From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Nine days later: Nine days after the public got a true sense of the urgency of this financial crisis, President Bush finally addressed the American people last night -- thanks mostly to the fact that the public (through Congress) was sending the message to the Administration and Hank Paulson that it didn't like this plan and didn't understand it. Last night's speech was a sobering one. It was the first time ever in Bush's presidency when he delivered bad economic news. It's not in his nature to talk down the economy, which is what made last night's speech so historic (and yet potentially ineffective). Will the public believe Bush's pleas on this? Of course, it's possible the audience for last night's speech wasn't the American people as much as it was the House and Senate Republican caucuses. Bush needed to actively engage his fellow party members in explaining why he -- himself a free marketer -- believes this to be the only answer. The one thing missing last night in his speech: the emphasis to the American people that this was a shared problem and the solution wasn't just money but potentially changing our own lifestyles.
*** McCain's only choice: As for McCain's campaign suspension and proposal to postpone the debate until this bailout plan is negotiated and passed, he had no choice but to do this. Yes, he's going to get criticized for making what may look like a VERY political decision. Obama partisans are going to mock him for wanting to duck a debate and wanting to stop his falling poll numbers in the face of what's been 10 bad days for his campaign. But McCain is the head of a Republican Party that is already viewed negatively by the American people. What price would McCain pay if members of his own party ended up being responsible for killing this bailout plan? While McCain likes to say he's never been awarded Mr. Congeniality in his dealings on Capitol Hill, there are two Republican caucuses whose future statuses as strong or weak minority parties depend on a strong McCain-Palin showing in November. Could McCain afford carrying the baggage of being the head of the party that 1) was led by Bush and 2) turned its back on a financial bailout plan that if not enacted could do things like bring about a recession even more rapidly?
*** More guerilla warfare: McCain's campaign has been remarkable in its ability to -- in the words of NBCs Tom Brokaw -- engage in guerilla political tactics, which allow him to win political battles that on paper he shouldn't be winning. And this debate gambit is the latest example of this (following his town hall challenge the day after Obama clinched the Dem nomination, and even his pick of Sarah Palin). But while McCain has proven adept at winning these battles, can he ultimately win the war? By the way, look for McCain today to declare victory with the Bush decision to bring together McCain and Obama at the White House and then agree to let the debates go on as planned. This does seem to be a game of political chicken. Obama so far has indicated he's not going to blink. Neither has the Commission. And neither has the University of Mississippi. Will McCain?
*** McCain's economic and Palin problems: Here's a political reason why McCain called to postpone the debate and essentially ask for a timeout in the campaign: The latest NBC/WSJ poll -- which has Obama leading overall by just two points, 48%-46% (Obama's up five among very high interest voters) -- shows Obama with a 12-point advantage over McCain in handling the economy. And a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll -- which also has Obama up two among registered voters and four among likelies -- finds Obama with a 14-point edge on the economy. In addition, Palin, who two weeks ago was seen as a shot in the arm for McCain, has now potentially turned into a liability. Per the NBC/WSJ poll, 49% say she's unqualified to be president if the need arises, versus just 40% who say she's qualified. (By comparison, 64% say Biden is qualified.) NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) says that when you add that to concerns about McCain's age (44% say they worry about McCain being able to serve for four years), that becomes a "lethal" problem for the McCain campaign. We've regularly asked a question in our poll about who is the riskier choice for president, Obama or McCain. Not surprisingly Obama has been viewed as the riskier choice by about 10-15 points. Has McCain now inserted his own risk into the campaign when you combine age and Palin's experience? By the way, one in four McCain-Palin voters believe she does not have the experience to be president.
*** Obama's Indie problem: The NBC/WSJ poll, however, also shows that Obama has an indie problem. McCain leads him here by 14 points, up six from earlier this month. Moreover, Obama has just a 39%-35% fav/unfav among independents, which is down considerably from his 48%-36% overall favorability score. And while voters say they identify with Obama's values and background by a 50%-44% margin, those numbers are essentially reversed among independents. Hart says that if Obama ends up losing the presidential election, you can attribute it to the indie problem -- particularly the values and background question. Just to let you know that these independents in the poll don't lean Republican, they prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by 14 points (43%-29%).
*** McCain's need for speed: McCain was always seen as having a good chance at appealing to indies, and with anger and frustration at the government and other institutions at an all-time high, it's possible McCain's benefiting from his "I'm mad as hell" attitude about government. CW says the more optimistic candidate usually wins election, but with a country tired of hearing all of the optimistic talk they got about the economy from the Bush Administration over the last four years, it may be they are looking for not just a straight-talking candidate, but one who channels their frustration. McCain's best political moments in his career are when he shows indignation. As Peggy Noonan said today on "Morning Joe," McCain's got two speeds, 0 and 60. And while calm, cool, collected isn't McCain, like a good fighter pilot, McCain has the need for speed and for needing to always be dealing with a crisis. Lucky for him, there appear to be a lot of crises ahead for the next president.
*** Versus Obama's cool: That said, don't miss yet ANOTHER very important number in the NBC/WSJ poll: A majority of voters agree that Obama could handle a military crisis well as president. Could it be his calm, cool demeanor that's been on display these last 10 days on the economy has helped on the leadership front overall when compared to McCain? Something to watch for in future polls. The New York Times' Gail Collins put it well this morning: "This election is turning into a Goldilocks story. One candidate's too hot, and one's too cool.
*** Tied in Michigan: The latest TODAY Show/NBC/Mason-Dixon poll shows McCain and Obama tied at 46% each in the battleground state of Michigan. Per Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker, McCain is leading in the traditionally GOP regions of Western and Northern Michigan -- but is also holding his own in the Detroit suburbs (Oakland County, Macomb County, and western Wayne County), which is cutting into Obama's margin in the Detroit Metro region. To win, Obama needs to run up a big margin in the Detroit Metro area, which means performing well in those suburbs. That said, a new CNN/Time poll has Obama up by five in Michigan among registered voters (51%-44%), and a new EPIC/MRA poll has Obama up 10 (48%-38%).
*** On the trail: McCain speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, then travels to Washington to meet with President Bush. Obama remains in Florida for debate prep, but addresses the Clinton Global Initiative via satellite and then heads to DC to meet with Bush and congressional leaders. Palin attends the Clinton Global Initiative. And Biden is in Pennsylvania, stumping in Greensburg and Wilkes-Barre.
Countdown to the first presidential debate: 1 day
Countdown to the vice presidential debate: 9 days
Countdown to the second presidential debate 12 days
Countdown to the third presidential debate: 20 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 40 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 117 days
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