From Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro
*** The week that was: Phew, so the first week of the Obama-McCain general election is now over. What did we learn? So far, neither campaign is good at driving their own message of the day (did you know that this was economy week for Obama?), but both campaigns are proving pretty good at putting the other on the defensive. The polls indicate Obama's gotten a good, but not great, bounce; of course, it may take another week or two to truly measure the size of Obama's post-primary bounce. Meanwhile, Obama has given his critics more fuel on the, "is he ready" charge since he couldn't vet his vetter nor could he stand by him out of loyalty. So he can get hit for either being unprepared or lacking a spine, neither are good. Meanwhile, McCain's campaign also is struggling to drive a daily message, having the most success yesterday by being able to get on the offense a bit on the gas tax issue. The problem McCain's going to struggle with is that even friendly members of the media (see Peggy Noonan today) are framing the basic narrative of this campaign as "old" vs. "new." But if this week is a sign of things to come, expect to have a campaign that's dominated by the success of the two campaigns to point out mistakes rather than drive the agenda.
*** Ham-handed...: So did McCain get what he wanted out of last night's Fox town hall? On the one hand, it appears the campaign was trying to send the message to Republican activists and insiders that he can put together a compelling visual campaign; everything looked great and McCain was clearly in his comfort zone. But because Fox News ended up criticizing the makeup of the audience by the campaign, have the McCain's folks lost their opportunity to produce future town halls in conjunction with networks on exclusive basis in the future? Most news organizations like to have editorial control, and judging by last night, more will demand it if choosing to air these solo-candidate town halls on an exclusive basis. Frankly, we're surprised the campaign didn't include more opponents in their cherry-picked audience last night, because McCain handles that stuff about as well as any pol; doing what they did came across as a bit ham-handed for a candidate who boasts of straight talk. McCain's core strength with voters is his authenticity; getting criticized by Fox News on the authenticity front is not good day for the campaign. By the way, is this another example of those thought to be friendly to McCain having no qualms about challenging him publicly, while Obama continues to enjoy a relatively amiable relationship with his base.
*** Just asking: How would the liberal blogosphere be responding if the Clinton campaign had essentially descimated the DNC and moved it part and parcel to its Arlington HQs? No one should be surprised that Obama as nominee wants to have complete control over the DNC; McCain, for instance, has completely taken over the RNC; it's what nominees do. But the Obama takeover is striking in that he's physically moving most of the staff to Chicago. Frankly, it's not clear to a lot of folks what the role of the DNC will be, particularly since it appears the Obama campaign doesn't want the DNC to operate an independent expenditure operation. As one Dem operative told "First Read" yesterday, this is either a brilliant move by the Obama or one of the dumbest things any nominee's ever done.
*** Ensign of the times: Speaking of straight talk, reporters got a lot of it from NRSC Chair John Ensign at a Christian Science Monitor lunch yesterday. Ensign was very direct about the party's chances in Senate contests this year. Perhaps the headline for some was the acknowledgement by Ensign that he's now pitching the idea to donors that the last best hope of the Republicans to stop a President Obama and Speaker Pelosi agenda is to make sure the Republicans can filibuster in the Senate. Ensign said his goal is to have at least 45 GOP senators in '09 (that would mean a net loss of four), so that the Senate GOP leadership could always count on at least 41 votes to stop Obama-Pelosi legislation. According to Ensign, the stop Obama-Pelosi pitch is starting to work with donors as the pace of their fundraising as picked up this year. Will the McCain campaign be happy that the Senate GOP is presuming a McCain defeat? As for a bellwether race about whether the Republicans had a survivable night or a bad night on Election Day: look no further than Al Franken. In Ensign's opinion, if Franken beats Norm Coleman in Minnesota, then the GOP has probably had a horrendous night around the country. There's just one Dem seat Ensign is targeting, the one currently held by Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. As for Obama coattails: He believes Obama helps in a place like Oregon, but hurts Dems in Southern races; While not talking about where McCain hurts, he believes McCain could be a big help in rescuing John Sununu in New Hampshire. Though, as NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann reported yesterday, Sununu, who sang the praises of the presumptive GOP nominee yesterday, "at no point shared the stage -- or the space of a camera frame -- with McCain."
*** I'll see your Johnson-Holder and raise you a Fiorina: Now that Jim Johnson is out (after a GOP firestorm), McCain is going after Eric Holder and his pushing Bill Clinton to pardon exiled financier Marc Rich. But the Democrats have found their own Johnson-Holder… former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and her ties to Iran. Just asking… when does all this tangential guilt-by-association end when there really ARE such major issue differences?
*** 'Fight the smears': To fight the rampant e-mail and Internet rumors that have attempted to "Swift Boat" his campaign, Obama camp launched a "Fight the Smears" Web site to head these off. The CW is that attacking these issues head on is smart. Kerry and Dukakis admit they ignored rumors for too long before addressing them. In this minute-by-minute news cycle, attacking rumors head on is necessary. The only potential problem… rumors that normally wouldn't be picked up by the mainstream media may now at least be referenced, perpetuating the rumors for the casual observer. The real challenge will be with the media and its decision about whether they need to pivot from reporting what's true to deciding whether it's necessary to report what's NOT true. It's a brave new world...
*** On the trail: McCain is in New Jersey, where he holds a town hall meeting in Pemberton. Obama -- along with Michelle -- takes his "Change That Works for You" economic tour to Columbus, OH and later heads to Philadelphia for a fundraiser there.
Countdown to Dem convention: 73 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 80 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 144 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 221 days
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