From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Rock bottom for Republicans? OK, Hill Republicans, ask yourselves -- is this bottom? The indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is a BIG deal. This appears to be a case of a politician who just didn't think he could get touched. And also, he probably believed the favors he was receiving were favors he deserved (that's usually how these longtime lawmakers talk themselves into taking these favors). As for his re-election bid, realize that Stevens was in trouble BEFORE the indictment, and his seat was one of the Democrats top pick-up opportunities this cycle. This isn't a case where he was coasting to re-election, and NOW this indictment makes him vulnerable. By the way, the Stevens indictment is actually a potential opportunity for McCain, who has never been a fan of the pork-barrel senator and has had his share of clashes with the man. But so far, we haven't heard a peep on this from McCain... And the indictment certainly doesn't hurt Obama's quest to put this ruby-red state into play. But Stevens represents everything McCain's been running against inside the GOP for a decade. He ought to embrace his downfall before the GOP's tarnished brand stains him with this. Meanwhile, NBC's Pete Williams and Tony Capra report that Stevens will appear in federal court in Washington on Thursday at 1:00 pm ET for his initial appearance on the federal charges of filing misleading financial disclosure statements.
VIDEO: NBC Political Director Chuck Todd takes a look at today's political headlines including criticisms Barack Obama is receiving for being "too arrogant" and John McCain is receiving for being "cranky."
*** Dueling narratives: When you scroll through the newspapers today -- or our summaries of them below -- you'll discover developing narratives about Obama and McCain that have the ability to dent the images of both men. For Obama, it's that he has become too arrogant and too confident. The Washington Post has him telling House Democrats yesterday: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions." But Politico is reporting that that wasn't the entire quote. Per a Democratic source, "[The Post] left out the important first half of the sentence, which was along the lines of: 'It has become increasingly clear in my travel, the campaign, that the crowds, the enthusiasm, 200,000 people in Berlin, is not about me at all. It's about America. I have just become a symbol…" Regardless of the context now, this narrative has been ready to explode at some point and even a misreported quote was enough to spark this arrogance watch. Some see him violating the cardinal sin of politics, acting as if this campaign is about him. He needs to remember that he's latching on to the anti-Bush coattails; any Democrat would be up right now. By the way, where are Michelle Obama's comments about her stinky and snorey husband? He could use the self-deprecation.
*** The angry warrior: For McCain, the potentially damaging narrative is that he has become the angry warrior -- lashing out harsh and lately unsubstantiated attacks against Obama. The danger for him: This could turn off independents (who happen to be McCain's lucky shield in this tough political climate for Republicans), and it could make it nearly impossible for McCain to seem like a change candidate in this change election. Unlike Clinton, McCain does have a reservoir of favorable ratings to throw the kitchen sink at Obama. But it does seem lately that he's on the verge of mumbling one of Bob Dole's quotes of '96, when he would constantly complain about the lack of caring the public had for Clinton's character issues.
*** That's a lot of dough in less than two months: This morning, the Wisconsin Advertising Project is up with a new report showing that more than $50 million has been spent on TV ads for the general election campaign (from June 3 to July 26). Per the report, Obama has spent more than $27 million while McCain has spent more than $21 million, with the RNC and other third-party groups making up the rest. What's interesting is that the McCain camp -- sometimes with the RNC's help -- is outspending Obama in many key battlegrounds (MI, OH, PA, WI, CO, MN, MO, NH, NV, NM). But where Obama's camp is running up the score versus McCain is in six red states where McCain has yet to run an ad (FL, GA, NC, IN, MT, and AK). McCain's camp, right now, is betting that Team Obama can't turn one of those six blue. But if it can, it could further open up the playing field in this election.
VIDEO: Speculation is growing that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is on Barack Obama's vice-presidential short list and John McCain is considering Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
*** Today's veepstakes buzz: Tim Kaine appears to have vaulted to the top of the Obama short list. The campaign did nothing to tamp down the speculation that began yesterday. In fact, it appears the Obama short list is truly now short -- with as few as three names now on it: Kaine, Joe Biden and Evan Bayh. As for McCain, it's been a quiet couple of days on the VP front with speculation that he's perhaps not as far along as the campaign hinted at last week when rumors were flying he could name a running mate at any moment. Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty continue to be seen as the top two potential picks.
*** Meet Kathleen Sebelius: Obama is in Missouri, which borders Kansas. That brings us to Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius… Her father, John Gilligan, was governor of Ohio. She also happens to be the first daughter of a governor to be elected governor herself… As a symbol of bipartisan appeal, her father-in-law was a Republican congressman from Kansas… Chose a Republican as her gubernatorial running mate in 2002… Ranked one of America's five best governors by Time magazine in 2005… A Catholic, she is personally opposed to abortion, though she has supported abortion-rights positions. That has led to one Archbishop to call for her not to receive communion (Remember that, John Kerry?)… Delivered the Democratic response to this year's State of the Union, which was widely panned from the left for its bipartisan message. Even though Obama and Sebelius seem to have a lot in common, Sebelius' major obstacle is not that she is a woman, but that she is the wrong woman -- not Hillary Clinton.
*** On the trail: Both candidates are in the Show Me State. McCain raises money in Kansas City, but before that, he's in Colorado, where he meets with conservative Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput and visits Wagner Equipment Company. Meanwhile, in Missouri, Obama holds economic security town hall meetings in Springfield and Rolla before heading to a BBQ in Union.
Countdown to Dem convention: 26 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 33 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 97 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 174 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.