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First thoughts: Two no-brainers

From Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro
*** Two no-brainers: Obama's decision yesterday to opt out of the public financing system drew plenty of criticism from good-government groups, editorial pages, and the Republican Party. So did his Web video announcing the move. (Instead of raising the specter of GOP 527s, why not simply say that he owed it to his supporters to do everything possible to win in November, and that McCain would do the same thing if he had the opportunity?) But the decision was a no-brainer. As one very smart political observer told us yesterday, if Obama had stayed in the system -- bypassing the opportunity to raise about three times amount what the system offers -- then he'd question Obama's judgment and ability to be president. Simply put, it would have been a dumb move. Likewise, McCain's decision to accept public financing for the general seems like the smart move, too. One, $84 million is PLENTY of money to spend in two months when your goal is to hold on to the states Bush won in 2004. Two, even if McCain had opted out, it's unlikely he'd raise considerably more than that amount. And three, this issue gives him the opportunity to play the reformer card, something he hasn't done much of lately. Heads up: Obama's May fundraising report to the FEC is due today. The McCain campaign already announced that it had raised $21.5 million last month, its best haul to date. What will Obama's campaign show?

VIDEO: Newsweek's Howard Fineman discusses campaign finance politics with Countdown's Keith Olberman after the news that Barack Obama has decided agaisnt using public financing.

*** Obama's map: The most striking thing about Obama's first general election TV ad isn't its content. (And don't get us wrong, its messages of patriotism and personal responsibility, plus Obama wearing a flag pin in it, are plenty interesting.) Rather, it's the 18 states where the ad is running. They include your usual battlegrounds of Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- but also some surprising states like Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota. Of course, few expect Obama to carry a state like Alaska in the general election (although as the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza noted, there's a poll showing Obama trailing there by just two points). But what the ad placement suggests is that Obama is on the Electoral Map offensive, trying to turn as many red states as possible blue. By comparison, Obama isn't airing the ad in "Lean Obama" states like Minnesota, which we profiled here yesterday. And this is perhaps the biggest consequence from Obama's decision yesterday to opt out of the public financing system: It enables him to play almost anywhere on the map to get to 270.

*** Oh, Canada: Today, McCain heads north of the border to Ottawa, where he gives a speech to the Economic Club of Canada and then has a media avail there. Canada and its conservative government have already played a minor role in this year's presidential race. It was about four months ago -- but it seems much longer ago than that, right? -- when NAFTA-gate exploded as an issue before the Ohio primary. That controversy erupted after someone in the Canadian government leaked word that Obama adviser Austan Goolsbee had told Canadian officials to take Obama's opposition to NAFTA with a grain of salt, something Goolsbee denied saying. Since then, we've learned that: 1) Prime Minister Stephen Harper's top adviser, Ian Brodie, decided to step down from his position, although he insisted NAFTA-gate had nothing to do with it; 2) a Canadian government report concluded that its Foreign Affairs Department was wrong to email an internal report on Obama's stance to more than 200 Canadian officials, one of whom leaked it to the AP; and 3) Obama's opposition to NAFTA has softened somewhat. "Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified," Obama told Fortune magazine.

*** Breaking the law? Meanwhile, the Washington Post notes that "a Canadian newspaper reported Thursday that Friday's scheduled $100-a-plate luncheon speech by Sen. John McCain in Ottawa was organized in part by U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins, a former South Carolina lawmaker whom President Bush appointed in 2005. Democrats pointed out the article late Thursday night, and alleged that Wilkins's actions could be construed as a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits many kinds of political activities by government employees." More: "The McCain campaign said Wilkins did nothing more than help gather a crowd for a speech by a U.S. official, something that is well within his role as an ambassador… [A spokesman] said the $100-per-person ticket price for the event is to cover the cost of the lunch and will not benefit the campaign."

*** Sunday's Meet The Press: NBC's Brian Williams fills in for the late Tim Russert to moderate Sunday's edition of Meet The Press. The guests will be Sens. Joe Biden (D) and Lindsey Graham (R). 

*** On the trail: McCain, as mentioned above, is in Canada. Obama holds an economic discussion with Democratic governors in Chicago and then heads to Jacksonville, FL, where he has a media avail. And Michelle Obama is in DC, where she speaks to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
 
Countdown to Dem convention: 66 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 73 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 137 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 214 days
 
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