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« Oh, The Symbolism | Blog Home Page | Bruno To Retire »

Strategy Memo: Foot In Mouth

Good Tuesday morning. Has Don Imus considered some form of remedy for his frequent and embarrassing outbursts? Perhaps glue? Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate continues debate over the Housing and Economic Recovery Act, with votes on a few amendments scheduled, including a measure that would create a $300 billion mortgage rescue pool to prevent foreclosures. The House is working on other legislation, while its appropriations subcommittees go nuts trying to get their Fiscal Year 2009 plans passed. President Bush will meet with his counterparts from the Philippines and Vietnam today at the White House before congratulating NCAA winners from 2007 and 2008. This evening, he will head to McLean, Virginia, for a Republican fundraiser.

-- The story of the day will be Charlie Black, Washington uber-lobbyist, and his recent comments to Fortune Magazine suggesting that the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, twelve days before the New Hampshire primary, "helped" John McCain's campaign. Too, said Black, a terrorist attack before the election "would be a big advantage to" McCain. Black is one of a handful of loyalists, along with Rick Davis, Mark Salter and a few others, that McCain keeps as an inner circle, and some in the chattering class in Washington have suggested Black would be a well-connected choice to serve as Chief of Staff in a McCain administration.

-- Black knows what he said was wrong in a political sense: One simply does not consider the implications of a terrorist attack on a political campaign, and one certainly doesn't say that it would be a net positive for their candidate. Black apologized last night outside a McCain fundraiser in Fresno, NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy reports, saying he recognizes that McCain has stood for protecting his country over everything else through his career. A campaign official said Black had not recalled making the remarks. McCain himself sought distance from the remarks, telling reporters "I cannot imagine why he would say it," per the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan.

-- The blunder cost McCain a day of positive press, during which he once again started pushing policies that would make some more left-leaning voters proud. Offering a $300 million reward for a next-generation car battery that might promote electric or hybrid vehicles is something different that McCain could use to woo voters who drive a Prius, and who might otherwise back the Democratic candidate. But what would have been a top political story in every newspaper will be bumped to the bottom of stories about Black's comments, the subsequent apologies and distancings and the coming response from Barack Obama's camp (An Obama spokesman has only called the comments a "complete disgrace," per Aigner-Treworgy; 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste has a morning conference call on the topic to push it to a two-day story).

-- Black, in the end, said something dumb. But he's got an underlying, and less crass, point: For all the issues on which voters trust Democrats more than Republicans, the ability to protect the country from terrorists and the war on terror are two areas in which the GOP still does alright. In fact, many polls still show more voters trust McCain to handle the war in Iraq, which, he will no doubt make the case, are all interrelated. Too, McCain beats Obama when people are asked who they trust most on the war on terror by a wide 53%-39% margin, as The Fix noted late yesterday. Republicans want the issue of terrorism and security to be at the forefront, and the comment was simply, staggeringly inartful.

-- Meanwhile, Obama, who has taken significant steps towards wooing evangelical voters, will come in for criticism today on James Dobson's Focus on the Family radio show, just days after top religious outreach aide Joshua DuBois asked for a meeting at Dobson's Colorado Springs compound during the Democratic National Convention in Denver. "I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson says in the 18-minute diatribe, per an advance copy provided to the Associated Press. "He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter." Some evangelicals might be intrigued by the silver-tongued Democratic candidate, but with condemnation from Dobson, a handful have just ruled out voting for him forever.

-- Obama will soon launch the Joshua Generation Project to target young evangelicals over issues like climate change, Darfur and others on which they agree, rather than on the subject of abortion, on which they do not. Whether evangelical voters go for Obama could answer two questions about the future of a voting bloc that has been solidly Republican for decades. First, does abortion move votes anymore, or is it losing its potency as an issue? And second, if Dobson proves less relevant this year than in previous cycles, will the evangelical community, like the African American community, begin to assess whether they are witnessing a generational change in leadership? Keep an eye on Obama's evangelical outreach projects.

-- Awkward Moment Of The Day: What will vice presidential hopefuls go through even before they make the final cut? One Washington lawyer had to ask Al Gore if he had any infidelity in his past, while another asked former Florida Senator Bob Graham's wife about rumors of Graham's adultery (A fiction from a bit part in a Jimmy Buffett video), as Bloomberg writes today. The process cost Geraldine Ferraro $50,000, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton's grade school teachers were grilled about his past in 1988 and 1992. Ridiculous? Probably a little bit. But if you want the second most powerful job in the world, you should be ready for it.

-- Today On The Trail: John McCain spends his second day in the Golden State today, with an early-morning environmental briefing at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Obama, who spent yesterday in Albuquerque, will be in another Mountain West swing state today when he stops in Las Vegas for a chat on energy, at which it's wise to assume he will make more news on storage of nuclear material at Yucca Mountain, a critical issue to Nevada voters. Obama doesn't have to bring it up; he can count on one of the audience members or some reporter raising it for him.