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First thoughts: The new arms race

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The New Arms Race: As we've mentioned before, one of the more underappreciated ways that Obama defeated Clinton in the Democratic primaries is that he forced her to compete in a political arms race that she couldn't win. Think about it: Clinton raised more than $200 million, and she now finds herself $22.5 million in debt. It was Obama playing Reagan to Clinton's role as Gorbachev. Now that Obama has decided to opt out of the public financing system -- enabling him to perhaps raise $300 million between now and Election Day -- could history repeat itself? Over the weekend, via the New York Times, we learned that he's dispatching paid staffers to all states and that he might run national TV ads tied to the Olympics, as well as targeted ones on MTV and BET. For the first time in quite a while, Republicans are going to be outspent significantly in a presidential election. Can they prove they can win when being outspent? (Have they ever done it before?) McCain having $84 million to spend between the GOP convention and November -- less than 60 days -- is a lot of money. Then again, Clinton's $200 million-plus was a lot of money, too.

VIDEO: Critics are crying foul over what they say is a suspiciously "presidential" looking logo at a recent Obama campaign event. Pundits Pat Buchanan and Peter Fenn discuss the controversy.

*** Obama's Mixed Week: For someone who's poised to raise a considerable amount of money -- and who also is ahead 15 points nationally in a new Newsweek poll (thanks to a large party advantage), as well as in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to Quinnipiac surveys -- Obama's week wasn't his best. His decision to opt out of the public financing system was criticized by Republicans, liberal and conservative columnists, editorial boards, and good-government groups. (Sticking with the Cold War metaphor above, didn't Reagan's own arms build-up generate a fair amount of criticism?) He raised just $22 million in May, his worst monthly haul this year. And then there was that faux presidential seal that was affixed to Obama's rostrum on Friday, which got mocked from all quarters. What a bizarre and dumb idea. Why do we have a feeling we won't see this again? It really feeds the arrogance narrative.

*** Does Broder Have A Point? Here's one person who criticized Obama's decision to opt out of the financing system: Washington Post columnist David Broder. With Obama so unknown still, is it good for him to be ducking town hall meetings and deciding to fund his campaign privately? The more he does things that give the appearance of just another politician, doesn't that undercut the delicate nature of his fresh face image? It's the talking point of the weekend by McCain surrogates, and it could be one that's effective. The Clinton campaign never could make the "he's just another craven politician" tag stick, because Clinton had the whole pot-kettle problem. But with McCain's reform image engrained with many voters -- even if it's been dented by some reversals of his own -- Obama could see this tactic used against more effectively now than it was during the primary. Also, the Chicago Tribune wonders if Obama will get tagged with Chicago's negative political image. Then again, as the Washington Post notes this morning, Obama is also demonstrating something with these decisions that his critics found lacking during the primaries: toughness.

VIDEO: John McCain had his best fundraising month yet, raising $21.5 million in May, but that's still $15 million less than Barack Obama had in April. A Race for the White House panel discusses.

*** Behind Obama's $22 Million: To put Obama's haul into perspective, do note that it came in the last month of a protracted, 17-month campaign against Clinton. And there was probably plenty of donor fatigue, especially since Obama's campaign and supporters were pretty sure he had locked up the nomination on May 6 after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. Clinton, for her part, raised $12.6 million. Also, Obama's haul still exceeded McCain's amount -- at a time when McCain was hitting nearly a fundraiser per day, when he received $4.3 million from three big joint fundraisers, and with a unified Republican Party behind him. What's more, Obama couldn't really begin raising money for the general election in May, given that he didn't want to look like he was shoving Clinton out of the race. And Obama's ability to raise money over the internet has largely depended on news events. Besides his victory in North Carolina, May included blowout defeats in West Virginia and Kentucky. To see if Obama is on pace to bring in $300 million in five months, we'll find out quite a bit next month, when the June numbers are released.

*** The Energy Fight: It looks like we know the issue that's going to drive the presidential campaign for the rest of the summer. With gas prices continuing to go up, it's not shocking but now both campaigns seem to embracing the issue and trying to for new ways to create a wedge between the two campaigns. Obama played the Enron card yesterday, while McCain -- a week after calling for offshore drilling -- gives a speech advocating innovation to replace fossil fuels. (A little ironic, don't ya think?) "My friends, energy security is the great national challenge of our time. And rising to this challenge will take all of the vision, creativity, and resolve of which we are capable," McCain will say, according to excerpts released by his campaign.

*** Go West, Young (Or Not So Young) Men: Over the next couple of days, McCain and Obama are both out West. Obama spends Monday in New Mexico and Tuesday in Las Vegas, while McCain spends both days in California, where he mostly raises money. McCain then goes to Las Vegas on Wednesday for yet another fundraiser. Today, McCain is California, speaking at Fresno State University and raising money near there and then in Santa Barbara. Obama campaigns in New Mexico, holding an event in Albuquerque.
Countdown to Dem convention: 63 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 70 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 134 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 211 days
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