From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Today's political ceasefire: A day after the campaigns sparred over whether the innocent phrase "lipstick on a pig" was a smear against Palin, after the McCain camp unveiled a new TV ad resurrecting Bush's menacing "wolves" from 2004, and after the state chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party said that Palin's primary qualification is that she hasn't had an abortion, the candidates take a break from the back-and-forth on the trail to recognize the 7th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The two men, in New York, will make joint appearances at Ground Zero and then at a televised forum on service. Their campaigns even will refrain from airing TV ads today. Before those joint events, McCain visits a ceremony in Shanksville, PA honoring the victims of Flight 93, while Obama meets for lunch with Bill Clinton in Harlem. Today's break from everyday politics is a welcome one, but after yesterday will anyone actually think the ceasefire is sincere?
*** Saddleback II: As mentioned above, McCain and Obama will participate in a forum in New York moderated by Time's Richard Stengel and PBS's Judy Woodruff beginning at 8:00 pm ET and airing on MSNBC and other cable news channels. The two will speak separately for 45 minutes -- McCain goes first and Obama second. (There won't be a "cone of silence," but the candidates will get different questions.) The discussion will focus on service in the context of 9/11, disaster relief, etc. After some poor reviews Obama received from the previous Saddleback forum, many will be looking for a more direct Obama. Like Saddleback, this should be in McCain's wheelhouse, but Obama can't afford to get outshined as much as he was at the Rick Warren forum. Given today's date, viewers tonight will be looking for both a commander-in-chief and a comforter-in-chief.
*** Electoral watch: In the past 12 hours, we now have new polls for seven battleground states. CNN/Time has Obama up in the blue states of Michigan (49%-45%) and New Hampshire (51%-45%), while McCain is up in the red states of Missouri (50%-45%) and Virginia (50%-46%). And Quinnipiac finds Obama ahead in Ohio (49%-44%) and Pennsylvania (48%-45%), and McCain in front in Florida (50%-43%). Indeed, with the exception of Ohio -- and that is BIG exception -- these polls suggest that the current map looks a lot like it did in 2004. Of course, we'll be interested to see new polling in the Mountain West states of Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.
*** "She's the biggest celebrity in the world…": There were several stories lost in yesterday's "lipstick on a pig" faux controversy. But perhaps the biggest one was this piece of good news for the McCain camp: 23,000 people came out yesterday at a McCain-Palin rally in Fairfax, VA, an area of the state Obama is likely to carry in November by a good margin. Would anyone have ever imagined a month ago that McCain would be able to draw a crowd that big? It's worth pointing out that today is McCain's first day of public appearances without Palin since the pick. Today is also interview day -- and it did not go unnoticed that McCain camp's two main message managers, Steve Schmidt and Nicolle Wallace, are with Palin and not McCain, even though it's McCain who is live on air for an hour tonight in back-to-back appearances with Obama. Clearly, the McCain camp is taking this ABC interview, which will air a bit today and mostly on Friday, very seriously.
*** Investigate this: Of course, with those energized crowds and polls suggesting that Palin has been a boon to McCain, it's worth noting all the potentially damaging stories out there about the Alaska governor. Just glancing at today's papers, there's a Wall Street Journal piece on an informal ethics adviser telling Palin -- before she became McCain's running mate -- to apologize for her firing of the state's public safety commissioner Walt Monegan; a CNN report of a judge warning Palin 2005 against trying to fire her then brother-in-law; and a Bloomberg article noting that Palin seems to have participated in the kind of business as usual and cronyism that she and McCain now rail against (in Alaska, she approved a state job for a friend and investment partner; she hired a former lobbyist for a pipeline company to oversee a deal involving that very company; and she named a police chief accused of sexual harassment to head the state police). Will any of these stories have legs, though? She appears, for now, to have developed a coat of Teflon. And if the Obama campaign decides it's better off starting to ignore and won't attempt to amplify any of these stories, that Teflon coating may never wash away.
*** Say goodbye to 60? We forgot to mention this earlier, but it seems like the Palin pick alone might help the GOP prevent the Democrats from reaching 60 Senate seats. To get to that number, Democrats not only have to win contests in Colorado, Alaska, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia -- but also in places like Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and or even an Oklahoma. Yet according to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, Palin seems to have especially helped McCain in the South, which could aid Republicans big time in those last five Senate races. Also, a new GOP poll shows embattled Ted Stevens up two points in Alaska (although his fate will more likely be decided in court). In short, Palin -- at least for now -- might have made it more difficult for Dems to net nine seats this fall to gain a filibuster-proof majority. Instead, it looks like the realistic pickup will be in the range of 4-6 seats. By the way, on the House side, Republicans may also be able to keep their losses to single digits just on base enthusiasm for Palin. Much of the battleground is in Republican territory and if the base isn't depressed anymore, it's probably the difference between losing 20 more House seats this cycle and 8-10.
*** Just askin': Is it eating at Biden that he's not the VP candidate everyone is talking about?
*** On the trail: McCain attends a ceremony for Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA before going to New York to visit Ground Zero and participate in a forum on service. Obama also visits Ground Zero and participates in that forum. Biden holds a discussion with first responders in Parma, OH and will also attend the forum. And Palin, back in Alaska, speaks at a deployment ceremony for soldiers (including her son) heading to Iraq.
Countdown to the first presidential debate: 15 days
Countdown to the vice presidential debate: 21 days
Countdown to the second presidential debate 26 days
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 34 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 54 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 131 days
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