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Strategy Memo: Bold Move

Good Friday morning. This could be the final weekend in Washington in which a gun ban is in effect. Watch for a crucial Supreme Court ruling to come down on Monday. Here's what else Washington is watching:

-- The Senate debates a housing and economic recovery bill this morning, though no roll call votes are scheduled for today. The House will take up legislation dealing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, on which both parties have reached an agreement, a deal sure to make base Democrats furious. Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan testifies this morning before the House Judiciary Committee about the leaking of former CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the media. McClellan's old boss, President Bush, will attend fundraisers for Republican Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, brothers who represent south Florida districts, as well as for Charlotte Mayor and North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory.

-- Yesterday was a big day on the campaign trail, but no bigger news emerged than that of Barack Obama opting out of the public financing system, via a video sent to campaign supporters. The move, which surprised approximately no one, will mean Obama will have as much money as he can spend between the conventions and November, and strategists and experts say that number could range from $200 to $300 million. That's a lot more than the $84.1 million John McCain will get through the public system, even when the Republican National Committee's big lead over its Democratic counterpart is thrown in. There is little doubt that Obama will raise and spend more than any candidate in history -- in fact, he could break the money raised record as early as this month.

-- As we say, the move was expected, and had the campaign not opted out of public financing, outside observers would have called it political malpractice. To have turned down the money would be akin to picking a Volkswagen Bug over a Porsche. And the Bug doesn't have A/C. Still, John McCain can, and will, make an issue out of the fact that Obama is not participating in the system. How is this the new kind of politics, the Republican will ask, if it's just injecting more money into the campaign? Too, Obama once agreed -- in writing -- to opt into the system, a decision he's now gone back on. McCain should have a field day, but it's probably one he'd gladly give up in exchange for an equal financial arsenal.

-- What does the move tell us about Obama himself? Couple it with a much softer tone on NAFTA (He now says he won't push for renegotiations, making economic adviser Austan Goolsbee look clairvoyant), his campaign's refusal to participate in McCain's joint town hall meetings and the daily back-and-forth with the Republican over every issue under the sun, including when Obama attacks first, as he does in many cases, and it paints a picture of an average politician rather than someone sent to change the system. He's capable of raising huge sums of money, so he will. He can use an issue to his advantage, so he will. But it's hard to make the argument that, no matter how good at raising money one is, by opting out of public financing, it makes the idea of change a difficult one to swallow.

-- One more observation on the money: The, well, audacity of it all. Break a campaign promise before the campaign is over, and the campaign takes not the defensive posture one might expect, but an offensive position, attacking McCain for the involvement of 527 groups (Which, legally, he has no control over and cannot communicate with) and the Republican National Committee. Too, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe is actually fundraising off the decision! "To compete, Barack has put his faith in ordinary people giving only what they can afford," Plouffe wrote in a fundraising email seeking 50,000 new donors by July 4. (Donors can even exchange an email with a fellow donor who will match their support. What is this, a dating service?) Give the Obama campaign credit: They had a plan, and they executed it.

-- A lot of money can make people go a little crazy, and the Obama team may have showed off some overly ambitious skin on the same day they opted out of public financing. The campaign's first general election ad will run in 18 states, the campaign says (Though an initial email lists 17), and if John McCain is in trouble in some of these historically deeply red states, this campaign is all but over. Obama will run "Country I Love" in Republican territory like Alaska, Georgia, Indiana and North Dakota, all states that gave President Bush double-digit wins in 2004. Obama's not going to win those states, but this is the part of the campaign where strategists throw everything at the wall to see what sticks.

-- Finally today, did McCain divert resources from Iowa flood zones even though he knew it would happen? A top aide to Hawkeye State Governor Chet Culver, chief of staff Patrick Dillon, says his office warned the McCain campaign that to tour the area would require manpower to provide security, manpower that was needed hoisting sandbags into place. But McCain went ahead with a visit yesterday anyway, with state campaign chairman David Roederer saying the campaign provided much of its own security. Meanwhile, hundreds of law enforcement personnel were diverted to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City to provide security for President Bush's visit, the Associated Press reported today.

-- Sub Of The Day: No one could ever replace Tim Russert on Meet The Press, but NBC has tapped a substitute for the moment. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will sit down with South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Delaware Senator Joe Biden on Sunday, Washington Post's Howard Kurtz writes. The longtime friend of Russert could anchor through the election and still do the news -- something Kurtz points out CBS's Bob Schieffer did for a year and a half -- but that Williams is unlikely to be the permanent host.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Chicago, where he will meet with Democratic governors for a conversation about the economy this morning. Later, Obama will be in Florida for a Jacksonville press conference, ahead of other planned events. McCain will deliver a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto at a chateau in Ottawa before meeting the media afterwards. McCain is visiting the neighbors to the north to pitch his support for free trade.