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First thoughts: Obama going abroad

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama going abroad: Is Obama making the right call by heading to Europe and the Middle East at a time of such economic insecurity in the US? The answer is yes if you look at the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, which has Obama up eight points (50%-42%) among registered voters. While he beats McCain on the economy by a whopping 19 points, Obama doesn't fare as well when it comes to foreign policy. "While 56 percent of respondents said Obama knows enough about world affairs to be a good president, 72 percent said so about McCain. Head to head, McCain was judged as the one with greater knowledge of the world by more than 2 to 1. The senator from Arizona also holds a narrow edge as the candidate better suited to deal with an unexpected major crisis, and he is more trusted, by a six-point margin, on the issue of fighting terrorism." Obama's trip abroad could be a disaster. But if it proves to be a success and if it narrows McCain's edge on foreign policy, then doesn't one assume that eight-point lead becomes larger? Arguably, in 1980, Reagan had a narrow lead over Carter because of the economy. But he was still struggling on the commander-in-chief stuff, and when he finally passed that test, he turned his narrow lead into a landslide victory.

VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd discusses today's political headlines including the new Washington Post/ABC poll that has Barack Obama leading John McCain by eight points among registered voters.

*** Also worth noting: There are a couple of more things worth noting from the Washington Post/ABC poll. One, it appears that a bigger turnout benefits Obama. While the Illinois senator has an eight-point lead among registered voters, his edge is much smaller when you reduce the race to likely voters (49%-46%). (And right now, pollsters will tell you that with older voters leaning McCain these days, any likely voter model is going to favor McCain for now. If Obama moves younger voters as well as many observers assume come October, the likely voter numbers could change). In this poll, when you expand it to include all adults, Obama's lead is 12 points (51%-39%). And two, 79% in the poll believe that Obama is an optimist versus 54% who say that about McCain. How many times has the more pessimistic candidate won a presidential election?

*** Crank up the VP chatter: Obama makes his first post-primary appearance in Indiana today, when he heads to Purdue University to hold a summit on confronting 21st century threats like nuclear proliferation, bioterrorism, and cyber-security. And in the process, he'll be hanging out with two Dems who are likely to be on someone's short list: Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn. While it's not surprising to have Bayh attend an Obama event in Indiana, the appearance of Sam Nunn might raise an eyebrow or two... The topic, of course, is one of Nunn's pets, and Nunn-Lugar is synonymous with this issue. The Obama press corps hasn't spent much time with Nunn in person, so he's auditioning today -- at least for the press.

*** Hoosier battleground: With Obama in Indiana today, it's as good of a time as any to talk about the state. Could it be this year's West Virginia -- meaning, like West Virginia in 2000, will the state end up swinging against its CW history following what its neighboring states have done for the last 20 years? A Democrat hasn't won Indiana since 1964, but polls we've seen suggest the race there is pretty darn close. What's more, the state is one of those battlegrounds (in addition to Pennsylvania and North Carolina) in which the long primary season might benefit Obama. Per NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann, as of last week, Obama had made 26 campaign stops in the state in 20 days, versus two stops for McCain. And if Bayh is added to Obama's ticket…? Then again, Bush beat Kerry here in 2004, 60%-39%. And in 2000, he won the state, 57%-41%. Still, Indiana has had the same economic issues as its neighboring states of Ohio and Michigan. Moreover, Dems now hold a majority of the state's congressional seats, meaning there will be a lot more Dem money and organization in the state than ever before. The one thing McCain has going for him is that incumbent GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels appears to have pulled out of his funk and seems to be favored for re-election.

*** Before a tough crowd: While Obama is in Indiana today, McCain is doing something many GOP nominees wouldn't do -- and that's speak in front of the NAACP. (Yet it's worth noting that McCain and every GOP presidential contender besides Tancredo didn't speak to the group last year.) This excerpt from his speech explains why McCain believes he should be there: "As much as any other group in America, the NAACP has been at the center of that great and honorable cause. I'm here today as an admirer and a fellow American, an association that means more to me than any other. I am a candidate for president who seeks your vote and hopes to earn it. But whether or not I win your support, I need your goodwill and counsel. And should I succeed, I'll need it all the more. I have always believed in this country, in a good America, a great America. But I have always known we can build a better America, where no place or person is left without hope or opportunity by the sins of injustice or indifference. It would be among the great privileges of my life to work with you in that cause." Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, also expect McCain to lavish extensive and detailed praise on Obama. President Bush spoke to the NAACP when he was a candidate in 2000, but didn't reappear before the group until 2006.

VIDEO: Is John McCain too old to be president? Guest host David Shuster gets the latest reaction from GOP strategist Kevin Madden, Democratic analyst Tonya Acker and MSNBC analyst Carl Crawford.

*** Czech it out: Yesterday, Obama strategist Robert Gibbs fired off an email to reporters noting that McCain had changed his position on gay adoption and troops for Afghanistan, and that he referred to the Czech Republic as Czechoslovakia -- for the second time in two days. Of course, Czechoslovakia hasn't existed since 1990s. It was far from a campaign-killing mistake. But it comes after other McCain gaffes, like mixing up Sunnis and Shiites and incorrectly stating that the US troop presence in Iraq has dipped below its pre-surge level. The Czechoslovakia gaffe also advances this narrative, especially when you combine it with the news over the weekend that he doesn't use a computer: McCain is more of a 20th-century presidential candidate rather than a 21st-century one. This is not an issue for McCain re: age; it's an issue for McCain re: the future. One of the few things Mark Penn got right in his presidential analysis during the campaign was that voters care about the future, not the past. (Now, had he listened to his own advice, he wouldn't have forced HRC to run for Bill's third term, but we digress.) Candidates who seem to be focused on the future usually end up on top. Interestingly, McCain is doing this on Iraq. He's gotten some traction on the issue, because he's moved the debate away from talking about how we got in and instead focused the debate on what to do now. He needs to shift his entire campaign into future mode. Obama, simply because of the historical nature of his campaign, already has that future feel. And just asking: Why haven't we seen these kind of Gibbs emails before?

*** On the trail: McCain is in Cincinnati, OH, where he speaks to the NAACP annual convention before heading to Nebraska to raise money. Obama, meanwhile, is in Indiana attending the "Summit on Confronting 21st Century Threats."

Countdown to Dem convention: 40 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 47 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 111 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 188 days
 
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