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First thoughts: Return of the neocons?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro 
*** Return of the neocons? Take today's New York Times piece about nervousness among some GOP foreign policy pragmatists about the influence of neocon philosophy in the McCain campaign -- along with the Chicago Tribune story about McCain not ruling out a preemptive strike against a potential threat like Iran -- and it appears the Democrats have their talking point of the day on McCain: He'll be a third term on Bush foreign policy. Here's a key graf from the Times: "The concerns have emerged in the weeks since Mr. McCain became his party's presumptive nominee and began more formally assembling a list of foreign policy advisers. Among those on the list are several prominent neoconservatives, including Robert Kagan, an author who helped write much of the foreign policy speech that Mr. McCain delivered in Los Angeles on March 26… Others include the security analyst Max Boot and a former United Nations ambassador, John R. Bolton." And toss in the fact that Colin Powell continues to flirt with NOT endorsing McCain, and the campaign doesn't have a pragmatic 41-styled foreign policy face to disprove this storyline for now. Powell and Chuck Hagel might be the most prominent faces of this wing of the GOP these days and both are flirting with Obama. 

*** Every delegate counts: Want more proof that the Clinton and Obama campaigns are fighting over every delegate, even after contests have been decided? Here's the AP: "Locked in a race with an uncertain outcome, representatives for both camps this week directed the California Democratic Party to remove dozens of names from the lists of more than 2,000 potential delegates. Party caucuses scheduled for Sunday will elect a slate of delegates for each candidate. Driven by fears that some prospective delegates might be concealing their true allegiances, the campaigns are searching campaign finance data, scouring the Internet and making telephone calls to weed out dubious candidates." Meanwhile, Clinton picks up another superdelegate, former Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff, who per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will endorse Clinton at the Allegheny County J-J Dinner tonight. Interestingly, Masloff had previously been for Clinton, then opted to go to uncommitted. The superdelegate count now stands at Clinton 257, Obama 225. In the overall count, Obama leads by 132 (1,641 to 1,509). He has a 164 pledged-delegate lead (1,416 to 1,252).

*** The audition? Tonight, Romney stumps on McCain's behalf in Lancaster, PA, giving a keynote speech before local Republicans. Yes, we know that McCain might not be a huge Romney fan, but if he faces Obama in the general, the Arizona senator could certainly fix some of his problems connecting on the economy by picking Romney as his running mate. Moreover, Romney could help the ticket immediately in the blue states of Michigan and New Hampshire. And he could potentially offset Obama's strength in the Rocky Mountain West -- Nevada and Colorado -- with a surge of Mormons coming out to vote. That said, because of McCain's age, voters will scrutinize his veep choice perhaps more than ever before, and there is plenty to scrutinize about Romney (his position on the issues, his lackluster campaign, and even his religion). Then again, Romney has the advantage of going through the presidential ringer -- unlike some other potential McCain veep choices -- and that may be the added bonus the McCain folks are looking for in their veep: someone who already has some presidential campaign bruises.

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd discusses Mitt Romney's audition for McCain's VP pick and Democratic 527s' fund-raising efforts.

*** Some HOME-cooking: Speaking of McCain and the economy, the candidate gives a speech in Brooklyn today, where he will talk about the economy and unveil his HOME program. "It offers every deserving American family or homeowner the opportunity to trade a burdensome mortgage for a manageable loan that reflects the market value of their home," he will say, according to excerpts of his remarks released by the campaign. "This plan is focused on people. People decide if they need help, they apply for assistance and if approved the government under my HOME Program supports them in getting a new mortgage that they can afford." And introducing McCain today in Brooklyn will be New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who did the same for Obama a couple of weeks ago. Does this take some of the air out of the speculation that Bloomberg is a serious possibility for Obama's veep?

*** Women and the candidates: A new Lifetime TV poll, conducted by Republican Kellyanne Conway and Democrat Celinda Lake, has some thought-provoking poll results regarding women and their feelings on this campaign and the three remaining candidates. Surprisingly, Obama is not viewed as poorly among women as the CW might suggest. But interestingly, women believe Obama's benefited in media coverage due to his race, while coverage of McCain's age has hurt him. Clinton's gender is seen as neither a positive nor a negative for her, as far as media attention is concerned. The poll was conducted nationally among women only, and included an oversample of African-American women and an oversample of women in Pennsylvania, so that crosstabs could be used. (For more on the poll, see below.)

*** It's profile day: There are two good (and rather favorable) profiles out today -- one by Time on Obama's mother, and the other by the Washington Post on Chelsea.

*** On the trail: Clinton is in Pittsburgh, where (among other things) she gives the keynote address at the Allegheny County Jefferson-Jackson Dinner; McCain, in New York, appears on "The View" and then has a small business roundtable in Brooklyn before heading to a fundraiser in Dallas, TX; and Obama campaigns in Indiana, hitting Gary and Lafayette. Bill Clinton also is in Indiana and Chelsea Clinton is in Pennsylvania.

Countdown to Pennsylvania: 12 days
Countdown to North Carolina, Indiana: 26 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 208 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 285 days
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