McCain Seeks Message, Targets Obama


Despite what ought to be an early advantage nationally for Democrats because of the Republican Party's brand issue, presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain is keeping the race close, bouncing around from town hall to town hall.

The early good news for McCain is that he nearly broke even with Sen. Barack Obama in May fundraising, he's been driving daily back and forth on issues in the campaign, and he's avoided some of the early mistakes that his rival made in the first two weeks of the general election.

So far, not so bad for the Arizona senator, but not so good, either, complain a number of unnamed Republican sources to the Washington Post. They want to know what is the real message, and how McCain plans to handle the highly unpopular leader of his party, President George W. Bush, for the remainder of the campaign.

To the chagrin of some Republicans, the McCain campaign has been acting schizoid -- as one unsourced GOP strategist puts it in a Sunday Washington Post story -- and nothing underlined that fact more than when McCain released an ad showing how he's stood up to Bush on climate change, but then the next day, sided with Bush on offshore drilling. Michael D. Shear and Juliet Eilperin write up this Sunday must-read.

Advisors to Obama, D-Ill., held a conference call with reporters Sunday to announce the senator's plan for reining in speculation in the oil markets, which some argue has contributed to the higher fuel costs that Americans have faced. The plan also includes closing a loophole which exempts some energy traders from regulation, working with other countries to regulate the oil futures markets, and enacting a windfall profits tax on the top grossing oil companies. The energy debate will likely get major play the next couple of days as the world learns more about the special summit in Saudi Arabi this weekend on oil prices.

With the Midwest flood devastation on the minds of many Americans, Obama sharply attacked McCain on Saturday for opposing additional use of government money for levee and flood protection programs. McCain voted against The Water Resources Development Act last fall, reports ABC's Jennifer Duck.

"I know that Sen. McCain felt as strongly as I did," said Obama. "Feeling enormous sympathy for the victims of the recent flooding. I'm sure they appreciated the sentiment, but they probably would have appreciated it even more if Sen. McCain hadn't opposed legislation to fund levees and flood control programs, which he considers pork."

McCain's campaign said Obama was confusing the facts and engaging in typical political attacks that the Democrat rejects in his speeches," writes Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press.

Newsweek's brand new poll looks like an outliner because it shows Obama leading McCain in presidential preference by 15 points. Other recent surveys show a much closer race.

Nearly half of all Americans say race relations in the U.S. are in bad shape, and three in 10 acknowledge feelings of racial prejudice, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Among African Americans, a majority -- six in 10 -- say race relations are "not so good" or "poor."

Analyzing the poll, Washington Post reporters Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta write, "At the same time, there is an overwhelming public openness to the idea of electing an African American to the presidency. In a Post-ABC News poll last month, nearly nine in 10 whites said they would be comfortable with a black president. While fewer whites, about two-thirds, said they would be "entirely comfortable" with it, that was more than double the percentage of all adults who said they would be so at ease with someone entering office for the first time at age 72, which (Sen. McCain) would do, should he prevail in November."

Obama spoke about race and the campaign this weekend. "It is going to be very difficult for Republicans to run on their stewardship of the economy or their outstanding foreign policy," he said at a fundraiser in Jacksonville, Fla., according to the Association Press. "We know what kind of campaign they're going to run. They're going to try to make you afraid. They're going to try to make you afraid of me. 'He's young and inexperienced, and he's got a funny name. And did I mention he's black?'" Read about the comment HERE.

Like the sonorous sound of a choir, Republicans continued to lay on the rhetoric that Obama is a flip-flopper for breaking his pledge to take public money in the general election contest. Looking past GOP efforts to claim he's not the real deal, Obama is thinking about just what he might be able to do with what could be a financial advantage of tens of million or hundreds of million of dollars in September and October.

Jim Rutenberg and Chris Drew of the New York Times report, "(Obama) is drawing up plans for extensive advertising and voter-turnout drives across the nation, hoping to capitalize on his expected fundraising advantage over (McCain) to force Republicans to compete in states they have not had to defend in decades."

More Rutenberg and Drew: "Future commercials could run on big national showcases, like the Olympics in August, and smaller cable channels, like MTV and Black Entertainment Television, that appeal to specific demographic and interest groups."

Democrats hope that the country and media continue to draw similarities between McCain and former Sen. Bob Dole. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign fell flat as Americans worried about Dole's age. "But for all the obvious similarities, there are also sufficient differences between the two Republicans to make surface comparisons somewhat misleading," writes Adam Nagourney of the New York Times.

The differences that Nagourney describes: Dole refused to run against establishment, while McCain is mired with the image of a man who bucks the establishment. Dole limited his humor and erected a protective wall around himself, while McCain scores big points with the public and media because of his open town halls and frequent media chats. Read more HERE.

McCain's wife, Cindy, earns cover honors in Newsweek this week. The reporter who did the profile, Holly Bailey, writes that she got the impression that Mrs. McCain wishes she could reclaim the privacy she has lost.

"Her tax records, her hair and clothes, even the authenticity of "family" recipes posted on the campaign's Web site, have become the subject of intense attention on the Internet and cable TV (it turned out that an intern lifted some of the recipes from the Food Network). The talk shows spent hours last week teasing up a feud between her and Michelle Obama, after Cindy chided Michelle for saying, months ago, that she is proud of her country 'for the first time' in her life. 'I have always been proud of my country,' Cindy responded, repeating comments she'd made when Michelle first made the remark."

Even the casual political observer knows by now that Mrs. McCain is an heiress to the beer empire, Hensley & Co. -- and as the race heats up, the company may face some scrutiny for arguing against Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and opposing reforms that may have been intended to help Americans drink responsibly. That story from Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian.

In other news...

Vietnam veterans who served with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have stepped up to a challenge to disprove the charges made against Kerry in 2004 by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The veterans sent a letter to oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens -- who helped finance the Swift Boat Veterans operation -- saying they will take on the challenge he issued last November to pay $1 million to anyone who could disprove a single charge the group made against Kerry.

As he prepares for his annual climate change summit meeting in Miami, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., took a moment to be profiled in the New York Times. He's of Greek origin, if you're wondering. The family name was Cristodoulos. Oh, and as for a question about whether the single governor prefers living alone: "I got married and divorced because it didn't work out. I haven't found the right one since. It's really that simple." To that, reporter Deborah Solomon responded, "You can't find one woman in all of Florida?" Crist's response: "Maybe I have. Stay tuned. "

Ohio Democrats and the Kansas governor (the daughter of a former Ohio governor) rallied the old party faithful at a dinner over the weekend. "The door of the White House only opens through Ohio," said Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, per the AP's Julie Carr Smyth. Enthusiastic Clinton supporters during the primaries, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland fired up the crowd, and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones appeared in a video presentation.


The McCain surrogates who appeared on the Sunday programs aggressively went after Obama for his public money flip, hoping to keep the story alive at the start of the new week. Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham argued Obama's word is forever broken. "Sen. Obama looked in cameras all over the country, literally signed his name, 'I will accept public financing,' and now, for whatever reason, he has broken his word."

Speaking on Obama's behalf on the same program, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., admitted Obama's move was reverse, but also said that the point is that special interests are not influencing his campaign. "The irony is, although he has changed his position -- I'm not going to color that, he's changed his position -- the fact of the matter is he has 1,400,000 contributors, the vast majority of whom contribute less than a hundred bucks a piece. So, the effect of campaign financing is in place, but it's not campaign financing."

Republican Victory Fund chairwoman Carly Fiorina said on "Face the Nation," it is "pretty clear that Barack Obama has, in fact, said all along that he would accept public financing. And now he's changed his mind." She hammered the Obama campaign for arguing that his decision was influenced by the activity of outside groups, known as 527s, acting on behalf of Republicans.

Also on "Face the Nation," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson helped his fellow Democrat by swiping at McCain for siding with Bush last week in calling for offshore oil drilling. "What we have here is Sen. McCain is basically following the policies of George Bush -- drill, drill, drill. Now, the oil companies have millions of acres of leases in America and continental U.S. that they need to drill in. But we need a long-term solution and face the facts, and that is renewable energy," Richardson said.

The subject of energy was the main focus of ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Republican Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison argued that the U.S. needed to look no further than its own country to help drive down the cost of energy. "The Democrats have thwarted every effort we have made to increase our supply," she said. This is a supply and demand issue. The demand has skyrocketed, mostly because of global increases, and we have not done anything about supply, because we're thwarted in nuclear power, we're thwarted in using our own natural resources. Drilling offshore on a state-by-state option is something that I think we could do very environmentally safely. And yet, anything that says production is killed by the Democrats."

Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts blamed high energy prices on Republicans in Congress for refusing to rein in on energy speculators and blocking renewable incentives for renewable energy programs. He voiced skepticism that offshore drilling would help Americans at the pump, and doubted the special summit on energy in Saudi Arabi this weekend would bring relief.

"It's kind of a sad day in American history. We were given one week's notice to go over to Saudi Arabia today to beg the Saudi Arabians and OPEC to please produce more oil we can purchase," Markey said. "We have 700 million barrels of oil in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The president should say to OPEC that he is going to begin deploying 100,000 barrels of oil per day out of that Strategic Petroleum Reserve to drive down the price."

Watch the entire discussion, including what Jeffery Sachs of the Earth Institute, and Red Cavaney of the American Petroleum Institute, had to say.

The "Fox News Sunday" host tried to get the pro-choice former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to say that he will go along with John McCain's opposition to abortion if McCain selects him as his running mate. "I believe what I believe, and I've had that point of view before I got into elected office. I've had it when I served, and I have it now."

He continued, "He feels very, very strongly about that issue, and that's why any conversation we have, relative to that issue or the vice presidency, is something that he and I have to discuss before I ever go down that path publicly."

In the weekly veepstakes "are you running" question that the Sunday talk show moderates ask the guests who are rumored to be on their party's short lists:

Biden (quite humorously) said on "Meet the Press" that he does not want to be asked to be the Democratic VP, but, he said, "if the presidential nominee thought I could help him win ... of course, I'm -- I'll say yes."

On CNN's "Late Edition," Minnesota Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty insisted that he's not being vetted for vice president. He also said he has not discussed the vice presidency with McCain.

On another Sunday show note, Brian Williams, who moderated "Meet the Press" this Sunday, announced that Tom Brokaw will take over as moderator of the program through the election. As always, you can watch highlights from the Sunday programs on the "This Week Sunday Sound" Webcast.


On Thursday, June 26, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., joins Obama for a fundraiser at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. This will be the first time that Clinton has appeared with Obama on the campaign trail since she conceded the Democratic presidential nomination on June 7. The pair hit the trail together the next day. Politico offers up ideas about where Obama and Clinton should campaign together.

Possible Obama VP, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, speaks at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) on Monday, June 23, at their national convention in Detroit, Michigan.