From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Charlie Black's gaffe: Yesterday, McCain chief strategist Charlie Black -- who already has drawn controversy for his past lobbyist work -- made one of those classic Washington gaffes, as Michael Kinsley once put it: accidentally speaking a truth that many people on both sides of the aisle believe. In an interview with Fortune, Black said that a terrorist attack would be a "big advantage" to McCain, a comment the all-but-certain GOP candidate immediately distanced himself from. Not only did the controversy distract McCain from his message of the day (that $300 million prize for inventing a new car battery), but it also resurrected the politics of 2004, which as we've argued before might not benefit McCain's prospects. But for what it's worth, there's been chatter among some Democrats that the big fear Obama aides have is just what Black spoke about -- some sort of national security crisis popping up in October. This is why most Democrats who have given their two cents to the Obama VP vetters seem to come away convinced Obama will picked a No. 2 who has obvious national security credentials. That said, what the impact of a national security crisis in October is unknown for this reason: It depends on who initiates it. If it's an outside force, then Black's probably right. But if it's something that President Bush sparks, then Obama could benefit.
*** Off-message on offshore drilling? That Charlie Black comment wasn't McCain's only off-message moment yesterday. At a town hall in Fresno, CA, McCain admitted that the offshore drilling proposal he unveiled last week would probably have mostly "psychological" benefits, NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy notes. "Even though it may take some years, the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial." Uh oh. Then at a fundraiser in tony (and coastal) Santa Barbara, one attendee took issue with McCain's offshore drilling proposal, according to the pool report. "We're really kind of goosey here about oil spills, and we're goosey here about federal drilling and oil lands, which are abundant offshore," the attendee said. "So we ask you to look out there to the south and the southeast and remember the greatest environmental catastrophe that's hit this state and then balance that with the notion of winning California." Today, McCain remains in Santa Barbara, where he holds a briefing on the environment with Gov. Schwarzenegger, who also opposes the offshore measure. Even though public polls show that majorities support lifting the ban on offshore drilling, McCain isn't having an easy time with the issue when campaigning on the coasts.
*** The enthusiasm gap: Two polls in the last two days signal a big problem McCain has, and it's perhaps why it's so important that James Dobson is going after Obama, accusing him "of distorting the Bible and pushing a 'fruitcake interpretation' of the Constitution," the AP says. In the Newsweek poll showing Obama sporting a 15-point lead, the reason for that large lead had to do with the 19-point party identification gap between the Democrats and Republicans. Bottom line: All pollsters these days are finding fewer and fewer folks wanting to call themselves Republicans. And in the USA Today/Gallup poll, 61% of Democrats said they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting in November, while just 35% of Republicans said that. This goes to the heart of the two-fold problem McCain's facing: 1) unhappiness over Bush has driven some Republicans away from the GOP and into either the indie camp or even to the Democrats and 2) some conservatives are just not happy about McCain. Perhaps James Dobson's shot across the bow against Obama will, at a minimum, create uneasiness among evangelicals and move these voters back in McCain's column, even if unenthusiastically.
*** Rove as catnip: Karl Rove has become to the media this cycle what Dick Morris was for a period of time in the late '90s: media catnip. Whatever Rove says these days -- be it at an event or in a column -- it seems to carry extra cachet with members of the media. We're all fascinated with how Rove's brain works (so fascinated, in fact, a couple of reporters got book deal profiling Rove's brain). But the McCain folks, whether they are actually using Rove or not, seem to benefit every time. Rove is able to start cable conversations with some of his observations, whether it's an over-the-top description of Obama as a country club Democrat or with his electoral maps. But then again, Rove -- even though he no longer works for him -- is tied in voters' minds to the president with the 28% approval rating. Still, this power Rove still has with the political media is something that McCain's campaign is likely going to attempt to bottle and use at their own will. Rove's independence was helped earlier this week when he attacked both McCain and Obama on the economy.
VIDEO: John McCain has proposed weekly town hall-style debates with Barack Obama leading up to the Democratic convention, but so far Obama hasn't accepted. Should he take McCain up on his offer? A Hardball panel discusses.
*** Two just askin's: How has it Obama hasn't agreed to a town hall schedule with McCain yet? The time between now and the debate season, which begins in late September, is getting smaller and smaller… Also, with the new media narrative that there is in fact progress going on in Iraq -- see Saturday's New York Times story, for example -- how does that impact the Obama-McCain contest? And as conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin asks, can the McCain camp turn it to its advantage?
*** Mr. Hollywood: Later today, Obama heads to Hollywood for a fundraiser that will include, as the AP reported yesterday, Samuel L. Jackson, Dennis Quaid, Cindy Crawford and Sugar Ray Leonard. Remember: It was around this time in 2004 when Whoopi Goldberg delivered X-rated insults at President Bush at star-studded fundraiser for Kerry in New York -- which turned into a distraction for the Kerry campaign. The AP says that tickets for today's event are priced at $30,000, with the money split between Obama's campaign and the DNC.
*** On the trail: McCain remains in California, holding a discussion on the environment in Santa Barbara and raising money in Riverside and Newport Beach. Obama is in Las Vegas, where he has a discussion on energy and the economy before hitting that Los Angeles fundraiser mentioned above.
Countdown to Dem convention: 62 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 69 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 133 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 210 days
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