Higher Standards Bite Obama, McCain

McCain hoped Thursday would bring the first of his joint town halls -- but Team McCain is still waiting on a counterproposal from Obamaland. "By making the entreaty, the McCain camp is betting the veteran senator from Arizona would gain an edge. And the Obama camp appears in no hurry to give it to him," AP's Jim Kuhnhenn reports. "Look for an empty chair Thursday to symbolize Obama's absence from a McCain town hall in New York's Federal Hall."

New from the Obama campaign Thursday: www.fightthesmears.com.

Time's Karen Tumulty has the details: "The Obama campaign has built what might best be described as a Web-based rumor clearinghouse, located at fightthesmears.com, in which it hopes all the shady stories about Obama's faith, his family and his rumored connections with controversial figures can go to die," she writes. "Obama is enlisting his millions of supporters to help him hunt down and quash these stories, just as those supporters helped him turn his insurgent campaign into a history-making juggernaut."

On the Obama bump . . . Pollster Peter Hart sees President Bush as a "200-pound ball and chain" around McCain's ankle: "Unless he finds some way to cut it loose," Hart tells The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes, "he's going to be dragging it right through the election."

But dragging he is -- Obama leads outside the margin of error, but he's not down by as much as Republicans feared in the new WSJ/NBC poll, the first taken since Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton conceded.

"Sen. Obama continues to do poorly among white male voters, according to the poll. More ominous is his weakness among white suburban women, who generally are open to Democratic candidates and whose votes could be decisive. While Sen. Obama has a slight lead among white women generally, a plurality of suburbanites prefer Sen. McCain," Calmes writes.

"Some good news for the likely Democratic nominee: Despite suggestions during the nomination contest that many Hispanics and Hillary Clinton supporters wouldn't support him, the poll shows both groups overwhelmingly do," she writes.

(And what do those generic-ballot numbers suggest about congressional races?)

Karl Rove leads the way in the latest GOP critique of Obama. "Mr. Obama believes in talking and in meeting, in the hope that his charm will sweep despots off their feet like college students in Madison, Cambridge and Berkeley," Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column.

"If Mr. Obama wants to portray himself as Reagan, then let him show it by spelling out his strategy for Iran and the other rogue states he's pledged to spend his first year visiting. What specifically will he say in those meetings that will cause their leaders to change? What will he do to create the conditions that lead them to abandon their aggressive course? If Mr. Obama keeps dodging these questions, then the American people will have every reason to view him as unprepared for the world stage."

Obama's words on gas prices Wednesday get run through the grist/twist mill: "I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment. The fact that this is such a shock to American pocketbooks is not a good thing," Obama said on CNBC.

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