From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Economic "ins" and "outs": With all of the focus on the mortgage market and the stability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it's been surprising how little both Obama and McCain have said about this issue. Neither wants to move markets and get to out in front on this specific issue. So how will both candidates focus on the economy? McCain's "in" on the economy is energy -- the search for more sources (i.e., advocating more oil and gas drilling) is something polls are showing has support. As gas prices go up, voters want the candidates to propose solutions. On energy, even if enviros and economists don't LIKE McCain's solutions, he appears to be offering them. Obama isn't yet. His energy proposals aren't tangible. Meanwhile, Obama's "in" on the economy is twofold. 1) Bush and 2) Bill Clinton. The fact that perception is out there that this is Bush's economy, combined with the fact that the last time voters felt good about the economy a Democrat was in the White House, could give Obama more of a benefit of the doubt with voters on the economy than any new proposal he actually makes. But he is going to have to offer something tangible; not quite a chicken in every pot but at least a chicken wing or two. His proposal for another rebate to American is a start, but why isn't he selling that proposal more? In fact, you could say that about a lot of Obama's proposals -- he doesn't sell them with the same vigor McCain sells his.
*** The search for ideology: Both candidates seem to have been struggling please to their respective wings. And normally, that should be a good thing for both of them. And yet… McCain's lack of conservative orthodoxy and Obama's move from the left is leading to lots of chatter about where these guys stand. What's interesting about both of them is that each is in a different phase of their ideological journey. When candidates first enter public life, they usually have a more pure ideological streak, and McCain had that in the '80s (he was a conservative's conservative, rarely moving from the party line). Obama's still in the midst of his journey. One can tell he had/has an idealistic/liberal streak, and he's learning what he can or can't get done. McCain's already gotten there; he's already in pragmatic mode; Obama's getting there (too quickly for some). The question is what do voters want: Someone who still is mired in an unrealistic idealism that he'll not learn fast enough and that his first term will be a mess but right now sounds optimistic. Or do they want a pol who is very pragmatic, doesn't have the purity he once had, might even be a bit cynical about can or can't get done, and sometimes comes across too pessimistic. Both McCain and Obama are at different ideological phases in their life and the voters probably want an equal mix of the two (50% idealism and 50% pragmatism) and neither is offering that ratio.
*** Iraq and Afghanistan: Of course, before his upcoming international trip, Obama is trying to offer pragmatism on the subjects of Iraq and Afghanistan. In a New York Times op-ed, which comes a day after nine US soldiers were killed in an attack in Afghanistan, Obama proposes sending two additional brigades to that country. Will that -- as well as the news of those US casualties -- force McCain to talk more about Afghanistan, a subject he discusses far less than Iraq? Obama also writes, "In the 18 months since President Bush announced the surge, our troops have performed heroically in bringing down the level of violence. New tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda — greatly weakening its effectiveness. But the same factors that led me to oppose the surge still hold true. The strain on our military has grown, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated and we've spent nearly $200 billion more in Iraq than we had budgeted. Iraq's leaders have failed to invest tens of billions of dollars in oil revenues in rebuilding their own country, and they have not reached the political accommodation that was the stated purpose of the surge."
*** Shiny metal object watch: Last week, Jesse Jackson's surgery suggestion was the shiny metal object press distraction of the week, and it looks like the New Yorker is contributing to this week's edition. Indeed, the satirical cover may not end up serving the purpose the magazine intended. We shall see. We're guessing ObamaNation will unload on the magazine. The campaign already has. ("The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create," spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. "But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree.") Yet this also says something about the magazine industry, which is struggling big time. So this leads to overly provocative covers and given the attention the New Yorker is receiving, probably a lot more magazine will follow suit with similar stunts.
*** Uniting the party: Lost in the leaking of Obama's phone call with a major Hillary donor was the fact that Obama made the call in the first place. Perhaps he should have known anything he said regarding the veep issue would be leaked, and we're guessing calling Bill Clinton a "complication" doesn't heal that wound so easily with the former president. But the message to other bitter Clinton donors is that Obama's not yet ready to write them off and is trying to win folks over.
*** Obama's companions to Iraq: Over the weekend, Obama announced that Sens. Chuck Hagel (R) and Jack Reed (D) will travel to Iraq and Afghanistan with him. "Look, they're both experts on foreign policy," Obama said. "They reflect, I think, a traditional bipartisan wisdom when it comes to foreign policy. Neither of them are ideologues, but try to get the facts right and make a determination about what's best for U.S. interests and they're good guys." While Joe Lieberman still gets most of the attention as the biggest political apostate this cycle -- see the front page of today's New York Times -- Hagel certainly will be an interesting guy to watch over the next couple of weeks… And realize that BOTH are probably on some version of the veep short list. Reed, in particular, strikes as having the personality that Obama may want in his veep -- low-key and knowledgeable.
*** Veepstakes watch: Every day is bringing new tidbits on the veep search: Huckabee is NOT being vetted... Nunn's publicly ready to apply... Check out what Pawlenty said, "he hasn't been asked" to submit papers, but was someone near him asked? Sorry, we love parsing... Romney making a health-care push with WSJ op-ed.
*** Remembering Tony Snow: As NBC's Tom Brokaw said Sunday on "Meet the Press," it's been a tough year for Washington. Tony Snow fought a valiant fight against cancer. His ability to stay optimistic during all this was inspirational. He made the transition from politics to journalism (and back) with grace. He didn't hide who he was, but treated his partisan opponents with class. It's why Snow was so popular. Trust us: Good luck finding a Democrat who has bad things to say about Tony. Sure, he may have been a partisan, but the guy was simply nice. He wasn't someone who participated in the cheap shot culture of our business. Finally, the thing we political junkies loved about Tony was his ability not to take himself too seriously -- whether emcee-ing a comedy show or playing his music -- he showed it was OK to have a good time, even during the most heated times. Washington's going to miss Tony's smarts, class, optimism, and sense of humor.
*** On the trail: McCain, in San Diego, takes his turn speaking to the National Council of La Raza before heading to Albuquerque, NM to raise money. Meanwhile, Obama speaks to the NAACP's annual convention in Cincinnati, OH.
*** And heads up: Jesse Ventura is expected to announce to CNN's Larry King tonight whether he'll run for the US Senate in Minnesota.
Countdown to Dem convention: 42 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 49 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 113 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 190 days
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