From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama's election to win: How important has this overseas trip been for Obama? Look no further than our latest NBC/WSJ poll, which has Obama leading McCain by six points (47%-41%), unchanged from last month. While the survey finds that the political winds are at the Dem candidate's back -- just 13% believe the country's on the right track, an all-time low in the poll; this is the 25th-straight NBC/WSJ survey in which the GOP has a net-negative rating; and Bush's approval rating is only at 30% -- there are plenty of signs that Obama hasn't yet closed the deal; if anything, he's simply grabbing on to the reverse Bush coattails at the moment. A majority (55%) think he would be the riskier choice for president, less than half of respondents say he doesn't share their values and background, and McCain clobbers him on experience and commander-in-chief questions. This election, in fact, has become a referendum on Obama: 51% say they are focusing more on what kind of president Obama would be, versus just 27% who say they are focusing more on McCain. While a common refrain is that this election is shaping up as Obama's election to lose, NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) puts it another way "This remains Barack Obama's election to win," he says. "In the end, the election is about reassuring voters and removing doubts."
*** Re-running Hillary's campaign isn't the answer: But while Obama is working on some his shortcomings as he travels overseas, ask yourself this: Has McCain been working on his, especially on a week when he's had the country to himself? A whopping 77% in the poll believe that McCain would follow Bush's policies very closely or somewhat closely. Just 14% of McCain's own voters are excited about his candidacy (compared with 44% of Obama voters who say that about the Illinois Democrat). And, by a 55%-40% margin, voters prefer a presidential candidate who will bring greater changes -- even if he's less experienced and tested -- to an experienced candidate who will bring fewer changes. "McCain can't make this election about experience," says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Neil Newhouse (R). "Re-running Hillary's campaign isn't going to be enough." McCain tried to do something different by traveling to a Gulf Coast oil rig to promote his policies on offshore drilling, but those plans got scrapped by Hurricane Dolly. If it wasn't for bad luck these days, McCain would have no luck at all. That said, will observers look back on this summer as a wasted opportunity for McCain to start creating distance with Bush? Appearing with Bush's father this week, after all, wasn't exactly the best way to create that distance.
*** It's the economy, dumba$$: No longer does the phrase "It's the economy, stupid" suffice. We need more of an expletive to drive home the point how central the economy is to this presidential election. In the poll, the economy and energy/gas prices are the two biggest voter concerns; Iraq is third. Voters are screaming for the candidates to focus on the economy, which is what makes the European portion of Obama's trip potentially more troublesome. It's not clear that either Obama or McCain owns this issue right now. Just 28% have confidence that Obama would be able to get the economy back on track, while only 17% say that of McCain. (But Democrats do enjoy a comfortable lead when it comes to which party better handles the economy and energy.) Also according to the poll, voters -- overwhelmingly -- want McCain to pick a running mate who's an expert on the economy. They want Obama to pick an expert in military or foreign affairs, but a close second is an economic expert. Who out there fits those bills for McCain and Obama? Will Michael Bloomberg get second looks from both candidates? Romney and Portman rise to the top of McCain's list? Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina too? What about Mark Warner on the Dem side? Will Robert Rubin's name suddenly surface?
*** Bigger than David Hasselhoff? Already this morning, Obama visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem, traveled to Germany, and met with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Yet the big event comes around 1:30 pm ET, when Obama delivers his speech in Berlin. The address, of course, has sparked plenty of questions: How big is it going to be? Is it a rally? Why were the Obama folks passing around fliers promoting the event? Earlier this morning, per NBC/NJ's Athena Jones, Obama held an avail on the flight to Berlin and answered some of those questions. On whether he's nervous about speaking before a million screaming Europeans: "I doubt we are going to have a million screaming Europeans… Let's tamp down expectations here. If we get tens of thousands." More on the expectations of the crowd size: "My staff basically just told me that this space is bigger than I realized. It is a potentially bad thing. We are sort of on the high wire all of the sudden. It's like, 'Wait how many does this accommodate?'" On the substance of the speech: "It is not a wonky policy speech." And on whether he will speak German, a la JFK: "Probably not. My German is not real good, but I don't think the Germans would feel a lot of appeal to that."
*** Touché: The RNC, meanwhile, is up with radio ads hitting Obama for his lack of support for troop funding last year. Where are the ads running? They're in all three US cities named Berlin in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire, as well as all three US cities named Paris in Maine, Michigan, and Missouri. But we ask: Why no love for Paris, VA? Population 49!
*** Going for the gold: The AP writes, "Barack Obama is going for the gold. He has decided to buy $5 million in national advertising on NBC during the broadcast of the Olympic games. The ads will appear on network and cable channels. The ad purchase was first reported yesterday on the website of Advertising Age, a magazine that covers the industry."
*** Blog fodder: Also, don't miss this little shot Obama took at Fox News when talking at his avail about the information/news the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are getting. "Sure, they are well informed, especially because you know [Major] Garrett's on their home channel. How is it that Fox News has such an impact with Armed Forces television?" Garrett, also on the plane, answered: "Choice." Then Obama replied: "Is that the commander-in-chief's choice?" Over to you, Mr. O'Reilly!
*** Meet Rob Portman: With McCain in Ohio, we take a look at Rob Portman (sorry, Bobby Jindal -- we were going to profile you before McCain canceled his appearance in Louisiana)… His family's ancestors were Quaker abolitionists who were active in the Underground Railroad… That you can put more money in your 401(k) and IRA is, in part, due to Portman… During 2000 and 2004 VP debate practice for Cheney, he played the roles of Lieberman and Edwards… On the one hand, Portman brings experience on the economy as OMB director and a geographic advantage being from Ohio. On the other, his close ties to Bush (pictures hung in his office of him running with Bush Sr. and fishing with Cheney in Snake River, WY.) and his work as US Trade Rep. are problems, particularly in his home state where he never ran for statewide office. He represented Cincinnati in Congress.
*** On the trail: McCain is in the battleground of Ohio, where he raises money and then attends a town hall in the evening with Lance Armstrong; the two hold a media avail after that. Obama, as mentioned above, is in Germany.
Countdown to Dem convention: 32 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 39 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 103 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 180 days
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