Obama Learns Lessons From Democrats Past

OK class -- what have we learned this first full week of the general?

- This fight could be about taxes.

- It could be about the war.

- Or it could be about the backgrounds of the people who help the candidates explore the backgrounds of the people being considered for vice president.

- It might be determined by the Supreme Court (though probably not THAT way).

- Or by Ron Paul (who won't be the next president, but may still host the most interesting party in Minneapolis-St. Paul).

- Or even Mike Huckabee (true calling found?).

- Also -- Barack Obama has a Roman numeral after his name. (And you thought it was easy to tag him as an elitist before? At least there's is a higher purpose at work here...)

It hasn't been the smoothest of weeks for Sen. Obama -- but we do know he's no longer waiting for himself to be defined in this campaign. On the big (and little) issues above, this first week may have broken little ground, but Obamaland has served notice that he's leading the Democratic Party by playing a different kind of game.

You can read all about it online: "Barack Obama has vanquished the powerful Clinton Democratic machine, but he has not yet been able to beat back those persistent and untrue rumors about him and his wife," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Friday. "So he has taken the unusual step of launching a new Website called fightthesmears.com."

"The Obama team acknowledges the old approach was doing nothing to stem the tide of questionable -- and in several cases demonstrably incorrect -- snippets about Obama's life," Christi Parsons writes in the Chicago Tribune. The new approach is "a far cry from past practice across the political spectrum," she writes.

It all sounds very un-Democratic -- surely not in the vein of Mondale/Dukakis/Gore/Kerry (or, at least, in the collective remembrance of said campaigns).

"Launching the website breaks what has been a conventional mindset in American politics: that giving attention to rumors only dignifies and broadcasts them to more voters," Scott Helman writes in The Boston Globe.

Lesson learned: "Barack Obama is tapping the Internet to try to deflect smears like the devastating Swift Boat attacks that four years ago questioned John Kerry's duty in Vietnam," Ken Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News.

"From now on, rather than try to ignore rumors when they start -- that Obama was a Muslim, did not say the Pledge of Allegiance, was not born in the U.S., etc., the Obama team will activate its millions of followers into an Internet-based truth squad to separate lies from facts, based on information at the anti-smear site," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.

"What the Obama campaign wants to do is basically create a virtual army, with foot soldiers all across the country sending along the e-mails to counter what they consider the unfair, untrue e-mails," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reported on "Good Morning America" Friday.

Obama has played more defense than the Lakers this week -- but Jim Johnson's already well gone, and the campaign is shooting enough to score some baskets.

"Mr. Obama's campaign and its allies have displayed an aggressive streak this week as well, hitting Mr. McCain hard on Wednesday after he replied to a question about when American troops might come home from Iraq by saying it was 'not too important,' then suggesting that what was important was the level of casualties," Julie Bosman and John M. Broder write in The New York Times.

Obama plans to press McCain on Social Security Friday: "John McCain's ideas on Social Security amount to four more years of what was attempted and failed under George Bush," Obama plans to say Friday in Ohio, per excerpts provided by his campaign.

"He said he supports private accounts for Social Security – in his words, 'along the lines that President Bush proposed.' Yesterday he tried to deny that he ever took that position, leaving us wondering if he had a change of heart or a change of politics. Well let me be clear: privatizing Social Security was a bad idea when George W. Bush proposed it. It's a bad idea today."

This is, well, inside basketball -- but the kind of move that wins games (better pizza = longer hours = better performance; you could look it up).

"The shift of the DNC's political and field organizing operations to Chicago will consolidate the Democratic presidential campaign apparatus more than in either of the last two cycles, when staffers at DNC headquarters overlapped -- and occasionally competed -- with aides to Al Gore and John Kerry," Politico's Ben Smith and David Paul Kuhn report.

And this: "Moving to harness the grass-roots energy that helped win the Democratic nomination, Sen. Barack Obama's campaign will deploy 3,600 volunteers in 17 states this weekend, each committed to six consecutive weeks of full-time political work," Peter Slevin writes in The Washington Post. "The project, launched two months before the senator from Illinois became the presumptive nominee, is a measure of his determination to out-organize Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in states that could swing a close election."

Not that the pressure's going anywhere.

On the personal: "Despite a vow to focus on issues, the Republican Party plans to use Barack Obama's relationships with controversial figures to undermine the public's view of his character, according to the chairman of the Republican National Committee," McClatchy's Steven Thomma reports.

"The party will make an issue out of Obama's ties to such people as Chicago developer Antoin Rezko, recently conducted on fraud and money-laundering charges, and '60s radical William Ayers, unrepentant about his role in bombings of government buildings to protest the Vietnam War," GOP Chairman Robert M. "Mike" Duncan said in an interview taped for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program.

On policy (no confusing this): "There is nothing confusing about [Obama's] lack of knowledge and experience and judgment on this issue [of the Iraq war], and the fact that he was simply wrong," McCain tells the Union Leader's John DiStaso. "He even still refuses to acknowledge that the surge is winning...Remarkable."

On more policy: "Senator John McCain has stepped up efforts to paint his rival, Senator Barack Obama, as what he calls a traditional Democratic tax-and-spend liberal," Larry Rohter writes in The New York Times. "Economists of various ideological persuasions, however, view Mr. McCain's assessment as inaccurate or exaggerated. Some question whether Mr. Obama's tax plan can even be characterized as an increase."

(New RNC Web video out Friday: "Barack Obama is confused about his own tax plan.")

In unexpected ways: "Thursday's Supreme Court ruling that Guantanamo detainees have a constitutional right to challenge their status in U.S. civilian courts is a blow to Republican presidential candidate John McCain and a vindication for Democratic candidate Barack Obama," McClatchy's Margaret Talev writes.

(But be careful what you wish for when it comes to the high court. "The Supreme Court is on the ballot," declared People for the American Way -- but who wants that more, Obama or McCain?)

In expected ways: "Some of Hillary Clinton's die-hard supporters are plotting to stop Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, or more realistically, at the polls in November," Michael Saul writes in the New York Daily News. "A few Hillary activists still hope to somehow convince superdelegates to award her the nomination at the Aug. 25-28 convention in Denver."

(But: There's "growing cooperation between Clinton and Obama fundraisers," per USA Today's Fredreka Schouten.)

(And: "Wounds inflicted during the long Democratic primary battle are begrudgingly healing, as prominent supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's failed presidential bid are beginning to voice support for Sen. Barack Obama," Sean Lengell writes in the Washington Times.)

On process: "I think this town hall meeting tonight would have been a little bit more interesting tonight if Senator Obama had accepted my request," McCain said in kicking off what would have been the campaign's first joint town hall Thursday night, per ABC's Bret Hovell.

(They'll have more chances: the Reagan and Johnson libraries have extended invites to the candidates for a fresh round, ABC's Tahman Bradley and David Chalian report.)

On more process: Johnson's gone, but Eric Holder remains. "Republicans, smelling the success of knocking out the head of Sen. Barack Obama's vice-presidential search committee Wednesday, renewed efforts to ensnare another top adviser to the Democratic presidential candidate with the exploits of his Washington-insider past," writes Jim McElhatton of the Washington Times.

On even more process: "Barack Obama learned the pitfalls of claiming the moral high ground this week when a top adviser resigned under pressure. His next challenge is whether to forfeit a huge financial edge over Republican John McCain or renege on a promise to accept public-funding limits," Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant write.

And Michelle Obama will enjoy more scrutiny maybe even than her husband (but the word "whitey" has not, apparently, escaped her lips).

"Democrats expect . . . a concerted effort to cast Michelle Obama -- and, by extension, Barack Obama -- as an unpatriotic radical," Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown reports. (She'll be on full display Friday at her husband's side in Ohio -- and she guest hosts "The View" next week.)

(This doesn't include any "baby mama" smears -- intentional or not.)

Gospel of Paul:

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, officially ended his campaign Thursday at the Texas state GOP convention -- but now he gets to have some fun.

The move frees up his $4.7 million in campaign cash "for investment in a new advocacy group, The Campaign for Liberty," ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports. "The new entity will be used to push a slate of libertarian-minded Republican candidates for public office in local districts nationwide, according to a description provided to ABC News by the Paul campaign."

"Sounds like the revolution is about to get notched up a bit," Paul told supporters, per The Dallas Morning News' Gromer Jeffers Jr.

"I think something big is going on in the country and it's a lot bigger than me," Paul tells Tom Abrahams of KTRK-TV, ABC's Houston affiliate. "There's a need and I've tapped into what this country used to believe in."

And this fun quote for the McCain folks to chew on: "I don't want to sound so negative. But I can't support somebody who doesn't agree with any of our issues," Paul told Abrahams.

"That lack of a relationship -- if it persists -- could cost Sen. McCain dearly in the fall," Rhodes Cook writes for The Wall Street Journal's Website. "And that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the damage that a massive defection by libertarian Republicans could do to Sen. McCain's presidential hopes. The large 'l' Libertarian Party has already nominated former Republican Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia as its presidential candidate, and is ready to greet Ron Paul supporters with open arms."

Speaking of former candidates who have found their true calling . . . Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., has found employment (does this take him off any vice-presidential short lists?): "The former Arkansas governor has signed a one-year deal as a political commentator for Fox News, where he will sound off on a variety of programs," Howard Kurtz reports in The Washington Post.

The Sked:

Obama is in Ohio, with Michelle and Gov. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, at his side, for a noon ET event in Columbus.

McCain tries to put New Jersey in play -- his event is at 11 am ET, in Pemberton.

President Bush had an early papal visit (including a private garden tour) and spends the rest of his Friday in Paris.

Coming up: "Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and John McCain are expected to meet individually with Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in the coming days," ABC's Kirit Radia reports. "McCain is expected to meet with Zebari on Sunday in Washington, D.C., and Obama is expected to speak with him over the phone on Monday."

Get all the candidates' schedules in The Note's "Sneak Peek."

Also in the news:

Jim Johnson has company: "Two U.S. senators, two former Cabinet members, and a former ambassador to the United Nations received loans from Countrywide Financial through a little-known program that waived points, lender fees, and company borrowing rules for prominent people," Daniel Golden writes for Portfolio. "Senators Christopher Dodd, Democrat from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee, and Kent Conrad, Democrat from North Dakota, chairman of the Budget Committee and a member of the Finance Committee, refinanced properties through Countrywide's 'V.I.P.' program in 2003 and 2004, according to company documents and emails and a former employee familiar with the loans.

Howard Dean is learning the right things to say: "Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic Party, who says he was slow to pick up on charges of sexism because he is not a regular viewer of cable television, [!] is taking up the cause after hearing an outcry from what he described as a cross-section of women, from individual voters to powerful politicians and chief executives," per The New York Times' Katharine Q. Seelye and Julie Bosman (whose story is accompanied by quite a photograph).

You can get bonus points for honesty: Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters Thursday that he's hoping to lose only three Senate seats this fall. "The chances of us getting back into the majority, obviously . . . it would be fairly miraculous," Ensign, R-Nev., said at a Christian Science Monitor lunch. "I think it would be a great night, especially, [to lose only] three seats -- that would be a terrific night for us, absolutely."

Or you can play the blame game. Mark Penn sits down with GQ for a post-mortem -- and here are some choice quotes: "I think I never underestimated" Obama . . . "I started down that road" . . . "he had tremendous help from the media" . . . "You don't stop something like that by being 'warmer' [snorts] -- by, you know, giving an interview on a personality show" . . . "The message strategy had been so successful that everybody was declaring it over" . . . "The press fell in love with him, period."

On reports that he didn't know that states weren't winner-take-all: "It is a false story, plain and simple. And it is being used to divert people from the real question of who, how, and when was the decision made not to build political organizations or spend money in a lot of the caucus states? I can assure you that was not the message team."

McCain's got to like the map: "Twenty weeks before Election Day, the electoral map is pointing to the potential for another general election decided by a razor-thin margin," Adam C. Smith writes in the St. Petersburg Times. "For all the GOP woes and Democratic optimism, that map shows Republican Sen. John McCain well-positioned in enough key states to win the necessary 270 electoral votes."

Obama is the choice abroad: "People around the world are hoping a new president in the White House will bring positive change to US foreign policy — and more trust Sen. Barack Obama rather than Sen. John McCain to "do the right thing" in world affairs, according to an international survey of 24 countries by the Pew Research Center," ABC's Jennifer Parker writes.

Said Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy magazine: "If the election was held today in the world, Obama would win."

At least until Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi hits the trail: "I suppose I could express my own personal preference for one of the candidates, the Republican candidate. . . . And this is for a very selfish reason, and that is that I would no longer be the oldest person at the upcoming G-8 because McCain is a month older than me."

McCain loves town halls -- but they bring their own risks. "But the pitfalls of such a performance were also apparent Thursday night, with Mr. McCain's best moment coming from his friendly audience rather than himself," Stephen Dinan writes in the Washington Times. "The final questioner was a self-identified conservative Hispanic voter who said as a Catholic, as a father and as a Hispanic American, Mr. McCain's policies were very attractive to him. By contrast, Mr. McCain stumbled his way through his answer to the man, even appearing to forget or be confused by the question."

What Obama is doing: "From the Catholic cathedrals of Boston to the AME storefront churches of Chicago to the Southern Baptist megachurches of Memphis, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is actively courting Christian voters, many of them the children of evangelical Protestants who have voted Republican for decades and were instrumental in putting George W. Bush in the White House," per ABC's Russell Goldman.

The New Republic's Richard Just takes on Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.: "This madness has to stop. Now. Unless we want to end up with a vice president who harbors a worldview that is fundamentally illiberal, not to mention downright creepy."

The New York Post's Charlie Hurt talks up Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.: "The perfect fit is a congressman little known outside political circles but highly admired by political heavyweights and bankrollers in key states," Hurt writes. "The fourth-highest-ranking Republican in the House, Cantor is credited with some of the Republicans' more sensible legislative efforts, such as applying market-based reforms to government programs and clamping down on the willy-nilly issuing of driver's licenses that gave cover to the 9/11 terrorists for so long."

The best political fight around is going on inside Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's house: "The lawn of their Brentwood home has dueling campaign signs. The breakfast table has become a casual debating society," Jennifer Steinhauer reports in The New York Times. "[Maria] Shriver is even threatening to bring a life-size cutout of her preferred candidate into the house, something the governor has seen her do in other elections."

The Kicker:

"Obviously the rest of my apparel was apparently not up to snuff, because I got a hard time from all sorts of blogs who said I looked like Urkel." -- Barack Obama, explaining his decision to wear a bike helmet in public despite realizing that Republicans would use the photo to "try to portray it like Dukakis wearing a tank helmet."

"Besides not getting bin Laden, no, not really." -- Vice President Dick Cheney, asked in a radio interview whether, over the past seven years, he has "any regrets, besides not getting bin Laden."

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