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First thoughts: New, aggressive Obama?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** A new, aggressive Obama? As we mentioned on Friday, one thing that McCain's negative turn did last week was knock Obama off message when his focus was supposed to be the economy. We'll see if Obama can dominate the message today, when his campaign plans a full blitz on the issue of energy -- which includes hitting McCain for the millions in campaign contributions he's received from the oil industry, as well as the billions in tax breaks the industry would receive under McCain's tax plan. This effort comes in three parts. The first is a new TV ad that the campaign says will be rotated into national buy. ("Every time you fill your tank, the oil companies fill their pockets. Now Big Oil's filling John McCain's campaign with $2 million dollars in contributions," the ad goes." Because instead of taxing their windfall profits to help drivers, McCain wants to give them another $4 billion in tax breaks.") Second is a conference call the Obama campaign held just before publication time. And third, Obama gives a speech later this morning outlining his energy plan, which includes a $1,000 rebate financed by a windfall profit tax on US oil companies. Can this break through in the way McCain broke through last week? Probably not, but if he can control the message debate for a few days, it will be seen as a good week for Obama. 

*** Easy Rider? McCain should feel at home today in Sturgis, SD, where motorcycle enthusiasts from all over will be hanging out. But this visit may not be about appealing to Harley voters -- but voters actually living in the Dakotas. Of the red states where Obama has been spending money, the one where he's had the most impact is clearly North Dakota. In fact, Obama's been polling so well in that state, there is speculation the campaign may add neighbor South Dakota to its target list. The McCain camp knows Obama's been gaining some ground in the region, so this event seemed like a way to at least get some local coverage in the Dakotas and see if they can easily snap these states back into the Red column like some in the GOP believe.

*** Three months to go: With exactly three months until Election Day and three weeks until the Democratic convention, it's worth recounting what has taken place during this summer lull in the presidential race. Clinton stumped for Obama in Unity, NH; Obama began moving to the center on several issues (most recently on offshore drilling); Obama also went on his highly publicized (and pretty well-received) overseas trip; Maliki ended up endorsing Obama's timeline for withdrawal at a time when many began praising the surge for reducing violence in Iraq; and McCain's campaign took a negative turn (airing the Britney-Paris ad, charging the Obama camp for playing the race card, and producing that Jesus-Moses Web video). And still, the race is pretty much where it was when the summer began. (That's why they call it a lull, right?) Nationally, Obama holds a lead over McCain in the mid-single digits, and the Illinois senator has a wider map to play with, although McCain does have chances to turn New Hampshire and Michigan red. Where the race was three months ago is where it is now…

*** Veepstakes lull: Speaking of lulls, we've hit one in the veep chatter. In fact, it's such a lull we're starting to see House members make token appearances on the VP lists. It was leaked to someone in the Virginia press corps that Rep. Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia is being vetted. Considering that leaks like this haven't come from McCain, one can only guess who was behind it. Cantor's profile as a rising Jewish conservative from a swing state has no doubt drawn some attention from McCain. But it's hard to imagine either candidate picking a sitting House member as a running mate. The last time it happened -- 1964 and that didn't work out so well for Mr. Goldwater, the last Arizona senator to secure the GOP nomination. Cantor's not alone in the House on the VP speculation lists. There's a new round of chatter about Chet Edwards (D), the Texas Democratic Congressman Nancy Pelosi has been pushing.... *** UPDATE *** As many have reminded us, the last time was 1984, when Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro (more on Ferraro here). 

*** Remembering 1988: Speaking of veepstakes, one has to assume that both campaigns have studied 1988 very hard, because it was a unique year when both nominees followed the conventional wisdom -- and ended up not doing too well. Dukakis needed someone to help his presidential resume, and he found someone who perhaps looked TOO presidential standing next to the Duke (Lloyd Bentsen). Bush 41, meanwhile, needed someone to show he was going to bring some change and newness to the Oval Office, and he picked someone a bit too green at the time (Quayle). No doubt Obama doesn't want to pick someone who overshadows him, and McCain doesn't want to pick someone who looks too uncomfortable standing on the national stage.

*** On the trail: McCain holds a small business roundtable at the National Label Company in Lafayette Hill, PA before heading to a veterans' motorcycle rally in Sturgis, SD. Obama gives a speech on energy in Lansing, MI and then goes to Boston for a fundraiser celebrating his 47th birthday.
Countdown to Dem convention: 21 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 28 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 92 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 169 days
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