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Strategy Memo: Clean Bill

Good Friday morning. If you happen to be on a flight to Phoenix today, you'll probably be sitting next to a governor making his way to Sedona, Arizona. If you do, tell him not to be nervous. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate begin a week of recess today to observe the Memorial Day holiday, but they didn't leave empty-handed. Before breaking, the chambers passed most of the farm bill, dealt with the emergency supplemental (final negotiations coming soon) and made headway on a bill to provide veterans with new education benefits. At the White House, President Bush will make more remarks on World Trade Week before heading off to Camp David, while Attorney General Mike Mukasey gives the commencement address at Boston College Law School.

-- After the Rev. Jeremiah Wright buffeted Barack Obama for months, pressure mounted on John McCain to do something about his own pastor problem. McCain scored a coup during the GOP primary by earning support from Texas Pastor John Hagee, but now the two are through. Hagee has made controversial comments in the past, from insulting the Catholic Church, as CNN writes, to insinuating the Holocaust was part of God's plan, as Bloomberg reports. After the comments came to light, McCain rejected Hagee's endorsement and that of another controversial religious figure, Minister Rod Parsley, who had insulted Islam.

-- Yesterday, the New York Times spent time detailing the story of some Florida Jewish voters who don't think Obama is serious enough about Israel's security. Is it fair to assume that there's something deeper to their worries if they consider voting against Obama and for a candidate who had been backed by a minister who said Hitler was doing God's work? But McCain has always had a longer record on foreign policy than Obama, giving him many more opportunities to describe his support of Israel. Too, we wonder, is this part of the generational divide that will play a big role in this campaign? The older but wiser candidate for them, perhaps?

-- An emerging trend: Every candidate has their weaknesses, and one of McCain's could be bubbling to the surface. Obama's weakness, over the past year or so, has been the continuing trend of throwing staff members under the bus when embarrassing questionnaires emerge or questions arise (fourteen times since becoming a presidential candidate). On the other side, when staff ties to lobbyists began to embarrass the campaign, McCain instituted a conflict-of-interest policy that some supporters and advisers grumbled went too far. When the pastor problem emerged, McCain nixed support from two backers on the same day. Does the candidate have a tendency to overreact? Keep an eye on those developments.

-- One more emerging trend: Even as gas prices surge and the economy tanks, Obama has yet to seriously shift the debate to pocketbook issues. Instead, McCain has driven the debate toward the war in Iraq, the war on terror and foreign affairs involving Hamas, Iran and other countries. Obama's team thinks they can win on those arguments, and that's all well and good. But McCain is driving the debate, and that's not where Obama's campaign needs to be. If they want to argue about Iraq, or Iran, or, for that matter, gas prices and the economy, they need to start the argument and pick the fight. If not, they will have little control over the course of the campaign, and that's going to hurt come November.

-- Iraq, too, could prove a worse issue for Barack Obama than he thinks. During confirmation hearings yesterday, soon-to-be CentCom chief David Petraeus said he expects to recommend further troop withdrawals from Iraq this Fall. Could that possibly come at a better time for McCain? The chief legislative champion of the surge strategy will, just weeks before a crucial Election Day, be able to point to Petraeus's recommendation and argue that only he was correct, as The Hill writes this morning. Even better for McCain, Petraeus's recommendations are like a get-out-of-jail-free card he can use to pivot away from any other issue that might be hurting him.

-- McCain isn't the only one preparing for the general election. Obama has begun the vice presidential vetting process, to be headed by Washington Uber-Democrat Jim Johnson, is preparing to install aide Paul Tewes at the Democratic National Committee, and is in the middle of a three-day trip through swing-state Florida, as the Los Angeles Times writes. Next week, Obama is headed to purple states west of the Rockies, with stops planned for New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, TPM's Greg Sargent writes. He can't, or won't, say it, but so much for Hillary Clinton's chances, Obama's looking completely to November.

-- But in what may prove to be a gaffe, Obama decided to launch a broadside at McCain from the Senate floor yesterday, a no-no akin to, but not as dramatic as, President Bush's shots at Obama from a foreign country. Speaking on behalf of a bill that would boost education funding for veterans, Obama said he respects McCain's service, but "I can't understand why he would line up behind the president in opposition to this GI Bill. I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans. I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue." McCain issued a biting response, calling Obama's comments "typical, but no less offensive." Jonathan Martin has the exchange, which has opened a new front in the bitter feud the two will take to November.

-- Story Of The Day: Fair or not, John McCain is going to have to answer questions about whether he is too old to serve. In newly released medical files, McCain took major steps toward achieving that goal. The Associated Press got an advanced look at 1,173 pages of records the campaign will release to a select group of journalists today. The conclusion: McCain is cancer-free, has a strong heart and will probably not show any new symptoms from his experience in Vietnam. Still, these aren't the last records McCain will have to divulge, especially not when he's forced to run against a 46-year-old who plays basketball with the University of North Carolina team.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama begins the day at a Cuba Independence Day celebration in Miami before rallying in Sunrise, Florida. Clinton has events focusing on the economy scheduled for Brandon (population 5,600) and Brookings (population 18,500, the fifth-largest city in the state), South Dakota. McCain begins meeting with vice presidential prospects today in an informal get-together at his Sedona, Arizona ranch.