Tim Russert would be proud. The attribute most in demand in the early stages of this general election is a quality he had in spades: authenticity.
Yes, this campaign may yet be (and already has been, to an extent) about liberals and conservatives, taxes and wars, the Supreme Court and 527 groups and vice-presidential vetters.
But in the meantime, the rush for reality is on, emerging as the first high-stakes battle in the war between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain -- a race that's likely to be waged squarely in the middle.
Close it will be: We're back to a virtual tie in Gallup's daily tracking -- Obama 44, McCain 42 following the first full week in post-primary mode.
And the casualties pile up in the annals of authenticity:
It means one fewer fundraiser for McCain in Texas on Monday.
A lesson for Obama in why guns and knives are dangerous metaphors.
It means the loser of the debate over debates may suffer more than the usual amount of damage.
(It even may have even cost Paul Tewes his eyebrows.)
And it brought Obama to a church pulpit in Chicago (no, not THAT church), as he continues the delicate task of defining a candidate the likes of which the nation hasn't seen before.
"It was a provocative speech," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "The first major-party African-American presidential candidate in history took the opportunity of Father's Day to deliver some tough love to the African-American community."
Obama's Father's Day speech "invoked his own absent father to deliver a sharp message to black men, saying 'we need fathers to recognize that responsibility doesn't just end at conception,' " Julie Bosman writes in The New York Times. "In an address that was striking for its bluntness and where he chose to give it, Mr. Obama directly addressed one of the most delicate topics confronting black leaders: how much responsibility absent fathers bear for some of the intractable problems afflicting black Americans."
"The theme of fatherly responsibility is important for Obama, especially now that he is the presumed Democratic nominee for the White House," Jeff Long and Christi Parsons report in the Chicago Tribune. "While his dogma is decidedly liberal, his talk about personal responsibility crafts an appeal to religious conservatives and political centrists."
ABC's Sunlen Miller points out that Michelle Obama was in the front pew, alongside the couple's daughters, Malia and Sasha. "This was the first time the Obama family has attended church since formally cutting ties with their controversial Chicago church, Trinity United on May 31," she writes.
The battle is one where whoever represents the right fit for the "change" label could well win, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's David Shribman writes. "[Obama] looks different, he talks about a world and a Washington that are different, and he ran for president in a fashion that was altogether different (with big money from small donors and a big push in caucus states, many of them small)," Shribman writes. "But then, Mr. McCain is different, too. He looks at the world in a way that is different, and he looks at Washington in a way that is way different, at least from regular Republicans. He is change in a shock of white hair."
Bloomberg's Al Hunt likes Obama's map: "Obama has changed the dynamics in medium-size and smaller states from four years ago. There are more than half a dozen 2004 red states -- Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Nevada, Missouri, even Indiana and Montana -- where Obama is competitive. There are very few -- New Hampshire and Wisconsin -- that McCain can turn from Democrat to Republican."
That map may look different than we're used to: "Barack Obama's campaign envisions a path to the presidency that could include Virginia, Georgia and several Rocky Mountain states, but not necessarily the pair of battlegrounds that decided the last two elections --Florida and Ohio," Nedra Pickler and Philip Elliott write for the AP. "In a private pitch late last week to donors and former supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe outlined several alternatives to reaching the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House that runs counter to the conventional wisdom of recent elections."
It's a powerful brand he's up against: "Sen. John McCain's reputation as a maverick who regularly bucks the conservative wing of his party will be a formidable obstacle for Sen. Barack Obama as he seeks to persuade moderates to vote for him in November," Joseph Curl writes in the Washington Times.
Or maybe it isn't. This should set off alarm bells in Arlington: "John McCain once had the most powerful brand in American politics," Paul West writes in the Baltimore Sun. "It wasn't too many years ago that 'maverick' was the cliche of choice in describing him. But that term didn't even make the list this year when voters were asked by the Pew Research Center to sum up McCain in a single word.
' 'Old' got the most mentions, followed by 'honest,' 'experienced,' 'patriot,' 'conservative' and a dozen more. The words 'independent,' 'change' or 'reformer' weren't among them," West continues. "Voters have notoriously short memories, but it could be argued that McCain cheapened his own brand."
McCain might be causing some mischief with the praise his team is offering for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. "I assure you, with confidence, at the end of my first term you will see a dramatic increase of women in every part of the government, in my administration," McCain said Saturday at an event designed to reach out to Democrats and independents, per ABC's Bret Hovell.
Pay attention to Carly Fiorina: "The War for Women is on," per Newsweek's Jonathan Darman. "In the two weeks since Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, the GOP has pushed women to give its candidate a second look, lavishing praise on Clinton, wallpapering cable TV with female surrogates and, ever so discreetly, reminding female voters just how moderate McCain can be."
How many of these before we have a trend? Frustrated Clinton supporter Debra Bartoshevich gets written up by Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "She's not alone in refusing to support Barack Obama. And she's not entirely alone in saying she'll vote this fall for Republican John McCain instead. But what makes her unusual is that she holds these views as an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer."
But not so fast: "Now that the Democratic marathon is over, Clinton supporters . . . are siding heavily with Obama over McCain, polls show," Michael Finnegan writes in the Los Angeles Times. "And Obama has taken a wide lead among female voters, belying months of political chatter and polls of primary voters suggesting that disappointment over Clinton's defeat might block the Illinois senator from enjoying his party's historic edge among women."
No progress yet on those town-hall forums, but another great quote has been tossed into the fight: "Barack Obama requires more preconditions to meet directly with John McCain and American voters than he does with Iran's [President] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds tells USA Today's Kathy Kiely. Kiely writes: "Both campaigns say talks are at a halt, but there's considerable outside interest in bringing the two candidates together for summertime meetings."
Bounds scores again: On Friday, Obama used said at a fundraiser in Philadelphia, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." Said Bounds: "Barack Obama's call for 'new politics' is officially over."
An intriguing addition to the itinerary? "Barack Obama may depart this summer from his road-warrior tour of election-battleground states to take a trip around the world, one intended to shore up his credentials on foreign policy," McClatchy's Margaret Talev reports.
And intriguing addition to the bookshelf? "The conservative Evangelical biographer of George W. Bush and Tom DeLay has moved on to a new subject: Barack Obama," Politico's Ben Smith reports. "And his new book, due out this summer, may lend credibility to Senator Obama's bid to win Evangelical Christian voters away from the Republican Party."
What of the team that would get Obama where he needs to go?
Start with the candidate himself: "He delegates many decisions, and virtually all tasks, to a core group that oversees a sprawling, yet centralized operation in his Chicago campaign headquarters," Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg write in The New York Times.
"In interviews with more than two dozen senior advisers, campaign aides and friends, a portrait of Mr. Obama emerges as a concerned but not obsessive manager," they continue. "By now, his associates have learned, there is no need to deluge him with unnecessary details, so long as someone knows them. . . . Advisers described his meetings as "un-Clintonesque," a reference to the often meandering, if engrossing, policy discussions Bill Clinton presided over when he was president."
One more morsel (surely helping that whole reality thing): "Aides say how well he reads the [briefing] materials may depend on what is on ESPN."
Move to campaign manager David Plouffe (who surely chooses briefing books over ESPN): "His colleagues said Plouffe's methodical and quiet nature disguises the intensity he has brought to his 20-year career as field organizer, fundraiser, media strategist and campaign manager," Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman writes. "Fiercely competitive, Plouffe once defied a doctor's order to rest his knee and ran in a marathon only to end up on crutches. He gets by on little sleep and takes conference calls from his bathroom in the early hours so as not to wake up his wife and son."
And there's new spokeswoman Linda Douglass (stop asking her already about the veepstakes): "After three decades as a television correspondent, Douglass is now on the inside -- but still not getting all the answers," The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz writes. "She recalls Obama telling her that he would not talk to her, let alone the outside world, about the vice-presidential selection process, saying: 'We're locking it down, we're buttoning it up.' "
Said Douglass (who covered the McCain campaign for ABC in 2000): "I do like McCain and the people around him, and I consider him still to be a friend. . . . But I have fundamental differences with John McCain on the issues and always have. I don't have any problem criticizing John McCain."
And there's Paul Tewes, heading up the DNC end of things for Obama: "Tewes has a brand-new set of eyebrows, and a new job: head of the Democratic Party's massive national field operation to elect Obama," Newsweek's Richard Wolffe writes. "In the coming weeks, Tewes will lead the effort to put the national party under the Obama campaign's control. The idea is to re-create the kind of success he had in Iowa, but on a much larger scale -- mobilizing tens of thousands of volunteers and organizers nationwide in what the Democrats call their '50-state strategy.' "
One metric where McCain may never catch Obama: The Pew Research Center confirms that Obama is king of the Web this year. "Online Democrats are outpacing wired Republicans in contributing money online, using social networking sites for political reasons, watching online video and signing up for campaign emails -- largely because more tech-savvy young people are Democrats," per ABC's Jennifer Parker.
"He's understood from the very beginning that the Internet makes it easier for everyday people to find ways to support the campaign, to get involved," said Chris Hughes, who helped launch Facebook and now handles "online grassroots organizing" for Obama. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Vote2008/story?id=5063449&page=1
A landmark day in California on Monday: "This evening, some county clerks in California will stay open late to start issuing marriage licenses and officiating the exchange of vows for gay and lesbian couples -- the first of thousands of same-sex marriages expected in the coming days," Jim Doyle writes in the San Francisco Chronicle. "It's a bold step that has been hailed by many gay-rights advocates as a significant milestone while being attacked by opponents as an unmistakable sign of societal decay."
Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco is officiating at City Hall for one special couple: Phyllis Lyon, 84, and Del Martin, 87, per the AP's Lisa Leff.
Obama campaigns in Flint and Detroit on Monday. Per the campaign: "In his speech today, Obama will lay out his comprehensive national competitiveness agenda, including his plans to improve our education system, achieve energy security, encourage innovation, rebuild our infrastructure, and pursue smart trade policies so that we create the jobs of the future here in America."
"Sen. Barack Obama today brings his traveling economic policy show to Michigan, the nation's most economically battered state, laying out a series of policies that aides believe will convince voters here he can help reverse the state's decades-long slide," previews the Detroit News' Gordon Trowbridge.
"After a week of appearances in swing states, in which he has mostly touted steps to address the downturn, [economic policy director Jason] Furman said today's argument will be more focused on the future: that policies, from improving education to boosting research on new auto technologies, will help Michigan and other Rust Belt states hang on to jobs they have been losing for a generation."
A Detroit News editorial greets him: "Sen. Barack Obama brings his economic plan to Michigan today, and there's much in it to concern a state desperate for investment and job growth. The strategy detailed on the presumed Democratic presidential nominee's Web site envisions an economy that gets a strong, guiding hand from government, with big new spending programs to stimulate growth. But developing jobs with tax dollars is never as good as encouraging them with private-sector incentives, and there's little of that in Obama's proposals."
Obama gets his chat Monday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a day after McCain met with him at his campaign headquarters. The meetings are "a possible end-run on the Bush administration over the future of U.S. troops in that embattled country," Richard Sisk writes in the New York Daily News.
McCain has no public events Monday -- and one fewer fundraiser. "Sen. John McCain on Friday abruptly cancelled a Monday fundraiser that had been scheduled at the home of a Texas oilman, after ABC News contacted the campaign inquiring about a verbal blunder the Texan made during an unsuccessful 1990 campaign for governor," per ABC News.
"Clayton Williams stirred controversy during his 1990 campaign for governor of Texas with a botched attempt at humor in which he compared rape to weather. Within earshot of a reporter, Williams said: 'As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it.' "
McCain "has decided to hold a fundraiser initially sponsored by a controversial Texas oilman later in the summer at a different venue" -- and without Williams in attendance, The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin reports.
President Bush arrives back in the US Monday night.
The Boston Globe's Sally Jacobs looks at Michelle Obama's time at Princeton: "Michelle Obama has often been cast as the more adamant half of the Obama household, when it comes to racial matters, and some have traced this thread to her Princeton years," Jacobs writes.
"But she was hardly a campus activist. Instead, she pursued quieter means of change characteristic of her practical nature, according to classmates with whom she remains close. In her efforts to understand the lot of black students, this determined young woman with the big hair and trademark strand of pearls attended meetings with school administrators about the African- American Studies department, helped bring black alumni to campus to address students, and worked afternoons in the school's Third World Center."
There's no training for this: "Like Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton before her, Michelle Obama is becoming the would-be first lady conservatives love to hate," ABC's John Hendren reports. "Michelle Obama has become a favorite target for critics, drawing many to compare her arrival on the national stage to Hillary Clinton's after she infuriated conservatives when she said, 'I could have stayed home and baked cookies.' It's likely to get worse."
The political world remains in a state of disbelief over the passing of a legend -- a gentleman, a friend, and a consummate professional, lost too soon.
Tim Russert's public wake is planned for Tuesday at St. Albans School, and a private funeral Mass will be held Wednesday morning. MSNBC will televise a private memorial held at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington Wednesday afternoon.
"With the moderator's chair empty in tribute, the guests gathered around the famous Nebraska Avenue table with Tom Brokaw, the former 'Nightly News' anchorman, who began the show by urging them not to cry. But the show was a largely joyful recollection of wild, loving times with Russert, who passed in his prime on Friday, at the age of 58," Politico's Mike Allen and Amie Parnes write.
"What produced this enormous affection for a man who did not shy away from rigorous interviewing of the most confident and powerful figures?" Matea Gold and Tom Hamburger write in the Los Angeles Times. "The answers seem to be his decency; a personal story that included his climb from humble, working-class roots; and an insistence on asking tough -- but always civil -- questions."
"Buffalo's federal lawmakers said today that they want to rename a portion of U.S. Route 20 in Orchard Park after Russert," Jerry Zremski reports in the Buffalo News. "And Mayor Byron W. Brown proclaimed this Father's Day 'Tim Russert Day' in Buffalo during a community vigil today in Tim Russert Park on the border between the city and West Seneca. Brown cited Russert's love of the city and its football team, but also 'his love of family above all else.'
A tour through the various animals in the veepstakes zoo:
There's the get-my-name-out-of-it-already: "I will not seek, and I will not accept, any other opportunity," former governor Mark Warner, D-Va., said in accepting the Democratic nomination in Virginia's Senate race, per The Washington Post's Tim Craig and Anita Kumar.
There's the get-my-name-out-of-it-but-don't-forget-about-me-entirely: "No, I intended it to say that this is not a thing that I'm seeking," former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., said Sunday, asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulos if he intended to be Shermanesque in his previous statements. "I'd take anything he asked me to think about seriously, but obviously this is something I've done and it's not a job that I'm seeking."
There's the are-you-kidding?-I-can-make-lots-more-money-doing-other-things: "It's presumptuous for a person to turn down things that haven't been offered to them and I don't think will be offered," former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., told Stephanopoulos. "And it's not something that I want. So I'll just leave it at that."
The by-the-books-of-course-I'm-interested-but-can't-say-as-much: "I'm certainly supporting Senator McCain, will do whatever I can to help him get elected, but I'm focused on being governor of Louisiana," Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
There's the that-guy-who-was-just-on-rocks: "I think Governor Jindal would be far and away the best candidate for vice president in the country," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said on "Face."
The I'll-let-my-friends-tell-you-I'm-interested-because-it-would-be-unseemly-to-say-so-myself: "Those close to [former senator Sam] Nunn, speaking on condition of anonymity, say he seems more prepared to accept a vice presidential offer this year, helping to offset Obama's lack of experience on national security and giving the Democrats a fighting chance in Georgia," Bryan Bender writes in The Boston Globe.
The time-heals-all-wounds: "His smarts, experience, and smooth demeanor still make [former senator Tom Daschle, D-S.D.] worth considering for the number-two slot," The New Republic's Michael Crowley writes. "And fortunately for Daschle, it seems his shortcomings during the bad old days of Bush's first term have largely been forgiven, forgotten, or both."
The with-friends-like-these: "He appears to be self-destructing," Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., is quoted saying of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y., by the New York Post's Fredric U. Dicker. "His presidential thing didn't work out, term limits is looming to force him out, he's waiting and waiting to be asked to be vice president, congestion pricing didn't happen, he lost teacher tenure, the Jets stadium, and OTB isn't going the way he wants it."
And the brother-can-you-spare-a-dime?: "[Rudy] Giuliani's aides have told the National Republican Congressional Committee and Congressional candidates that if he makes an appearance, he wants the candidates to help him get rid of his presidential campaign debt," Raymond Hernandez writes in The New York Times.
GOP incumbents are turning to the other white meat to win their races the way incumbents do. "Faced with one of the worst national political environments in modern political history, Republican incumbents are turning to a tried-and-true approach to win reelection: pork," Chris Cillizza and Ben Pershing write in The Washington Post. "In recent ads for Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.), the incumbents highlight their ability to work across party lines to deliver dollars for their respective states.
But money helps: "House GOP leaders are privately grumbling about the level of fundraising and donating by some committees' ranking members, suggesting that would-be chairmen should be steering more money to the party's effort to retake the majority," Roll Call's Lauren W. Whittington reports.
Nothing tends to work quite like public humiliation: "Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.) stands out as the lone ranking member who hasn't raised or contributed one cent to the committee this cycle."
"I'm not even talking in terms of Kennedy or Nixon or any of those. I'm talking about Washington and Lincoln." -- Memorabilia expert Daryle Lambert, to the New York Daily News, on the run on Hillary Clinton items in the wake of her defeat.
"There's a lot of big guys out there. There really are." -- Tim Russert, to Jay Leno (and can't you just see the smile with that one?).
Bookmark The Note at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/TheNote/story?id=3105288&page=1