From Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama opts out: In a video to supporters that his campaign has just released, Obama has announced that he's opting out of the public financing system for the general election. This move has been widely speculated, but it's a reversal from comments he made earlier in the campaign season that he would he accept general funds -- which gives the candidates about $85 million to spend after the conventions. Assuming each of Obama's 1.5 million-plus contributors gives him $100, that comes to $150 million; if they give him an average of $200, that's $300 million. Campaign finance issues are always debated heavily on editorial pages, but not among voters. Ask McCain how many new votes he's earned with his support for campaign finance reform. As for McCain, he has to make the choice of 1) taking the federal funds, accepting the fact he'll be outspent 3-1; or 2) opting out too and get himself bogged down at fundraisers in September instead of doing town halls.
*** Déjà vu all over again: One thing we've learned this presidential cycle is that history repeats itself -- sometimes in just a matter of months. Just weeks after Obama and Clinton sparred over a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax prior to the Indiana and North Carolina primaries, Obama and McCain are now battling over whether to lift a federal ban on off-shore drilling. The debate is essentially the same: Obama -- joined by most experts and the New York Times editorial page -- calls it a gimmick, while McCain (who once opposed this idea and also supports the gas-tax holiday) now sees it as an important way to reduce fuel prices. It's another hearts vs. minds debate, which had a mixed record during the primary season. According to the exit polls, voters in Kentucky and West Virginia thought it was a good idea, while those in Oregon and -- at least based on the results of the May 6 primaries (there weren't exit polls on the question) -- North Carolina and Indiana didn't agree. The challenges for McCain are 1) that many hearts and minds of those who live in coastal states are already made up; 2) that he doesn't hold the same brand on the economy that the Clintons held; and 3) that the unpopular president has joined him in supporting off-shore drilling. But will the issue find support in the battlegrounds of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania? That's the million-dollar question. Pollsters, get ready, set, go…
*** Cue the latest McCain conference call: Meanwhile, Republicans aren't letting go of the terrorism issue, either. Today, they're pouncing on a comment Obama made yesterday in which he said he wouldn't allow Osama bin Laden to become a martyr. "At a Washington news conference after huddling for the first time with a newly formed group of national security advisers, he acknowledged that bin Laden might not be taken alive, but suggested that if he is, the Nazi war crime trials at Nuremberg after World War II would be a good model. 'I think what would be important would be for us to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he's engaged in and not to make him into a martyr and to assure that the United States government is abiding by the basic conventions that would strengthen our hand in the broader battle against terrorism,' he said." Cue the latest McCain conference call -- this time it features Fred Thompson.
*** Mending fences: After meeting with dozens of union officials last night, Obama holds a roundtable in DC with labor leaders from the Change To Win federation (which has endorsed him) and the AFL-CIO (which hasn't yet, but is supposed to do so soon). Obama also meets privately with members of the Congressional Black Caucus today, and then the Women's Caucus tomorrow. This is all part of a mending-fences effort, given that these groups were divided in the Obama-Clinton primary race: Labor unions like AFSCME and the International Association of Machinists vigorously backed Clinton, as did Congressional Black Caucus members such as Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Sheila Jackson Lee, and black members of New York's congressional delegation.
*** Heading to Iowa: While Obama is in DC, both McCain and Bush will be in Iowa today to observe damage from the flooding there. But they will be in different parts of the state. Per NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy, McCain will meet with flood victims in Columbus Junction, which is between Iowa City and the Quad Cities. Bush, meanwhile, will be in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. McCain adviser Charlie Black told the New York Times that the Arizona senator will keep his distance -- literally -- from the president. "We're not going within 30 miles of the city he's in."
*** Battleground watch: The next state in our occasional look at battleground states is the place where McCain visits today after his earlier stop in Iowa and where the GOP holds its convention in September -- Minnesota. But the question is whether the state is truly a battleground. On the one hand, Kerry carried it narrowly 51%-48% in 2004 and Gore won it 48%-46% in 2000. On the other hand, Amy Klobuchar triumphed there in a competitive Senate contest by a whopping 20 points in 2006, and even popular GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a top-tier VP possibility for McCain, won re-election by just a single point that year. What's more, Minnesota is the ONLY state in the union that Democrats have carried in every presidential contest since 1976. A May Star Tribune poll had Obama leading McCain here by 13 points (51%-38%), although other robo-polls have showed the race tighter than that. A second question is: If Obama is the favorite in Minnesota, would Pawlenty as veep change things?
*** Time to scratch his name off the list: A few days ago, sources leaked the name of Gen. James Jones as possible Obama veep pick. Well, it seems we can scratch that. Yesterday at his speech in Missouri, McCain said this, according to prepared remarks: "We have some distinguished guests here today. And one of them is a son of Missouri who went on to become our Supreme Allied Commander in Europe -- my friend, General James Jones." The Washington Post notes that Jones even "flew on McCain's plane from Washington to the event, and a McCain aide said Jones was a backer of the Arizona senator." Jones also told the New York Times that he "was appearing with Mr. McCain in his capacity as president of a year-old organization affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Institute for 21st Century Energy… So is General Jones interested in the ticket? And which ticket? 'I'm not even going there,' he said."
*** Cindy vs. Michelle: A day after Michelle Obama appeared on The View, Cindy McCain has trumped that by traveling to Vietnam, where she is today. Per the AP, she "visited the coastal town of Nha Trang where about 100 children born with cleft palates and cleft lips were awaiting free plastic surgery provided by the U.S. charity Operation Smile. The operations will take place on one of the U.S. Navy's floating hospitals, the USNS Mercy." Meanwhile, a Washington Post/ABC poll shows that 48% view Michelle Obama favorably versus 39% who say the same of Mrs. McCain.
*** On the trail: McCain, as mentioned above, begins his day in Iowa and then heads to Minnesota, where he raises money in Minneapolis and then holds an evening town hall in St. Paul. Obama remains in DC.
Countdown to Dem convention: 67 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 74 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 138 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 215 days
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