Obama's 'Bounce' Falling Flat

Follow the bouncing ball in Obamaland . . .

Al Gore ends the suspense (a break with Lieberman, sure -- but did anyone else feel underwhelmed?). . . .

Patti Solis Doyle restarts the intrigue (and the rumbling -- does this mark the end of the "dream"?). . . .

Sen. Barack Obama tacks center -- and also left (and Sen. John McCain grabs a new opening on national security). . . .

Obama gets his passport ready (but is McCain acting as his travel agent?). . . .

If this is the high point in the "bounce," someone needs to put some more air in the ball. The new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows Sen. Barack Obama narrowly leading Sen. John McCain, 48-42 -- about where his lead stood a month ago, and about where Sen. John Kerry's lead stood four years ago at this time.

The premium Obama, D-Ill., earned for surviving the primaries -- as confirmed now by a number of recent polls -- still leaves McCain, R-Ariz., well within striking distance.

Surely it's getting tiresome for Obama to have to continually confront his electoral challenges -- but the fact remains that something is preventing him from capitalizing fully on the sour national mood toward Republicans.

It's "the conundrum of the 2008 presidential election: If everything is so good for Barack Obama, why isn't everything so good for Barack Obama?" per ABC Polling Director Gary Langer.

"In a shift, McCain's doing better this month than last among women, particularly married white women, while Obama's doing better among men," Langer writes. "Obama has work to do in his base, as well: Among Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton for president, about one in four, 24 percent, prefer McCain over Obama, and 13 percent pick someone else or say they wouldn't vote."

As in previous polls, McCain is having more success locking down support among Republicans than Obama is among Democrats.

"It is closer than it should be," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "Senator Clinton's supporters are still holding back."

"Obama and McCain are even among political independents, a shift toward the presumptive Republican nominee over the past month," Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post. "On the issues, independents see McCain as more credible on fighting terrorism and are split evenly on who is the stronger leader and better on the Iraq war. . . . The presumptive Democratic nominee emerged from his primary-season battle against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton with improved personal ratings overall, but with no appreciable gain in the head-to-head competition with McCain." l

Obama, on why he's not leading comfortably,in an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper: "You know, my understanding is the current polls show me up, despite the fact that we went through an extraordinary primary. I mean, we went through a long, long contest. And Senator Clinton was a formidable and terrific candidate. And so while we were doing that, John McCain basically was getting a pass, both from the media, from you guys, as well as from other opponents. And so I think that that explains it."

And yet . . . political soothsayers can delight in explaining the latest high-profile staffing move by Obama.

It was a big day for hiring in Obamaland -- with enough boldfaced names to hold our interest. Kerry '04 veteran Stephanie Cutter gets the Michelle account (welcome back to the war room), and Jim Messina becomes the new campaign chief of staff (whatever that means).

And oh yeah -- Patti Solis Doyle gets the weirdest title of all: chief of staff to the vice-presidential candidate. That would be candidate Obama hasn't yet chosen (and who just might want someone of his or her own in the job). Also, that's the running mate who could be Solis Doyle's former boss (the one who fired her midway through the campaign).

"Could that mean -- tea-leaf reading time -- that Mr. Obama is really considering Mrs. Clinton for the No. 2 position, and wants to have an ally of her in place to ease the way? Perhaps," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times.

"Or perhaps not. More likely, the Obama campaign was looking for a high-profile spot to put Ms. Doyle, given her previous position, and most of the major roles in Mr. Obama's campaign are filled."

(Really? They didn't have any extra "senior adviser" tags laying around? How is this NOT a message to Camp Clinton, to give THIS job to an ousted campaign chief who wasn't even in touch with her old boss for the final months of the campaign?)

Some Clinton loyalists are pretty sure they know how to read it: "It's a slap in the face," Susie Tompkins Buell tells The Washington Post's Anne Kornblut. "Why would they put somebody that was so clearly ineffective in such a position? It's a message. We get it."

An anonymous former Clinton aide delivers the coups de grace: "Who can blame Obama for rewarding Patti? He would never be the nominee without her," the aide tells Kornblut.

Sensing a message? "Solis Doyle 'is the reason we lost,' said one Clinton insider, noting the campaign's profligate spending and other problems in the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, where the one-time front-runner came in third," Maggie Haberman writes in the New York Post.

More delicious anonymity, courtesy of CQ's Jonathan Allen: "Translated subtitles aren't necessary," a "Clinton insider" tells Allen. "There is no other way to interpret this other than '[Expletive] you.' "

If that was the message -- why, and why now? If it wasn't -- how was that not made clear? (Does anyone need further proof that the lines of communication between the two former rivals are not quite fiber-optic quality?)

"The Solis Doyle appointment could be seen as a sign that Sen. Hillary Clinton is drifting down and out from Obama's vice presidential short list," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The minus is that perhaps Obama should not have sent this signal so soon, as he is busy wooing disgruntled Clinton supporters."

Obama is fighting back in efforts to attract female voters. "On almost every single issue that's important to women, he's been on the wrong side," he told ABC's Jake Tapper Monday. "He has opposed efforts to protect women against some of the discrimination that they experience in the workplace. . . . You know, that's not going to be a track record that I think is going to be very appealing to women."

On the subject of what women want: "Pro-choice Republican and independent women tend to abandon Republican John McCain when reminded that he opposes abortion rights, according to a poll commissioned by NARAL Pro-Choice America," Christi Parsons reports in the Chicago Tribune.

The portion of the Obama interview with Tapper that Team McCain wants to focus on Tuesday (paging John Kerry): "In previous terrorist attacks -- for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated," Obama told Tapper.

Responds McCain campaign Foreign Policy Advisor Randy Scheunemann: "Barack Obama's belief that we should treat terrorists as nothing more than common criminals demonstrates a stunning and alarming misunderstanding of the threat we face from radical Islamic extremism."

Here come the reinforcements: The Goreacle speaks. "The outcome of this election will affect the future of this planet," the former vice president told a rally in Detroit Monday night, per ABC's Sunlen Miller.

"As Mr. Gore ticked through a long list of challenges facing the nation, he hailed Mr. Obama as 'clearly the candidate best able to solve these problems and bring change to America,' " Jeff Zeleny writes in The New York Times. "The decision to stage the appearance in Michigan underscored the importance of the state for Mr. Obama. It was also in Michigan that former Senator John Edwards unveiled his endorsement of Mr. Obama in a surprise setting."

Yes, those are some beautiful visuals -- but weren't you sort of expecting more hype to surround the moment? "We know this will never happen, but hopefully Al will tell us tonight why he didn't endorse somebody when it WOULD HAVE MEANT SOMETHING," Joe Garofoli writes in his San Francisco Chronicle blog. "Like in February."

(Maybe the main reason his endorsement could still matter: "Mr. Gore loaned his e-mail list to Mr. Obama, giving the Democrat access to more names that can help build his donor and volunteer database," Andrea Billups reports in the Washington Times.)

And from the annals of unity . . . "The crowd booed when [Gov. Jennifer] Granholm mentioned the name of Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's rival during the primaries, whom she supported until she dropped out of the race this month," per the Detroit Free Press write-up.

As Obama fills out his policy portfolio, watch those moves to the center. He used an interview with The Wall Street Journal Monday to say he's considering a cut in the corporate-tax rate.

"Sen. Obama's nod to lowering corporate taxes comes as Republicans have been attacking him for proposals that would raise the cost of doing business, such as his pledge to raise the tax rate on capital gains, and his vow to increase the top income-tax rates, which are often used by small, unincorporated enterprises," the Journal's Bob Davis and Amy Chozick report. "He didn't say how deeply he would cut the rate, but said it could be trimmed in return for reducing corporate tax breaks, simplifying the tax system."

McCain is set to talk energy policy Tuesday in Houston. He's offering a little bit of everything -- conservation, increased oil drilling (offshore is OK, but not in ANWR), cap-and-trade, and nuclear power.

"The next president must be willing to break with the energy policies not just of the current Administration, but the administrations that preceded it, and lead a great national campaign to achieve energy security for America," McCain plans to say, per excerpts released by his campaign.

Conflict alert: "What is certain in energy policy is that we have learned a few clear lessons along the way," McCain will say. "Somehow all of them seem to have escaped my opponent. He says that high oil prices are not the problem, but only that they rose too quickly. He's doesn't support new domestic production. He doesn't support new nuclear plants. He doesn't support more traditional use of coal, either."   And: "Even in tough times for our economy, when folks are struggling to pay for gas and groceries, tax relief just isn't change he can believe in."

(There's that line again.)

DNC pushback: "The John McCain who talks on the campaign trail about promoting energy independence sounds nothing like the John McCain who has repeatedly voted against responsible efforts to promote renewable energy and is caving in to the oil and gas industry on off-shore drilling," says Democratic National Committee Communications Director Karen Finney.

Per Bennett Roth and Richard S. Dunham of the Houston Chronicle: "His speech will describe a goal of energy self-sufficiency through a combination of aggressive domestic production and increased use of alternative energy sources. The presumed GOP presidential nominee will try to appeal to oil-state interests by pushing for more offshore drilling in states that approve such production. But he also will portray himself as an environmentally friendly Republican favoring significant increases in the development of such alternative energy sources as wind and nuclear power."

McCain offered a taste on Monday: "John McCain said a federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling should be relaxed and states should be given greater incentives to permit exploration off their coasts as a way of solving what he called the country's 'energy crisis,' " Stephen Power and Elizabeth Holmes write in The Wall Street Journal.

"Sen. John McCain called yesterday for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling, offering an aggressive response to high gasoline prices and immediately drawing the ire of environmental groups that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has courted for months," Michael Shear and Juliet Eilperin write in The Washington Post. "McCain's announcement is a reversal of the position he took in his 2000 presidential campaign and a break with environmental activists, even as he attempts to win the support of independents and moderate Democrats." l

So which McCain is it? "If John McCain keeps dancing like this, he's liable to break a hip," Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post. "Last month, he shimmied to the left on energy policy, infuriating conservatives with a plan to cap carbon emissions. Yesterday, he shuffled back to the right, demanding an end to quarter-century-old bans on offshore oil drilling." l

The Milbankian sentence: "While probable Democratic nominee Barack Obama follows the conventional path of sprinting to the center, McCain's route has had more turns than a Macarena: slide to the right on judges and guns, jump to the left on climate change and foreign alliances, pivot to the right on taxes and Iraq." l

And might McCain have pushed Obama into a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan? That may be the perception, regardless of the reality.

"After yet another zinger about it from John McCain, Barack Obama Monday said he'll make a stop in Baghdad on the campaign trail before the election," Richard Sisk writes in the New York Daily News. "Obama said he'll include stops in Israel and Jordan on the trip to Iraq, which has yet to be scheduled, and he was preparing to do some arm-twisting with his hosts."

House of Clinton:

Sen. Clinton is holding a conference call with her fundraising leadership Wednesday, Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent reports. "The real question is what she'll say to them about Obama -- how strongly she'll signal to her top money people that it's time to get serious about throwing their fundraising weight behind the Illinois Senator," Sargent writes.

New York Magazine's John Heilemann delivers a tour-de-force post-mortem, leavened with what appears to be the last interview Clinton gave as a candidate. "The real lesson of the campaign is that neither my base nor his base alone is sufficient for a general election," Clinton told Heilemann. "That's important to stress, because now we need to look to November and how we put together a winning majority. We've gotta get this coalition to work together, because clearly the Republicans have been more successful at picking off the people who voted for me, and that's exactly who they're going after again."

Writes Heilemann: "The Hillary I encounter a few minutes after Obama leaves the building is somber, prideful, dark-humored, aggrieved, confused -- and still high on the notion that she is leading an army, Napoleon in a navy pantsuit and gumball-size fake pearls. She is keenly aware of the weird dynamics in play as she contemplates her endgame: Albeit temporarily, the loser has more power than the winner. She, not Obama, is in a position to bring the party together or rip the thing to shreds. She, not he, has the capacity to orchestrate a merger of their warring factions of supporters."

Of her own future, she says: "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

The Sked:

Obama campaigns in Michigan for another day, with events in Detroit and Taylor.

McCain talks energy policy with a 5 pm ET speech in Houston.

And McCain does Jimmy Kimmel Tuesday evening on ABC, before Game Six of the NBA Finals.

President Bush, back from Europe, gets a morning briefing on flooding in the Midwest.

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

Wedding Bells:

The gay marriage era is upon is in California -- and everyone's quite aware of what that means. "Images from gay weddings, said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, could be used by opponents in a campaign designed to persuade California voters that gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry. Those getting married, she cautioned, should never lose sight of what they might be supplying to the other side," Jessica Garrison writes in the Los Angeles Times.

Obama, who opposes gay marriage, is sticking by his pledge to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act: "As president, my job is to make sure that the federal government is not discriminating and that we maintain the federal government's historic role in not meddling with what states are doing when it comes to marriage law," he told ABC's Jake Tapper. (Asked if gay weddings in California bother him, he replied, "No.")

Odds and Ends:

What would Howard Dean do? "After a year and a half of calls and trips and pitches to try to raise the $40.6 million in private cash needed to host the Democratic National Convention, Denver officials missed the final deadline Monday by more than $11 million," Chuck Plunkett reports in The Denver Post. "With less than 70 days to the convention, host-committee officials say they are reaching out to the campaign of Barack Obama, the Democrat's presumptive nominee and a proven fundraising powerhouse, to help fill the difference."

Plunkett continues: "Since late May, the host committee and the DNCC have been searching for cost-saving measures, including consolidating 24 private welcoming parties for the state delegations into one event. The DNCC also scrapped a media walkthrough for hundreds of news representatives to have been held this week at the Pepsi Center, site of the convention."

Money mischief: "The DNC will today announce that they intend to file a lawsuit next week in U.S. District Court to spur an FEC inquiry over whether John McCain illegally withdrew from the federal financing system," Politico's Jonathan Martin reports.

The latest from the Furman files: New Obama economic policy director Jason Furman sits down with the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein. "I think it's completely understandable that folks would be concerned with what I've written about Wal-Mart," Furman said.

And this: "Asked by the Sun why he did not sign on with Senator Clinton's presidential bid last year, Mr. Furman said, 'I didn't think I wanted to do another political campaign.' He also cited a young child born last year and another in April. In the only cagey moment in a lengthy interview, Mr. Furman declined to say whom he voted for in the Democratic primary in February.

On the new map: "Barack Obama, a black Democrat from Chicago's South Side, may win a healthy share of the rural vote for president," Bloomberg's Alan Bjerga reports. "The reason: Republican John McCain's opposition to agricultural interests, including crop subsidies pending in Congress."

Are you allowed to enter yourself in the veepstakes? "One of the unwritten rules of politics is that if you want to be vice president, you don't lobby for the job. But one of Barack Obama's most prominent labor backers has put herself in the running," per ABC's Teddy Davis, Tahman Bradley, Gregory Wallace, and Alexa Ainsworth.

"A Friday e-mail entitled, 'New possibilities for Obama's VP,' touted Anna Burger, the chair of the powerful 'Change to Win' federation, to be the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee. What was unusual about the missive to reporters is that it originated from a press secretary working at one of Burger's own unions."

And it's war over at the New York Post: "The laughable nature of Gov. Paterson's half-hearted denials that he called Mayor Bloomberg a tantrum-prone liar wouldn't be significant if New York's accidental governor hadn't vowed from the start to be different from other politicians and tell New Yorkers the truth," writes Fredric U. Dicker. "His denials were made all the more ridiculous by the fact that only a few people know the source for the story -- and Paterson is one of them."

The Kicker:

"These high heels have carried a lot of weight for first women everywhere. But I'm proud to say that I'm supporting Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States." -- Gov. Jennifer Granholm, D-Mich., a former Clinton supporter, showing off a navy blue pump at Monday night's Obama rally in Detroit.

"Dear Lord, let it be a landslide." -- "Silent prayer of election officials everywhere," with more states turning back to paper ballots, per Doug Chapin of Pew Charitable Trusts' electionline.org.

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