From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The turning point? So was this week a turning point in the presidential race? The Obama campaign certainly believes it was, and that this will be the moment that Obama grabs the lead for good. If McCain never catches up at this point, his campaign's actions this week (its blistering criticism of Obama and the media, the visuals it picked, its body language, its VP games) will get second-guessed for months. We know this was a significant week; the question is was it enough to erase the doubts voters have with Obama about his ability to be commander-in-chief? But just asking: Did this week tell us more about Obama or McCain? Watching McCain chasing the news cycle and his inability to not let Obama get under his skin -- and the campaign's -- suggests that they could be reactive from this day forward. Why, for instance, did the campaign insist on the equal treatment (see network interviews) this week and not simply attempt to create its own week of coverage from the nets? They were second fiddle all week, and seemed to almost demand being highlighted in that way.
*** This race is McCain's to win, too: Can the McCain camp win by simply hoping for an Obama slip-up or by reacting faster and faster? Yesterday in First Read, we noted that NBC/WSJ pollster Peter Hart said this election was Obama's to win. But isn't that also true for McCain? McCain can't simply hope Obama loses this election or fails to adjust his campaign sail enough to capture the strong Democratic wind. Yesterday, actually, McCain finally seemed comfortable being the broccoli candidate -- embracing his role as the serious guy juxtaposed to the rock star opponent. Will the campaign around him have the patience to accept McCain's "keep on keeping on" promise he made to NBC's Kelly O'Donnell?
*** VP's coming? One of these days the McCain campaign won't be "crying VP" and will actually announce his pick. Today's Washington Post has a defensive "the pick could be coming any day now" story. "Anxious to counter the blanket media coverage that has followed Sen. Barack Obama on his overseas journey, Sen. John McCain is weighing whether to announce his running mate in the coming weeks before the spotlight shifts to China and the opening of the Olympic Games next month. 'He's in a position to make [the decision] on short notice if he wanted to,' said McCain's chief strategist Charlie Black. Bottom line: The media is being put on notice that the pick could come at any time, with the campaign hinting big time that McCain's going to make the pick before the Olympics. As for Obama's timing, considering how the campaign likes to let big events sink in, it seems highly unlikely they'll step on their own post-trip bounce (if they believe they'll be getting one) by announcing the VP next week. That leaves just one week before the Olympics if next week is indeed out.
*** About that Landstuhl visit: Perhaps the sole bump the Obama campaign hit this week was the minor controversy that erupted when Obama's campaign decided to skip a visit to Landstuhl to meet with injured US soldiers. The Obama camp put out two statements, the first from retired Gen. Scott Gration: "Sen. Obama had hoped to and had every intention of visiting our troops to express his appreciation and gratitude for their service to our country. We learned from the Pentagon last night that the visit would be viewed instead as a campaign event. Sen. Obama did not want to have a trip to see our wounded warriors perceived as a campaign event when his visit was to show his appreciation for our troops and decided instead not to go." The other was from strategist Robert Gibbs: "The senator decided out of respect for these servicemen and women that it would be inappropriate to make a stop to visit troops at a U.S. military facility as part of a trip funded by the campaign."
*** The rules: NBC's Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski breaks down the rules for these kind of visits: "Political candidates, including the president, are not permitted to use military facilities as a campaign backdrop or anything that could be perceived as being part of a political campaign. Now, of course, we know those lines can be blurred in the president for example has some official purpose for appearing at a military installation. As a member of the Armed Service Committee John McCain could also have a legitimate reason for visiting a military base and attracting media coverage, but it hasn't happened and I think both sides would take a serious look at the implications. The other issue is concern over exploitation of the wounded, for any reason. When the president, the Defense secretary, or any member of Congress visit the wounded at a military hospital the media are not invited to cover the event." Bottom line from us: The Obama campaign was being overly cautious, worried about the exploitation factor. (The real cynic might believe Obama realized he couldn't bring cameras so THAT's why he canceled). The McCain campaign decided to hit him -- and probably would have done it either way. It was a tiny press victory for McCain in a sea of disasters for the week.
*** Meet Tim Kaine: Tim Kaine is yet another Harvard law grad in those up for consideration for VP this cycle… While he eventually got his degree from Harvard law, Kaine -- a devout Catholic -- left midway through to embark on a nine-month Jesuit mission in Honduras, where he taught welding and carpentry to teenagers… He speaks fluent Spanish… Plays harmonica, sings in the church choir, and apparently likes Charlie Parker-era jazz… Kaine's father-in-law was Virginia's first Republican governor in the 20th century… He and Obama are close; Obama campaigned for Kaine during his governor's race… Like Obama, Kaine was a civil-rights attorney before going into politics… While Kaine is from the key battleground of Virginia, he isn't as popular in the GOP-leaning southwest part of the state as Mark Warner is.
VIDEO: President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have agreed to pursue a "general time horizon" for withdrawal from Iraq, even as Maliki announces support for Barack Obama's proposal. NBC's Patty Culhane reports.
*** Bush's shifts: Because of the presidential contest -- which is sucking the air out of most other news -- we haven't paid much attention as we should to all the significant policy shifts coming from Bush Administration. They're stunning, in fact. The "time horizon" for troop withdrawal from Iraq. Sending envoys to both Iran and North Korea. Just asking: Would the Republican Party and McCain be in a better position heading into this election had Bush announced these changes two years ago, when he still captured the public's attention?
*** On the trail: McCain is in Colorado, speaking to the GI Forum Convention in Denver and then heading to Aspen to meet with the Dalai Lama. (The Lama is already a big hitter, no telling what the thin air of Colorado will do for the Lama's driving abilities.) Obama, meanwhile, flies from Berlin to Paris -- where he chats with President Nicolas Sarkozy -- before heading to London.
Countdown to Dem convention: 31 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 38 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 102 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 179 days
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