure what day the records would be released but it would be 'early this week.' "

What will Axe do? "Democrats who know the Chicago-based political consultant, the key architect of Obama's campaign and of his public image, say [David] Axelrod has signaled that he'll seriously consider taking on a job in the administration," Politico's Ben Smith writes. "That decision would be a central choice in shaping an Obama White House, and determining the relationship between his style of governance and political strategy."

Getting the game, in Ohio: "Obama's forces have hunkered down in every part of Ohio, including the more conservative southwest and southeast regions. That's not what Sen. John Kerry's team did four years ago when it focused on only the state's three largest cities -- Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus," Sridhar Pappu writes in the Washington Independent.

Staying in Ohio: "The McCain campaign is confident in its battle-tested technology. They also know what they're up against," per NPR's David Greene.

We knew it would be a problem when everybody was Joe the Plumber: "Officials at the Cuyahoga County Child Support Enforcement Agency will be looking at the computer activity of an employee who may have accessed the personal information of the man who became famous as 'Joe the Plumber' during the last presidential debate," Brie Zeltner reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Yes, even Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is in trouble: "If Barack Obama wins the presidency on Nov. 4, Mitch McConnell, the Senate's minority leader, could be one of the few obstacles confronting Democrats as they seek to enact a sweeping agenda and roll back eight years of Bush administration initiatives," Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post. "But with his opponent tying him to a faltering economy and an unpopular president, it will take everything McConnell has simply to hold on to his seat."

The Ted Stevens deliberations resume Monday, with a new 12th juror: "The delay pushes a verdict in the case one day closer to Election Day, when Alaska voters will have their own say in determining Stevens' fate. On Nov. 4, Stevens faces the toughest race of his Senate career, against Democrat Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage," per McClatchy's Erika Bolstad.

Looking beyond Election Day: "Illinois political insiders say Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who defended Barack Obama after his father famously threatened to castrate him, is the favorite to replace the Democratic nominee in the Senate," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. "But Jackson Jr.'s path is by no means assured. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) also wants to replace Sen. Obama (Ill.) in the upper chamber if he is elected president. This gives Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who must choose between an African-American political scion and a close ally of the labor movement, a difficult decision."

Will President Obama's first headaches come from his own supporters? "This is the engine room of a novel grass-roots machine that may soon have another purpose: to help Obama govern the country. If he wins, it also could cause him headaches: if you live by viral marketing, you can die by it, too," Newsweek's Howard Fineman writes from Obama headquarters in Chicago.

The Kicker:

"Oh, no, no, no, no, keep talking, Joe, please." -- Sen. Lindsey Graham, when the crowd started booing a reference to Sen. Joe Biden's words.

"My wedding ring, it's in Todd's pocket cause it hurts sometimes when I shake hands and it gets squished, a $35 wedding ring from Hawaii that I bought myself, and 'cause I always thought with my ring it's not what it's made of, it's what it represents and 20 years later happy to wear it." -- Sarah Palin.

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