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First thoughts: Raising Kaine

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Raising Kaine: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is all the rage today -- with a front-page Washington Post piece saying that he has had "very serious" conversations about possibly becoming Obama's veep pick, as well as a Politico article that has a source saying that Kaine is "very, very high on the short list." What's more, Kaine today just happens to be in Washington (for his WTOP interview at 10:00 am ET). And guess what? Obama's in DC, too. For all we know, the two are meeting as you read this, or have already met (Obama had a VERY early call time this morning). Kaine's strengths: He helps with the battleground of Virginia; reinforces Obama's outside the Beltway message (although part of his state happens to be inside the Beltway); also reinforces Obama's emphasis on faith (he's a devout Catholic); speaks fluent Spanish (once serving as a missionary in Honduras); and is close to Obama. Kaine's weaknesses: He has little name ID across the country; has no national security experience; and it's debatable how much more support Obama might gain in Virginia with Kaine on the ticket -- given that Mark Warner and Jim Webb are also campaigning for him and given that Kaine's geographic strength in the state is fairly similar to Obama's. The Obama campaign isn't one that likes to surprise. Could it be they are sending a signal that Kaine is very likely, and if you don't speak now Dem special interest groupies, forever hold your peace?

VIDEO: NBC's Mark Murray takes a look at the various nation-wide polls and handicaps Obama's vice presidential short list.

*** Gallup, Gallup, Gallup: As many readers know, we're not fans of the Gallup tracking poll and yesterday was more proof why. Gallup has two samples out -- one (the daily tracking) with Obama up eight points and another (conducted for USA Today) with McCain up four points among likely voters and with Obama up three among registered voters. Somehow, technically, one can claim this all falls inside the various margins of error. But it's results like these that should remind us that even good pollsters are struggling to poll this year. This isn't an easy time for a pollster. The Gallup folks are in the charge of the best brand there is in public opinion research. So if they are getting screwy results, that should make you suspect of a lot of results you see, particularly on the state level by folks who claim to be pollsters but haven't been doing this for very long. We continue to recommend to folks that they do their best to get their hands on polling conducted by the campaign pollsters. These are folks who are in the field every day and get paid to get it right, not to get a story.

*** McCain and the health issue: Yesterday's very routine decision to remove a mole was a reminder of just how sensitive the campaign is regarding the health and age issue for McCain. The fact is there are many fair-skinned residents of Arizona who are 30 years younger than McCain that get moles removed out of precaution. But as we noted before, everything health related is under a microscope for McCain. Is it fair? No. And is it a double standard between how health issues are treated with Obama (see his hip deal on Sunday) versus McCain? Yes. It's the nature of the age beast. The health issue popping up yesterday -- just as when VP speculation was heating up -- only adds to McCain's need, potentially, to avoid an unknown and pick a VP that is viewed by the public as ready to be president. And speaking of McCain's VP pick, do be sure to check out today's Washington Times, which has some evangelicals who aren't big fans of Romney being McCain's choice.

*** Meet Evan Bayh: While Tim Kaine is all the rage today, we also turn our attention to Evan Bayh… He's the son of former Sen. Birch Bayh, who ran for president in 1976 but -- speaking of veeps -- lost his Senate seat in 1980 to Dan Quayle… Attended elite prep school St. Alban's in Washington, DC, but chose to go to Indiana University for college… Was just 30 in 1986 when he became Indiana Secretary of State; became governor two years later at 32, despite Republicans having controlled the office for 20 years… Has twin 12-year-old boys… By September 2006, he raised $10.6 million for a potential White House run… Was viewed as a centrist Democrat (before it was apparent he was running for president), so he differs with Obama on some issues, particularly abortion. He has voted to ban partial-birth abortions, irritating women's groups, and is what is said to have derailed his chances to be Gore's VP in 2000… Questioned Obama's ability to legislate in March during the primary: "The question is, who is experienced enough, smart enough, tough enough to actually implement those plans? And I just think, look, Barack is a great guy; he's got a lot of strengths. But I find that [Clinton's] seasoning, deep experience, familiarity with these issues, gives us a better chance of getting the job done."

*** This year's ballot initiatives: In 2004, NBC/NJ's Carrie Dann notes, some analysts credited Bush's squeaker win in Ohio to evangelical voters mobilized by opposition to a proposed same-sex marriage ban on the state ballot. Although most experts call that a myth -- discrediting the idea that such ballot initiatives actually boost turnout -- they still note that downballot issues are worth keeping on the radar screen. Initiatives on hot-button topics like affirmative action, gay marriage, stem cell research, and abortion are slated to appear on the 2008 ballots in some of the nation's most contentious battleground states. Voters in Colorado, for example, will likely have the chance to weigh in on an initiative that would legally redefine fertilized eggs, as well as another that would ban race- and gender- based employment decisions. Same-sex marriage will be under the microscope in California, Arizona, and swing-state Florida (although state law requires its proposed ban to be passed by 60% of the vote in the Sunshine State). Such social-issue measures could put candidates in sticky positions, especially John McCain, who prefers to keep his social-issues stances out of the limelight in lieu of foreign and economic policy.

VIDEO: A Race for the White House panel takes a look at the presidential candidates could employ in three important battleground states: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

*** One to watch: But of all the ballot initiatives, Dann adds, here's one that might be the most interesting as far as potential resonance with real live voters in a crucial swing state: The Ohio Healthy Families Initiative, expected to be approved for the November ballot, would mandate that all companies with more than 25 workers provide seven paid days of sick leave to employees. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 71% of Ohioans support the sick leave requirement, which is almost identical to one in Obama's proposed economic plan. Sen. John McCain opposes the measure.

*** On the trail: McCain spends his day in Nevada, attending a local leadership meeting in Reno, holding a town hall in Sparks, and raising money in Incline Village. He then heads to a fundraiser in Englewood, CO. Obama is in DC, where meets with Pakistan's prime minister, national women leaders, and the House Democratic conference.
Countdown to Dem convention: 27 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 34 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 98 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 175 days
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