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« WH Race Messes With Primaries | Blog Home Page | TX GOP Gets Their Guy »

Morning Thoughts: Outrage, Apologize, Repeat

Good Wednesday morning. The Olympic torch makes its only stop in the U.S. today as it passes through San Francisco, where actor Richard Gere and hundreds of other pro-Tibet activists will protest the Olympic Games. Hillary Clinton has called for the President to boycott the opening ceremonies in Beijing, while Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, of Michigan, went a step farther and offered a bill that would have made any government official's attendance at the event illegal. Aside from Olympic headaches, here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate meets this morning to continue roll call votes and discussion surrounding housing legislation, while the House will pass a series of resolutions renaming post offices, welcoming Pope Benedict XVI ahead of his inaugural visit to the U.S. next week and commending the Department of Homeland Security on its fifth anniversary. The House Administration Committee will take up the issue of presidential primaries and will hear from elections administrators from around the country as well as radio host Tom Joyner and NAACP National Voter Fund chief Greg Moore. President Bush plants a ceremonial tree on the White House lawn today, then meets with the Senior Minister of Sinapore this afternoon.

-- General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the two top officials in Iraq, will give their thoughts to Congress' lower chamber today, meeting with the House Armed Services Committee at 9 a.m. and with the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 1:30 p.m. Yesterday's testimony to two Senate committees and three presidential candidates left some senators frustrated at what they saw as a lack of a clear set of goals. "I think people want a sense of what the end is going to look like," said Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, a Republican and no softy on Iraq, as the Washington Post writes. All three candidates asked harsh questions, though John McCain projected the most optimistic outlook, saying the country is "no longer staring into the abyss of defeat." Still, McCain was not the outright cheerleader that some expected, leaving that job to top supporters like South Carolina's Lindsey Graham.

-- Today's hearings will generate less coverage and fewer photographers, who swarmed McCain, Clinton and Barack Obama as they entered their respective hearing rooms yesterday, and the three senators are back out on the campaign trail. All three contenders had good days yesteryday -- despite worries, and thanks to a pass from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, Obama got to ask questions before the nightly newscasts, while McCain's position as ranking member on Armed Services gave him an opening statement. Clinton made little news and had to share her spotlight with McCain, but she asked serious questions that drove home points she wanted to make, and perhaps most importantly, she didn't lose anything.

-- As the three senators were doing their day jobs, their campaigns continued to battle behind the scenes, and John McCain's team has found a new way to counteract what might be one of Obama's biggest strength: The appropriations process. Any time a surrogate brings up some touchy issue in Obama's past, his campaign screams bloody murder and demands an apology. Now, when West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller suggested that McCain did not care about the lives of people he fought against in Vietnam and in current wars, a comment Rockefeller made to a Charleston newspaper, it's the McCain campaign's turn to fight back. Lately, they're doing so exactly as Obama has, by turning the surrogate's words (Rockefeller backs Obama) against the opponent.

-- The progression is a familiar formula: Rockefeller made his comments in Tuesday's Charleston Gazette. McCain's campaign hit back with a surrogate of their own, fellow former prisoner of war Orson Swindle, demanding an apology. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Obama "has a deep respect" for McCain's service and disagreed with Rockefeller's comments. Then, McCain campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds says that apology isn't enough, as CNN reports. Criticizing Obama's unwillingness to repudiate the comments himself, Bounds pointed to what he said is a pattern: "It's a trend that undermines Barack Obama's credibility when he makes calls for a 'new' more 'accountable' debate," he said.

-- That's what both candidates' "new politics" could look like: Second verse, same as the first. But for McCain, it could be effective. Obama has successfully avoided serious questions about his past be feigning outrage, and now both candidates are playing the victim. Earlier this primary season, in a debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, Clinton, asked how she feels about constant criticism, jokingly said it hurt her feelings, a moment many though contributed to her Granite State comeback. Perhaps the winner in November will not be the candidate who can take the most offense to any off-hand remark by a rival's supporter, but the candidate who can laugh it off. After all, isn't everyone trying to project strength?

-- Clinton and Obama still have to figure out who's going to face McCain in November, though, and it is becoming increasingly clear that Obama wants to finish the race with a knockout punch. Pennsylvania, once ground zero for the presidential campaign, then ignored, is again the epicenter, no matter how hard Obama's team tries to spin the results. Obama is dropping $2.2 million a week on Pennsylvania television spots, which political experts in the Keystone State call unprecedented, according to the Boston Globe's Sasha Issenberg. "Nobody has ever spent 2.2 million in this state: not Rendell, not Specter, not Casey, not Santorum, not Bush, not Kerry," media consultant Neil Oxman, unaffiliated in the race, told Issenberg.

-- Make no mistake that Obama, down seven points in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average, wants to win the state, a result that would all but force Clinton out of the race. But with actual effort comes a price: Clinton is still ahead, and still enjoys the institutional advantages that the state's governor and the mayors of the two largest cities -- both Clinton backers -- bring to her campaign. If she wins the state, it will be seen as a big win, a perception that will grow as Obama spends more time and money in the state. Still, the risk could be worth the reward: Win here, and Obama gets his clear shot at McCain.

-- Big Think Of The Day: The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib takes an in-depth look today at states all three candidates could put into play. McCain aides think he has a chance in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and perhaps even New Jersey, all blue states. Obama can take back Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, advisers say, and given a massive African American turnout could pick up Virginia and, dare they dream, even southern states that will not vote for another Democrat for a generation. Clinton's credentials with blue collar workers would help her in Missouri, New Hampshire and three key swing states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. The bottom line: The map of red and blue states this year will look so vastly different from any other contest that no political scientist is going to understand it in a generation, all because more states are in play than have been for a long time.

-- Today On The Trail: Clinton holds a town hall meeting in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania before heading to New York, where she will join Elton John for a fundraiser concert. Obama has town halls planned for Malvern and Levittown, then he will head to South Bend, Indiana, for a rally. McCain is in Westport, Connecticut, where he will have a town hall meeting.