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First thoughts: Too much hype

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Too much Clinton-Obama hype? Tonight, Obama huddles in DC with Hillary Clinton and some of her top fundraisers, who are expected to cut checks for the presumptive Democratic nominee. And tomorrow, of course, is the much-awaited joint rally in -- of all places -- Unity, NH. But is there a more over-hyped story than this Obama-Clinton event on Friday? Seriously, does Obama need the Clintons as much the media claims? Or does Obama need to get this Clinton situation behind simply so the press stops covering the story? Considering the bounce Obama's getting in some polls, it's clear that the unity issues in the party with Clinton and Obama are all inside the Amtrak corridor and nowhere else. Also, after reading today's New York Times piece on Clinton and Obama -- which notes that some in Hillary Land are upset that Obama hasn't written Clinton a $2,300 check, that his campaign isn't hiring more of her staff, and that uber-lawyer Bob Barnett is negotiating things like Hillary's role at the convention -- ask yourself this: Do you think Obama's folks would be able to make similar complaints/demands, without getting laughed at, had the roles been reversed? Four years ago, remember, the Kerry campaign hired very few Howard Dean people, and no one batted an eyelash. Is this just another example of how Clinton folks continue to shape the campaign narrative, thanks to their personal relationships with media members inside the Amtrak corridor?  

VIDEO: A Race for the White House panel talks about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigning together Friday in Unity, New Hampshire.

*** Hitting Obama and Gordon Smith? McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt started the morning off -- at 6:45 am ET! -- with a memo contrasting McCain and Obama on the issue of bipartisanship. "There has never been a time when Barack Obama has bucked the party line to lead on an issue of national importance," Schmidt wrote. "He has never been a part of a bipartisan group that came together to solve a controversial issue. He has never put his career on the line for a cause greater than himself… We don't need to trade Republican partisanship for Democratic partisanship. We need to put our country first and put our politics second. That is what John McCain has done his whole life, and that is what he will do as president." While it's not a memo that says it's designed to be a response to Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith's (R) ad touting his work with Obama across the aisle, it certainly reads that way. Smith did not do McCain any favors with this TV ad, as it ends up rebutting McCain's frequent attacks on Obama that his bipartisan rhetoric is just that -- rhetoric with few actions to back it up. And now Smith's actions are getting national attention and serve as too easy of a rebuttal to Schmidt's memo. Smith's decision in Oregon (a supposed swing state, folks, not just some deep blue state) also counters the national GOP committees here in DC that have been trying to paint Obama as out of touch. The Washington Post reports that House GOP strategists are now backing off their attempts to demonize Obama; clearly some GOP senators running for re-election aren't ready to run against Obama, and that leaves McCain going it alone. Not helpful to the McCain cause

*** The Obama map: Obama manager David Plouffe gave the DC chattering class a lot to chew on yesterday with a PowerPoint presentation on where they see the state of the race. Perhaps the item that will get the most weekend attention will be the non-traditional battleground red states Obama's pledging to contest seriously -- including Alaska, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, and North Dakota. What makes tossing these six states into the supposed battleground category is that all of them are states where McCain will not return the fire. For Obama, four of the six are actually fairly cheap states to target, with only Georgia and North Carolina being truly expensive. It's not dissimilar to what Bush did with California in 2000, when he spent real money and campaign time to see if he could dare Gore to follow suit. Gore didn't and the Bush strategy almost cost him the presidency. As for McCain, the campaign clearly has no choice but to call Obama's bluff in these six states. Obama has the money to mess around; the question is whether Republicans in these states will not hit the panic button and cause McCain extra headaches. California Democrats let Gore call the bluff without too much criticism. Will Indiana Republicans or Georgia Republicans or North Carolina Republicans give McCain similar slack?

*** Is Jim Jones the new Mike Bloomberg? Today, Obama ends his three-week economic tour with a summit on economic competitiveness in Pittsburgh. In attendance will be folks like Steve Case (formerly of America Online), Andy Stern (of the SEIU), G. Richard Wagoner, Jr (of GM), and James Jones (retired Marine general). Yes, that's right: The same Jim Jones -- whose name was leaked as a possible Obama veep and then who appeared at a McCain event a few weeks ago -- is now attending Obama's summit today. For those that don't know, Jones and McCain are actually quite close. So considering the Schmidt memo today on bipartisanship, Jones isn't helping his friend very well by providing a bipartisan picture for Obama.

VIDEO: President Bush says he will lift sanctions against North Korea and remove it from the U.S. terrorism blacklist.

*** Breaking with Bush? Per NBC's John Yang, President Bush got an early start this morning, speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden to welcome North Korea's overnight declaration of its nuclear activities. Mr. Bush said the United States would respond by taking North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terror and lift economic sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act. It's worth watching whether McCain today will break with Bush on this issue. Also worth watching: today's Supreme Court ruling on the 2nd Amendment and how Obama responds.

*** A different kind of campaign? Hardly: There's a common theme running in Dan Balz's column (which notes that the McCain-Obama contest isn't any different from past campaigns) and James Rainey's piece (asking why the candidates aren't getting tough questions on Iraq). The campaigns simply aren't being challenged -- by the press or the public. And they are acting, well, just like any other modern presidential campaign. Where's the new and different type of campaign so many folks expected?

*** On the trail: McCain holds a town hall in Cincinnati, OH. Obama, as mentioned above, is in Pittsburgh.

*** Spouse watch: Cindy McCain raises money in London. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama -- along with Senate candidate Jeanne Shaheen -- holds a "discussion with New Hampshire Women" in Manchester, NH. Obama then keynotes a Gay and Lesbian Leadership Council (GLLC) Gala in New York City.
*** Veep watch: Hillary Clinton (in the early afternoon) and Bill Richardson (in the evening) address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) meeting in DC. And Chuck Hagel, also in DC, speaks to the left-leaning Brookings Institute.

Countdown to Dem convention: 60 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 67 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 131 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 208 days
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