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Blog Home Page --> July 2008

NV 03: Titus Leads

Democrats have a good shot to pick up a seat in suburban Las Vegas, a new poll shows, as former gubernatorial candidate Dina Titus boasts a small but significant lead over Republican incumbent Jon Porter in one of the fastest-changing districts in the country.

The poll, conducted for Titus' campaign by Anzalone Liszt Research, surveyed 500 likely voters between 7/23-28 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Porter, Titus and three third-party candidates were tested among a sample that was evenly divided, with 42% registration for each party and 16% independents.

General Election Matchup
Titus....................43
Porter..................39
Other...................10

Titus....................50
Porter..................43

Generic Dem.......43
Generic GOPer...43

Titus, who won the district when she ran for governor in 2006, has higher job approval ratings than Porter within the district. As a state senator, voters give her a 56% positive rating, while 32% view her negatively; Porter is seen positively by 50% and 41% say they see him in a negative light. Still, the generic ballot question, which shows district residents split between the parties, is a good sign for Porter.

The three additional candidates include a Green Party dentist, a Libertarian teacher and an insurance agency owner representing the Independent American Party -- an offshoot of George Wallace's American Independent Party -- take votes from both candidates, but they're not likely to end up with the ten points they show in Titus' poll. In 2006, two third-party candidates took nearly 5% combined, as Porter won with 48.5%.

Porter, running for his fourth term, has to introduce himself to more voters than most incumbents. His Henderson-based district grew by 32% from 2000 to 2005, according to the Almanac of American Politics, making it the third-fastest growing district in the country, behind two Arizona seats.

WA: Gregoire +2

No one is shocked by a poll showing a close race between Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, and former Republican State Senator Dino Rossi. After a 130-vote win in 2006, Gregoire is facing another tough challenge from Rossi.

The Strategic Vision survey was conducted 7/25-27 among 800 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Gregoire and Rossi were tested.

General Election Matchup
Gregoire.......47
Rossi............45

Obama..........48
McCain..........37

After such a contentious race four years ago, the Evergreen State is closely divided between the two candidates. 48% approve of Gregoire's performance as governor while 45% disapprove, and though Gregoire has generally gotten good reviews from local media, she may run into trouble as the incumbent, as just 26% say the state of Washington is headed in the right direction, while 65% say it's going in the wrong direction.

Strategy Memo: Mud Slingers

Good Thursday morning. If you're looking to make a trade, may we suggest you do so before today's 4 p.m. Eastern Time MLB deadline? Clearing anything through waivers is tough. Then again, when your team is 27 games back, it's always stressful to watch the vultures circle. Here's what Washington, a mere 20 games out of first, is watching today:

-- The Senate failed to pass a journalist shield yesterday as Republicans continue to block measures brought up before new energy exploration and production measures are considered. Today, Democrats will bring up the Defense Authorization bill, testing Republicans and trying once again to muster the sixty votes necessary to cut off debate. Roll call votes on two conference reports are also expected. The House takes up higher education overhaul. The big item on President Bush's agenda is a trip to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where he will address the West Virginia Coal Association.

-- Forget vice presidential selections, everyone was distracted yesterday by the flying fur coming out of an all-out brawl between the two candidates. Barack Obama, John McCain's new advertisement says, is the "biggest celebrity," but that doesn't make him ready to lead. Meanwhile, McCain, per Obama's response ad, is engaged in the same "old politics." For two candidates who claimed, and are assumed to be, post-partisan, the presidential race has gotten ugly in a hurry.

-- Voters will tell pollsters they don't like negative advertisements, and the media takes the chance to be holier than the candidates (Not hard by the end of a good race). But if negative advertisements didn't work, political pros would know that, and would avoid them. The dirty little secret is that negative advertisements work, and they work well. Candidates have to avoid being labeled as whiny, avoid being caught in a lie or misstatement within those negative ads and avoid a tone that's overly harsh. Complaining about your opponent's negative ad is completely acceptable, even as you rush an even harsher response into production.

-- Remember those stories of disgruntled Hillary Clinton backers who were sure to vote McCain rather than support the guy who beat Clinton in the primaries? Well it may be those Republicans who just might not like John McCain who have a bigger impact this year. Obama has opportunities among Republican voters, the New York Times' Patrick Healy writes. It's not that any more Republicans are flocking to Obama just yet, but a significant number remain undecided on their own party's candidate. If more Republicans than normal do cast ballots for Obama, though, one can blame President Bush. Why? Just see Obama's response ad, above, which shows Bush and McCain together and ties them as the "same."

-- McCain has had his moments on the trail, but frequently he'll step on them with an inartful aside to a reporter just hours later, the Post's Eilperin and Barnes write today. That's one big difference between the two candidates: Obama's discipline of message and McCain's lack thereof. The media loved McCain for opening his arms to reporters as often as possible. But as McCain goofs (Obama's Iraq plan a "pretty good timetable" being the latest), his proximity to the media starts to hurt more than it helps.

-- Meanwhile, Republicans are looking for new ways to rebrand themselves and win, and one guy with a lot of buzz at the moment has a catchy phrase: Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty wants to govern like Sam's Club, providing what he characterizes as value at a low cost, he told a luncheon gathering of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Chicago yesterday, per The Swamp's Rick Pearson (Perhaps not coincidentally, the gathering was sponsored by Sam's Club parent Wal-Mart). Focusing on health care and energy, Pawlenty only raised his profile.

-- But McCain hasn't tied the knot with Pawlenty just yet, and no matter which vice presidential candidate he picks, Democrats will be ready, the New York Sun writes this morning. Whether it's Mitt Romney, the flip-flopper, or former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the job-cutting CEO, Democrats from South Capitol Street to Chicago have their talking points all ready to go (One Obama spokesman who chatted with Politics Nation this week showed off his knowledge of Pawlenty's gas tax veto that would have provided more money for infrastructure, just weeks before a tragic bridge collapse). Expect Republicans to have similar dossiers on the possible Democratic candidates.

-- Truth Of The Day: Hillary Clinton will address the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday night, USA Today and others report this morning. There's a clear schedule to these prime-time speaking slots for both parties: Monday it's the incumbent president or major party figure (Think a member of the Kennedy clan for Democrats this year). Tuesday it's a philosopher and the keynote (Where Obama and Bill Clinton once shone). Wednesday, the vice presidential nominee dominates the stage, and Thursday it's the presidential contender's turn. Putting Clinton on a Tuesday confirms what most already know, that she's not likely to be the vice presidential nominee.

-- Today On The Trail: Both candidates have just one event today, with Obama stopping by an economic security town hall in Cedar Rapids. McCain is farther north, holding a town hall with voters in Racine, Wisconsin.

To Be Young And In Trouble

While he's not under indictment like Ted Stevens, Republican Rep. Don Young faces the fight of his political life as well, a new poll from a Democratic firm shows.

The Hays Research Survey was conducted 7/24-25 among 404 Alaska adults for a margin of +/- 4.9%, including a subsample of 175 self-identified Republicans for a margin of error of +/- 7.4%. Young, Republican primary opponent Sean Parnell and former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, a Democrat, were tested in the House race.

General Election Matchup
Berkowitz.........33
Parnell...............30

Primary Election Matchup
Parnell...............46
Young...............42

A sample size of 175 is too small to use for drawing conclusions, but many Alaska Republicans and independent political observers think Young is in more danger of losing his primary than Stevens, as I wrote a few weeks back. Young's opponent, Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, is associated with the state's most popular politician, Governor Sarah Palin, and is seen as an outsider to the scandal-plagued Republican Party.

MI 13: Kilpatrick In Jeopardy

A new poll suggests Detroit Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick could face serious trouble in her August 5 primary, thanks at least in part to a scandal involving her son, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

The survey, conducted by Michigan-based EPIC-MRA from 7/27-28, surveyed 400 likely Democratic primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Kilpatrick, State Senator Martha Scott and ex-State Rep. Mary Waters were tested.

General Election Matchup
Kilpatrick........33
Waters...........29
Scott..............24

Her troubles stem largely from the Mayor, whose involvement in a scandal that includes an alleged cover-up of a now-very public affair with his former chief of staff has sent his favorable rating plummeting. Just 22% of voters in the district, which covers about half of Detroit, view Kwame Kilpatrick favorably, while 67% see him unfavorably.

That could explain why Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick's favorable rating is an anemic 45% favorable to 41% unfavorable. Both Scott and Waters have favorable numbers in the mid-40s, while their unfavorables are much lower.

Strategy Memo: Mythbusters

Good Wednesday morning. As Brett Favre files for reinstatement in the NFL, we have to wonder, isn't that a little like picking Bob Graham, or even the oft-mentioned Sam Nunn, as a vice presidential hopeful? Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate takes up a media shield law and will attempt an early cloture vote this morning. Next, the upper chamber will take up a multi-part bill that deals with jobs, energy and disaster relief. Republicans in the Senate have been holding up votes on any measure that is not energy-related, and it remains to be seen how much Democrats can actually get done this week. The House is considering other bills today. President Bush has a Cabinet meeting scheduled for today before signing a bill to reduce tuberculosis and malaria around the globe.

-- Despite our excitement yesterday, no vice presidential selections were forthcoming, and frankly, we're not surprised. Getting everyone all amped up for nothing is a habit of campaign flacks. Still, it's interesting to hear that Virginia Governor Tim Kaine canceled an appearance at a Baltimore fundraiser, per PolitickerMD. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley are still slated to show up at the event benefiting the state Democratic Party, but the guy on the extraordinarily short list has pulled out.

-- That anything would be decided yesterday was a giant, and frustrating, myth. Then again, this campaign, with its preponderance of echo-chamber blogs, cable news networks and pundits, has been a series of myths that should be dismissed if people think about it. Let's take a moment to dispel some of those myths:

-- Nothing will happen during the Olympics. One network will spread coverage over 3,600 hours on five or six stations, all but one of them on cable. But no one cares about the badminton finals (Is badminton still an Olympic sport?), and even with MSNBC out of commission, Fox News and CNN will be looking for even more political news. News will not cease to exist for three weeks, and as Time's Mark Halperin points out, any presidential news will get some automatic sports metaphor tie-in. Barack Obama will probably be on vacation for a brief period of time during the Olympics, and John McCain could take a few days off as well, but news will by no means be canceled.

-- The electoral map will seriously change this year. Obama and McCain are focusing on the same seventeen or so states that every presidential contender does over the past few decades. McCain, in the course of a Western swing, has hit Colorado twice in four days; Obama keeps going back to Michigan; and today both candidates will be in Missouri for fundraising and campaigning, as the Kansas City Star crows. McCain is spending some time in California, but it's only for fundraising, and Obama is making a real play for Virginia at the moment. Then again, that could change as the race opens up.

-- McCain will lose because he's a Republican. Yes, the Republican brand is terrible this year, and having the longest-serving elected official in the party get indicted on seven criminal counts is no aid to the brand. In fact, Ted Stevens' indictment could be a big setback for down-ballot Republicans, the Post's Paul Kane and Chris Cillizza write. But McCain is not a typical Republican, no matter which way either campaign tries to portray his record; to independent voters, it's not about the votes McCain has taken, it's about their image of him as a maverick. McCain, almost alone, can still win with an "R" after his name.

-- Barack Obama is running away with the race. The media coverage is obsessive, and the candidate himself says he's "become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions," per the Post's Jonathan Weisman. As the modern-day Icarus soars toward the sun, he'd better watch those waxy wings. 200,000 Berliners can't vote, and among the folks who can, Obama maintains a slim 2.5-point edge, per the latest RCP National Average. John McCain is by no means out of the race just yet, and there's plenty of time to go.

-- Photos Of The Day: A picture is worth a thousand words, especially if it's of John Kerry and a bunch of young drunkards. The Massachusetts Senator, facing re-election this year against only minor opposition after what could have been a top challenger couldn't muster the proper number of signaures, was on Nantucket this weekend when he ran into a fun time. His office says the Senator stopped as college-aged kids snapped photos with him, then walked away with his friends. Still, when one's photo shows up on TMZ.com, one's press flack is guaranteed to have a bad day.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Springfield, Missouri this morning for a town hall meeting on economic security. Later he'll head to the Missouri University of Science and Technology, in Rolla, for a similar event. This evening, the campaign has a barbeque planned in Union, a rural town outside of St. Louis. McCain will visit a small business in Aurora, Colorado, his second day in the state, before heading to Kansas City this evening for a fundraiser.

MI 07: Schauer Down 3

We love dueling polls. And not more than three hours after Rep. Tim Walberg put out his own poll in Michigan's Seventh District, Democratic State Senator Mark Schauer has his own poll, albeit almost three months old, ready to go.

The Myers Research & Strategic Services poll, conducted 5/8-15 for Schauer's campaign, surveyed 600 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Walberg and Schauer were tested.

General Election Matchup
Walberg..........40
Schauer..........37

The polling memo reports that just 35% of respondents say they would vote to re-elect the incumbent, while a nearly equal 33% said they prefer someone new. Walberg's job approval rating is an upside down 34% excellent or good to 42% fair to poor.

Energy, The GOP's Last Hope

GOP strategists believe energy issues favor them enough to help Senate candidates across the country, National Republican Senatorial Committee chair John Ensign said today. With the party setting expectations as low as a five to ten seat loss, Republicans are attempting to take hold of the one issue they've found recently that could move votes their way come November.

"Energy is the issue of the day in the country," Ensign told a morning conference call today, pointing to Republicans' so-called "all of the above" approach. "We are for alternative, clean, green conservation, but we're also for drilling...and most Republicans are for exploring up in Alaska as well."

Colorado, Louisiana and New Hampshire were three states where Ensign noted Republicans were closing in the polls, something he attributed to voters believing the GOP could best solve rising gas prices. Colorado has an open Republican seat; New Hampshire has one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans hoping to retain his seat; and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu is perhaps her party's only vulnerable incumbent this year. Democrats, for now, are favored in all three.

In Colorado, a Quinnipiac poll released last week showed former Rep. Bob Schaffer pulling even with Democratic Rep. Mark Udall after trailing him in most polls this year, though other surveys show Udall still has a lead.

Recent polls in Louisiana have shown Republican state Treasurer John Kennedy within just a few points of Landrieu, whom Ensign has previously mentioned as the GOP's top target.

And last week, a University of New Hampshire poll showed Senator John Sununu pulling within his closest margin of Democratic former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen this year, after surveys have shown him trailing by double digits.

"We are having a dramatic drawdown on our economy, and because of that it is critical that we solve the energy problem," Ensign said. "Republicans are on the right side of this issue and Democrats are on the wrong side," when it comes to opening up domestic energy supplies.

Also on the call, Ensign said he didn't see Republican Senate candidates skipping their party's national convention in St. Paul as an indication that they are in trouble. "The convention is a fun thing to do," Ensign said. "But when you're in a hot race, you should be back in your state campaigning. It has nothing to do with distancing themselves from the party."

Ensign made the comments the same day the Raleigh News & Observer reported that North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole would take a pass on John McCain's coronation celebration to stay home and campaign for a second term. Dole, Maine Senator Susan Collins and Alaska Senator Ted Stevens have all said they will miss the convention, as has Colorado's Schaffer.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Battling Over Battle Creek

A new poll conducted for Republican Rep. Tim Walberg shows the freshman leading his Democratic opponent by a big margin, but national Democrats have other ideas, as they've made Walberg one of their top targets.

The National Research poll, conducted 7/8-9, surveyed 300 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 5.7%. Walberg and his likely Democratic rival, State Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Walberg..........47
Schauer..........31

McCain............48
Obama.............37

Walberg beat an underfunded Democrat by just four points in 2006, and this year Schauer has a big bank account and the benefit of DCCC-funded advertising. Schauer's State Senate district also overlaps part of the congressional district, meaning voters have heard his name before.

The eleven points by which John McCain is leading Barack Obama is slightly bigger than the nine points by which President Bush won the district in 2004. Democrats are holding out hope that they can paint Walberg as just too conservative for the area.

Strategy Memo: Too Much Excitement

Good Tuesday morning. It's been Christmas Eve for political junkies for days, but the anticipation of two vice presidential picks is only getting more intense. Here's what a nervous and excited Washington is watching today:

-- The House takes up a number of minor measures that will not make waves today, while the Senate is working on an oil speculation measure that the House dealt with last week. President Bush starts his day at the White House signing two popular bills before flying to Cleveland for a tour and to make remarks at Lincoln Electric Company in Cleveland. This evening Bush will attend a fundraiser benefiting Republican Congressional candidates at a home in Gates Milles, Ohio.

-- Strategy Memo is loathe to even touch the hoopla surrounding the vice presidential contest. But this feels like the real deal, with announcements said to be pending from both candidates within mere days. Announcing before the Olympics gives the candidates a high-profile surrogate, additional coverage and the added bonus of a new and stronger fundraiser for the entire month leading up to both conventions. Holding off would build the suspense, but the earliest pick ever -- John Kerry picked John Edwards 20 days before the 2004 convention -- could help more than it hurts.

obama-kaine.jpg
Obama and Kaine at a
Virginia rally on June 5
-- On the Democratic side, all the buzz is accumulating around Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, the first state-wide elected official outside Illinois to back Barack Obama. Politico and the Washington Post rushed out breathless stories last night as associates of the former Richmond Mayor and state Lieutenant Governor told reporters that Kaine is involved in serious discussions with the Obama team over joining the ticket. Kaine brings credibility with Catholic voters, working class voters, thanks to his humble upbringing, and perhaps, most importantly to Obama's path to 270 electoral votes, credibility with Virginia voters.

-- John McCain, meanwhile, has seriously narrowed down his own vice presidential list, and most concur that two names are left. One of them, Tim Pawlenty, is one of McCain's biggest fans and cheerleaders. Another, Mitt Romney, was a McCain rival until just a few months ago but has turned into a well-spoken surrogate on the economy. NRO's Jim Geraghty reports Pawlenty made the final cut, though he's taking it with a grain of salt. Still, Pawlenty will be in Iowa this weekend for the opening of the Story County GOP headquarters in Ames, the Des Moines Register reports, leading to even more fevered speculation.

-- In short, it looks likely that two white guys named Tim will sit down for a vice presidential debate on October 2 at Washington University in St. Louis. While the picks will certainly fire up McCain and Obama partisans, though, this year they could also uniquely damage both candidates: With McCain still unpopular among conservatives and virtually no Republican with a good reputation among both conservatives and independents, and with Hillary Clinton fans still sore at their party's nominee, there's a good chance that both vice presidential choices succeed in irritating a good portion of the base.

-- Meanwhile, John McCain got huge news yesterday while the entire polling industry emitted a collective groan. Just as the Gallup daily tracking poll was showing one of Obama's biggest leads ever, a Gallup poll taken for USA Today gave McCain a four-point lead among likely voters and just a three-point deficit among registered voters (After trailing by more than that, McCain will take a poll showing him down three). So, Gallup has ... both candidates leading? Gallup chief Frank Newport urges readers to focus on the registered voters, but we'd offer separate advice: Don't look at the polls every day, and when you do, look at them through the lens of the latest RCP Average. It's much easier to spot polls that are trends versus polls that make no sense.

-- Finally, Barack Obama will be on Capitol Hill today meeting with House Democrats, where he is expected to get a warm welcome, the New York Times' John Harwood writes. Obama will address the group's weekly meeting, which can be sparsely attended, at best. But there are likely to be few empty chairs today. That's perhaps the biggest change we've seen from elections past: This time, Democrats are embracing, rather than embarrassed by, their candidate. Congressional candidates could not run from Al Gore and John Kerry fast enough, but for all but the most conservative Southern Democrats, Obama is electoral gold. While Republicans aren't running away from McCain, they're not nearly as enthusiastic (Arizona Republican Rep. John Shadegg, for example, has referred to himself as a conservative in the mold of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, conveniently omitting his home state senator).

-- Diagnosis Of The Day: What's the real source of Republican woes? A lack of ballot initiatives to use as wedge issues come November, the Los Angeles Times posits. Where once gay marriage bans and property tax caps roamed the land in search of Republican voters to turn out, there now remains only marriage bans in California, where it is polling behind, Arizona, where it has already lost, and Florida, where Governor Charlie Crist tried to keep it off the ballot. Could anti-immigration initiatives be the answer? Try squaring that with McCain, who has been involved in every major reform effort over the last few years. Perhaps the GOP needs to find a new way to take the, erm, initiative.

-- Today On The Trail: John McCain is out west today, with a town hall meeting set for Sparks, Nevada, a small town just outside Reno. He has a fundraiser scheduled at Incline Village, Nevada, before heading off to another finance event in Englewood, Colorado. Obama is in Washington, where yesterday he met with veep adviser Eric Holder (And Tim Kaine was in town for a monthly interview with WTOP, what luck). Today, his only event is to meet House Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Pawlenty To NPC

As buzz grows around Tim Pawlenty's chances at being named John McCain's running mate, the Minnesota Governor will make a stop at the National Press Club next week, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported on Friday. Pawlenty, a two-term governor, will meet the media at the downtown Washington venue on August 6.

Pawlenty will focus on a critical swing group that could be key to rebuilding the Republican Party. The governor will focus his address on "Sam's Club Republicans," a reference to the Wal-Mart division that competes with Costco.

The increased buzz has led to speculation not only that Pawlenty is among those who remain on McCain's short-list for the number two slot, but also that an announcement one way or the other will come in a matter of days, not weeks.

Most suspect that McCain and rival Barack Obama could name their vice presidential selections before the beginning of the Olympics, on August 8, though McCain might wait until nearer to the start of his own convention starting the first week in September.

MS: Wicker +1

A new survey, conducted 7/21-23 by independent pollster Research 2000 on behalf of the Democratic-leaning blog DailyKos, polled 600 likely Mississippi voters for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Those voters were 45% Republican, 40% Democratic and 15% independents or others, while the sample was 63% white and 37% African American. Appointed Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican, and former Democratic Governor Ronnie Musgrove were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom / Wht / Blk)
Wicker........45 / 6 / 81 / 43 / 49 / 41 / 67 / 8 (-2 from last, 12/07)
Musgrove...44 / 85 / 6 / 46 / 41 / 47 / 26 / 75 (+5)

McCain.......51 / 10 / 89 / 51 / 54 / 42 / 78 / 4
Obama........42 / 84 / 5 / 40 / 37 / 47 / 19 / 81

Wicker is polling ahead in both his base, in the Northeast corner of the state, and in the Southeast, where he leads Musgrove by a 47%-41% margin. That's good news for his campaign, which has been concerned about his relative lack of name recognition along the coast, thanks to his years representing the northern First District in the House. Musgrove owns a big lead in the Mississippi Delta and around Jackson.

Democrats have long held out hope for stronger than expected turnout among African American voters they think could help boost them in key Southern states. Mississippi is 36% African American, while those voters made up 34% of the state's electorate in 2004, according to national exit polls. If turnout among such a reliable Democratic voting bloc doesn't grow much beyond the 37% within this sample, Musgrove is going to have serious work to do among white voters if the party has any shot at winning Wicker's seat.

Strategy Memo: Happy Warriors

Good Monday morning. One hundred days from now, the most incredible election season in our lifetimes will be over, and Strategy Memo will turn into something like a post-mortem. Given the number of close races this year, it looks like there will be dozens of lessons to dissect. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate resumes consideration of a bill they worked through all weekend, the Advancing America's Priorities Act, which serves as a massive omnibus of measures blocked so far this session by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. Majority Leader Harry Reid has threatened to keep senators in town past the hoped-for weekend adjournment for August recess if they can't move the measure through this week. The House is in pro forma session today. President Bush will welcome Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to the White House, then participates in a photo opportunity with kids from a youth development program in Texas.

-- Barack Obama's Middle East and European trip produced not just 200,000 adoring fans in Berlin, a near-endorsement from French President Nicolas Sarkozy and advanced warning of his vacation plans, but also a bit of a bump in the Illinois Senator's polling numbers. By the middle of last week, Obama led McCain by four points in the RCP Average, a lead that has now grown to five points, thanks to new trackers from Gallup that show him sporting a nine-point lead. A temporary boost and the reason we have margins of error? We'll know for sure when other surveys come out. Expect a rash of polls this week, but remember to compare them to their equivalents.

-- Meanwhile, John McCain is keeping the focus on Obama's Iraq position, slamming the Democrat hard for supporting a withdrawal of forces from the Middle East. In separate interviews with CNN and ABC's This Week, McCain reiterated his charge that while he would rather lose a campaign than a war, he felt the opposite to be true about his rival. Coupled with a new advertisement the Republican's campaign launched over the weekend in two swing states, McCain has kept up his harshest criticisms of the Democrat, trying to plant seeds of doubt in voters' minds.

-- But is it working? A Republican strategist tells the Washington Post it isn't, and heaps criticism on the GOP nominee. Too, a one-time staunch McCain supporter, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, went so far as to call McCain's latest advertisement inappropriate. Instead of hammering Obama so directly, and in a fashion that seems so harsh, strategists advise the candidate to return to his roots as the "happy warrior."

-- The tone reflects McCain's unhappiness with his current position in the race. While he's by no means down and out, McCain is clearly behind, and the media hoard that flocks to Obama's every drained three-pointer or public utterance of vacation plans would be frustrating to any opponent. Once the media darling himself, McCain now battles for headlines. Based on polls that show more Americans still trust him on Iraq than trust Obama, that's the issue on which McCain will try to make the best contrast. He just may want to do it in a different, less openly confrontational way. That confrontation is what surrogates are for.

-- But foreign policy isn't likely to determine the election. Just a few days after returning from that whirlwind tour, Obama is back in the U.S. to talk the economy. He meets today with top economic advisers in Washington today, including former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, investor Warren Buffett and one-time Fed chairman Paul Volcker, a Democrat who nonetheless was first appointed to an administration post by Richard Nixon, along with other names like Larry Summers, Robert Reich and other ex-Clinton officials, Bloomberg's Julianna Goldman reports.

-- Obama will do his best to exploit and emphasize the economy rather than the situation in Iraq. The latest poll in which the questions were asked show voters trust Obama to better handle the economy, by a 47%-36% margin, while voters think McCain will do better on Iraq by an almost equal 47%-39% margin. The same Fox News poll [pdf] shows 40% of voters are making their decision about who to support based on economic issues, while just 18% say national security is making up their minds. Obama's trip overseas took steps toward answering the question about whether he is ready to be commander in chief, but it's the economy on which he's got the real advantage over McCain.

-- Mistaken Identity Of The Day: Barack and Larry support each other. That's the message Idaho Democrats wanted to get out with buttons featuring the two candidates -- Obama, who won the Gem State's caucuses in February, and Larry LaRocco, a former member of Congress running for Senate -- side by side. Unfortunately, the buttons came back showing Obama and a different Larry. That would have been the guy LaRocco is trying to replace, retiring Senator Larry Craig, arrested for conduct in a men's room in the Minneapolis airport. The buttons, put out by Tigereye Design, a prominent political chum shop, were quickly taken off the website, the AP reported.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Washington meeting with top economic advisers, while wife Michelle has a fundraising reception in Chicago. The candidate has a fundraiser tonight in Arlington, Virginia. McCain is on the West Coast, headlining fundraisers in Bakersfield and San Francisco, California, before joining CNN's Larry King this evening for an interview.

ME Gap Closing?

A new independent survey in Maine shows Senator Susan Collins in the lead, but by a smaller margin than others before it. The Critical Insights poll, conducted 6/1-27, surveyed 602 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 4% among a sample made up of 42% Democrats, 27% Republicans and 31% independents and other parties. Collins and Rep. Tom Allen were tested.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Collins.......50 / 27 / 83 / 61
Allen.........40 / 65 / 9 / 27

Collins' people can make a credible case that the poll shows a serious oversample of Democratic voters; the Secretary of State's office reports that 31% of Maine voters are registered Democrats while 28% are registered Republicans.

Still, notice the time it took to take the poll: A period of nearly four weeks, which raises concerns about the accuracy of the results. Most pollsters agree that several nights, though no longer than a week, are ideal lengths for a reliable poll.

Obama, Sarkozy Meet Les Medias

While stopping in Paris today, Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy not only met at the Elysees Palace, they met the gathered French and American media together. The Illinois Senator, more popular in Europe than any American since Elvis, and the Frenchman more popular in the U.S. than any of his countrymen since de Gaulle, lavished praise on each other a day after Sarkozy had referred to Obama as "my pal" in an interview with Le Figaro.

How out of the norm is this? Imagine if President Bush had met the press beside Sarkozy while, as Interior Minister, he ran for president against Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, whom he beat by a narrow 53%-47% margin. Or if President Bush had campaigned against Gordon Brown and openly advocated David Cameron's election?

John McCain met with Sarkozy, with Brown, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and with leaders in Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan. But he didn't hold a joint press conference with a head of state, unlike the junior senator from Illinois. Hubris? Just good politics? You be the judge.

Laying Odds On McCain's Veep

The vice presidential buzz is mounting, and many think a pick from John McCain is imminent. His campaign floated the possibility of a pick this week, and the Arizona Senator will host a barbeque for 75 top supporters and donors this weekend at his ranch in Sedona. Comments out this week suggest he's narrowed the list way down, and may even have his mind made up, waiting only until the timing is right.

The timing is always right for laying odds on various possibilities, so here's our look, perhaps only days before the pick is announced, at the candidates widely seen as finalists. We're basing these odds on a number of factors, from media buzz to level of comfort with McCain:

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty (2-1): He's one of McCain's biggest backers, and he spent hours at McCain headquarters this week giving interviews and meeting with staff. That set off serious alarm bells with Politics Nation, and while the media buzz has died down a bit, we think Pawlenty remains the favorite.

Ex-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (3-1): The favorite of the Bush Administration, Romney brings economic credibility to a ticket that lacks just that. McCain is under pressure to pick his one-time rival, who could raise gobs of money for Republicans, and by all accounts the two have a better rapport now than they once did.

Ex-OMB Director Rob Portman (7-1): From the swing state of Ohio, Portman has good political skills, and his buzz shot way up when he joined McCain on the Straight Talk Express yesterday. But the big knock on Portman's resume is that he served in the Bush Administration. That's like being a former Enron executive: It doesn't matter if you didn't do anything wrong, everyone still thinks you did.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist (15-1): There have been few more dedicated surrogates than Crist. He's youthful, getting married soon (Hello, good press) and can attack with a smile. But we think the offshore drilling position change could hurt more than help, given how desperate it looked at the time. Plus, his media buzz is way down.

Ex-Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge (20-1): He's always been a McCain backer, but Ridge would irritate social conservatives because of his pro-life beliefs. If McCain's map must include a win in Pennsylvania, Ridge is a good pick, but other than that, why tick off the base further?

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham (20-1): Always by McCain's side, the South Carolinian seems more a best friend than a veep wanna-be. But we have it on reasonable authority that Graham would love to be the number two, and McCain does value loyalty above many other qualities. Could be a surprise pick that seemed too obvious to even guess at.

RNC Victory chair Carly Fiorina (20-1): She's a good surrogate, and her business background could help. But the DNC research shop is just waiting to point out how many job cuts she made at Hewlett-Packard, and the media buzz around her is all but gone.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (30-1): Yes, he's popular, and yes, he's a reformer in a state that's in desperate need of reformation. But what better way to make an issue of McCain's septuagenarian status than to pick someone who's nearly half his age? Jindal seems more likely to run for president in 2012 or 2016. After all, the guy's only 37!

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (75-1): She may be a reformer with fans inside the new righty generation, but no one's ever heard of her, and as far as we can tell she hasn't been in the same room with McCain for years. Plus, it's Alaska, which is probably her biggest drawback.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (1,000-1): The potential candidate with the most vocal supporters has unquestioningly eliminated herself from the field. As a part of the Bush foreign policy team, there's no one less interesting to McCain. Sorry, Rice fans. Try again in four or eight years.

The Field (10-1): We think there could still be a surprise or two left up McCain's sleeve. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is in Minnesota talking him up today. Senator Joe Lieberman would be an off-the-wall pick to counter Obama picking, say, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel. When you need the news coverage, as McCain does, the Field's odds go way up.

Strategy Memo: Overkill?

Good Friday morning. It's Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown, when former reliever Goose Gossage and managers Dick Williams and Billy Southworth join the ranks of inductees. Also getting in, via the Ford C. Frick award, Seattle Mariners broadcaster Dave Neihaus, a great baseball voice to grow up with. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is continuing work on a low-income heating oil assistance program, with a cloture vote expected sometime today. The House is not in session, with just a week to go before the annual August month off. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on misconduct and abuses surrounding executive power today, with testimony from Bush Administration foes like Dennis Kucinich and North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones, Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr and legal scholars from around the country. President Bush's only event today will be raising money for Congressional candidate Aaron Schock, who is running to replace retiring Republican Ray LaHood.

-- If you weren't one of the 200,000 people at the Victory Column in Berlin yesterday, or one of the millions watching roadblocked coverage of Barack Obama's speech on cable news, there's plenty of coverage today thanks to the hundreds of reporters, both foreign and domestic, who swarmed the area. The speech got an outstanding reception in Germany -- "No. 44 Has Spoken" reads the headline of one der Spiegel opinion column -- and played well enough for campaign manager David Plouffe to try to squeeze a few bucks out of an email to supporters, per ABC's Jake Tapper (Though the campaign says the big red "donate" button doesn't mean the email is a fundraising solicitation).

-- The speech also got John McCain riled up when, during a stop in Ohio, he told reporters outside a German restaurant that he would rather give a speech in Berlin or any other location outside the U.S. as president than as a candidate. A McCain spokesman called the address a "premature victory lap," pointing out that McCain spent the day in a place with actual electoral votes while Obama went off to Europe, as CNN's Ed Hornick writes. Then again, McCain neglected to recall his own speech in Ottawa late last month, as NBC's Mark Murray points out.

-- McCain has been taking a harsher tone with Obama lately, coming right out and saying yesterday that Obama "does not understand what's at stake here, what was at stake in Iraq." That comes a few days after McCain launched an advertisement blaming Obama for higher gas prices and a few days after editorial pages across the country slammed McCain for another attack on Obama. Make no mistake, voters don't really care if candidates run negative advertisements, but flinging mud personally is a great way to tarnish a brand, and by extension a great way to lose. Earlier this week, Slate's John Dickerson argued McCain should ignore Obama for a month and spend the time bolstering his own case for becoming president. Maybe that's a path to be explored, while the surrogates take on the Democratic opponent.

-- The week has been an unmitigated win for Barack Obama, with major interviews on every big network, great pictures above the fold in every big news paper and steps taken toward answering the question of whether he's qualified to be commander in chief. Obama took McCain's dare to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Associated Press writes, and put the McCain campaign on serious defense. Who were those people saying Obama faced dangers on his highly-controlled, strictly-scheduled, nothing-to-chance trip?

-- But take a look at national polls (And we don't advise this regularly, lest one has a hefty bottle of antacids at the ready). The latest RCP General Election Average shows Obama leading McCain by just four points, thanks to a series of polls that have Obama up anywhere from one to seven points. That's not a big lead, even with Obama's fawning press and McCain's seeming lack of direction, and while Obama's team dallies in Alaska and North Dakota -- even if they flip blue, those six electoral votes aren't likely to change the outcome of the election -- McCain is focusing on a much smaller number of swing states.

-- We argued yesterday that the election is Obama's to lose. Here's the counterargument: After months of flailing about, little money, an unfocused message and an organization that ranks far behind that of his rival, McCain is still running virtually neck and neck nationally, which probably means right about even in the electoral vote count. If Obama can't pull away after this week, despite McCain's best efforts to torpedo his own campaign, he's not going to make this race a blowout. One might even argue that McCain, if he gets his operation back on track, should be considered the favorite.

-- Chicken Little Of The Day: While Obama's been overseas, McCain's team has dangled the possibility of a vice presidential pick in everyone's face all week long. And, given the way top adviser Charlie Black talks about the search to the Washington Post ("He's in a position to make [the decision] on short notice if he wanted to," Black told Michael Shear and Robert Barnes), one might be forgiven for getting the impression that, in McCain's head, at least, the decision has already been made. There are about three general time frames in which McCain could make his pick: Now, August before the Olympics (Which begin the 8th) and right after the Democratic convention. Here's betting the candidate gets antsy and makes his pick sooner rather than later.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Paris today, where he will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. McCain will join the American GI Forum in Denver early this afternoon, while New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talks up McCain at an Independent Party fundraiser in Minneapolis. Later today, McCain will head to Aspen for a meeting with the Dalai Lama at an Aspen Institute gathering on Tibetan culture. So he's got that going for him. Which is nice.

NJ Sen: Lautenberg +8

A new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll shows Senator Frank Lautenberg leading his Republican rival, though the four-term incumbent remains well below the 50% mark.

Conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute, the poll surveyed 698 registered voters between 7/17-21 for a margin of error of +/- 3.7%. Lautenberg and Zimmer, a former member of Congress, were tested. The survey sample was made up of 42% Democratic voters, 25% Republican voters and 33% independents and others.

General Election Matchup
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind)
Lautenberg.....45 / 75 / 14 / 34
Zimmer............37 / 10 / 71 / 40

As we've mentioned before, New Jersey voters are notoriously fickle, and many don't decide until the week before Election Day. In recent years, those undecided voters have broken toward Democratic candidates, though every year at least some Republicans get excited for their prospects in the Garden State and spend some ill-advised money there.

With two open Republican-held House seats and Lautenberg's re-election bid this year, New Jersey could be a surprising sleeper state that benefits Democrats.

New CO, MN Sen Polls

Two new Quinnipiac University polls, conducted for the Wall Street Journal and WashingtonPost.com, out today show good news for Senate Republicans, as one of their incumbents looks safer and as an open seat looks like a tougher battle for Democrats than previously suspected.

The polls surveyed 1,425 likely voters in Colorado for a margin of error of +/- 2.6% and 1,261 likely voters in Minnesota for a margin of error of +/- 2.8%. Both polls were conducted between 7/14-22. In Colorado, Democratic Rep. Mark Udall and ex-Rep. Bob Schaffer, the Republican, were tested. In Minnesota, Republican Senator Coleman and his Democratic opponent, satirist Al Franken, were tested.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Udall............44 / 83 / 10 / 46 / 37 / 50 (-4 from last, 6/17-24)
Schaffer......44 / 7 / 82 / 38 / 54 / 35 (+6)

Coleman......53 / 19 / 94 / 55 / 58 / 48 (+2)
Franken.......38 / 73 / 3 / 32 / 35 / 41 (-3)

In last month's polls, the news was decidedly better for Democrats. Udall led by ten points in the 6/17-24 Quinnipiac survey, while Coleman's lead was ten instead of fifteen.

For more on the race, check out our post on The Scorecard from earlier today.

Obama Flexes Ad Muscle

What do Barack Obama's campaign, McDonald's and Anheuser-Busch have in common? Each will be a sponsor of some of NBC's 3,600 hours of coverage of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.

Obama's campaign chipped in for advertisements to the tune of $5 million after requesting information about buying smaller packages, Advertising Age reports today. The candidate's ads will run on network and cable television as NBC's coverage extends to CNBC, MSNBC, USA, Oxygen and Telemundo.

It's an ambitious plan, and it breaks recent advertising trends. While most presidential campaigns stick with local advertising in key swing states, Obama's buys on network television will run as many times in Wyoming and the District of Columbia as they will in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They are the first network ads since Bob Dole ran a single spot across the nation in 1996.

AdAge also reports the campaign is still looking into the possibility of ad buys on cable channels like MTV and BET, flexing their financial muscle in previously untested ways.

Dole, Perdue Lead

A new poll conducted for the conservative-leaning Civitas Institute in North Carolina shows Tar Heels will be treated to two good races this year. In the governor's race, the state features one of a very few around the country that look destined to be competitive, while Senator Elizabeth Dole continues to maintain a lead in her bid for re-election.

The survey, conducted for Civitas by the Republican firm Tel Opinion Research, polled 600 registered voters between 7/14-16 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. In the governor's race, Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue, the Democratic nominee, Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and college professor Mike Munger, the Libertarian, were tested. For Senate, the poll tested Dole, State Senator Kay Hagan, her Democratic opponent, and Libertarian Chris Cole.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom / Cha / Wes / P-T / Tri / NoE / SoE)
Perdue......43 / 64 / 16 / 41 / 41 / 45 / 23 / 37 / 48 / 48 / 62 / 50
McCrory....40 / 18 / 75 / 28 / 42 / 39 / 66 / 41 / 36 / 33 / 27 / 30
Munger.......2 / 2 / -- / 6 / 3 / 1 / 2 / 1 / 3 / 2 / 1 / 1

Dole...........47 / 24 / 79 / 41 / 49 / 45 / 57 / 44 / 42 / 42 / 47 / 45
Hagan........38 / 60 / 11 / 32 / 36 / 39 / 28 / 39 / 40 / 44 / 39 / 37
Cole.............2 / 1 / 2 / 6 / 4 / 1 / 2 / 2 / 3 / 2 / 4 / --

(Geographic notes: "Cha" is Charlotte. "Wes" is the Western region of the state. "P-T" is the Piedmont Triad. "Tri" is the Research Triangle. "NoE" is the Northeast. "SoE" is the Southeast.)

Durbin Cruising

With his home-state colleague running for President this year, and with a nearly eight-to-one cash on hand advantage over his opponent, one might be forgiven for forgetting that Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is running for re-election this year. But he is, and a new poll conducted for his opponent shows the two-term Democrat cruising toward a third term.

The survey, conducted by Southern Outreach for Dr. Steve Sauerberg's campaign, polled 1,500 likely voters on 7/12 for a margin of error of +/- 3%. The sample was made up of 53% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 12% independents or other party affiliations. Durbin and Sauerberg, the Republican nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Durbin...........52
Sauerberg....35

Durbin has polled well in both his races to date, racking up 56% of the vote in 1996 and 60% in 2002. But as a point of personal pride, Durbin has two other goals to meet: In 2004, aided by a presidential election turnout, Barack Obama scored nearly 3.6 million votes, 70% of those cast. If Durbin has any hope of taking back bragging rights, he'll have to beat one of Obama's two scores.

Of course, it could be harder for Durbin to reach that mark as Obama heads the ballot this year. Even if Durbin does beat Obama's 2004 total, the presidential contender will probably win his state by a wider margin than Durbin will win re-election.

Strategy Memo: Ich Bin Ein Obama

Good Thursday morning. Thanks to Kyle Trygstad for filling in for a few days, but now the original author is off the disabled list, like it or not. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate is back today debating a measure to provide home energy assistance to low-income residents, a program Northeastern Senators, regardless of party, virtually always support. The House will vote on a bill to release a certain kind of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and replace it with a different kind and is likely to pass a bill on AIDS relief around the world. President Bush will stop by the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in downtown Washington to deliver remarks on the Freedom Agenda before participating in a photo op at the White House. Meanwhile, U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab is in Geneva for a new meeting of the World Trade Organization's Doha Round.

-- On the presidential trail, Barack Obama has finished the Middle East portion of his overseas trip, but not before stopping by one of the holiest sites in Judaism, Jerusalem's Western Wall, early this morning. Obama tucked a note inside a slot in the wall, reports AP's David Espo, and encountered only one heckler among the Orthodox men engaged in early morning prayer. Still, the trip to Israel was less about building a foundation than about wooing Jewish voters at home, Ha'aretz's Aluf Benn, a columnist more on McCain's side than Obama's, writes in today's paper.

-- Having met Tuesday and Wednesday with top Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials after stopping in Iraq and Afghanistan over the weekend, Obama is through the most politically difficult part of his trip. Given the fawning media coverage and the non-stop attention, the visit was well worth the time away from the States. Without a major faux pas, and with photos of everyone from Hamid Karzai to Nouri al-Malaki to Shimon Peres, Obama covered his general foreign policy base, his Iraq and Afghanistan bases and his Israeli-Palestinian conflict base, all of which were seen as weaknesses at one point.

-- Is this evidence of the evolution of Karl Rove's strategy? We're not the first to suggest it, but Rove was bent on focusing on his opponent's biggest strength and turning it into a weakness. Version 2.0, it appears, could be turning one's own biggest weakness, in Obama's case a lack of experience in foreign policy, into a strength. Obama has yet to utter a single attack on John McCain while overseas, but the implications are clear, and the visuals alone are enough to make Republicans, who once thought doing battle over the war on terror and the war in Iraq was the only way McCain could win, pull their own hair out. We're not convinced it'll work, but watch the next poll in which respondents are asked who they trust most on Iraq. McCain once led by as many as five to ten points. If that goes the other way, he's in trouble.

-- Now, Obama embarks on the easier part of the trip, beginning today when he will deliver a big speech in Berlin that some have estimated could draw a crowd of over a million. Guaranteed to lead every nightly newscast and to front every major paper tomorrow, Republicans this year couldn't buy the kind of hype the media has heaped on Obama. With photos taken next to Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown during stops in Germany, France and England, Obama's coverage is only going to get easier over the coming days. Many, including Politics Nation, are curious to know where the same coverage was during McCain's almost identical tour a few months ago?

-- It is looking more and more like the election is Obama's to lose, as pollster Peter Hart put it to NBC's Mark Murray, which is better for the Democrat than for his Republican foe. The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll calcifies the notion that the election will be a decision on Obama, not McCain, and that voters will pick the Republican only if they are convinced that Obama is too risky or too unlike themselves. McCain's team knows this, which is why messages from his campaign more often consist of contrasts with the Democrat than Obama's do. Every year, one candidate has to sow doubt about the other, and McCain is hard at work doing just that.

-- That this election is Obama's to lose is not terribly big news. Every year, one of the candidates should logically win, but the other sometimes pulls it out. In an era of prosperity and peace, the 2000 election should have gone to the party in power, but Republican George Bush beat Democrat Al Gore all the same. Arguably, 2004 should have been a shoo-in for John Kerry, after Bush's approval ratings started to slide, but the Republican won again. After two terms of an unpopular president, an unpopular war, a flagging economy and a Republican Party with an image more damaged than at virtually any time in history, it's a minor miracle that McCain is even somewhat competitive with Obama. His best strategy at the moment is to make the race about Obama, and then to explain to Americans why the Illinois Democrat is not right for the country.

-- Veep Buzz Of The Day: Increasing speculation that a vice presidential nomination is just around the corner is making politicos giddy with anticipation. Could one or both candidates pick their second in command before the start of the Olympics, on August 8? McCain's team increased the buzz with rumors that a meeting with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal today, canceled due to bad weather, could lead to an announcement, and with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty giving interviews and spending several hours at McCain's Arlington headquarters, as Marc Ambinder reported. Most analysts see Mitt Romney as McCain's front-runner, but Politics Nation will stick by its original prediction of Pawlenty, who we're not sure can be counted out just yet.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama's speech in Berlin comes at midday today from Tiergarten Park. Doors open at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. He sits down with NBC's Brian Williams for an interview to air on the Nightly News tonight. McCain has a fundraiser scheduled for New Albany, Ohio this afternoon before heading to Ohio State University for a health care town hall meeting alongside former Tour de France ace Lance Armstrong as part of the Livestrong Summit. Later, McCain and Armstrong will meet the media.

New NH Polls

An independent poll, taken by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, tested 475 likely general election voters between 7/11-20 for a margin of error of +/- 4.5%. Of those, 235 lived in Rep. Carol Shea-Porter's First District, for a margin of error of +/- 6.4%, and 240 lived in Rep. Paul Hodes' Second District, for a margin of error of +/- 6.3%.

In the Senate race, incumbent Republican John Sununu and former Governor Jeanne Shaheen were tested, while Shea-Porter was matched against ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley and former state Cabinet secretary John Stephens. Hodes was tested against State Senator Bob Clegg and radio host Jennifer Horn.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom / CD1 / CD2)
Shaheen..........46 / 84 / 11 / 42 / 56 / 35 / 45 / 48 (-6 from last, 4/08)
Sununu............42 / 9 / 82 / 26 / 53 / 32 / 47 / 37 (+2)

Bradley............46 / 8 / 84 / 40 / 56 / 36 (+1)
Shea-Porter.....40 / 80 / 6 / 26 / 34 / 46 (+1)

Shea-Porter.....42 / 79 / 10 / 25 / 36 / 48 (-1)
Stephen...........36 / 3 / 71 / 30 / 48 / 24 (+1)

Hodes..............43 / 69 / 15 / 40 / 37 / 47 (-9)
Horn.................23 / 3 / 48 / 11 / 29 / 19 (-2)

Hodes..............44 / 75 / 13 / 36 / 34 / 52 (-7)
Clegg...............25 / 4 / 50 / 17 / 32 / 19 (+1)

Harris Shows Big MD Lead

After beating moderate Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in Maryland's February primary, conservative State Senator Andy Harris is in good position to hold the Eastern Shore's First District for the GOP, despite Democratic optimism about their candidate, according to a new poll for Harris' campaign.

The survey, taken by Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates for Harris' campaign, polled 300 registered voters on 7/15 for a margin of error of +/- 5.65%. Harris and Queen Anne County State's Attorney Frank Kratovil were tested.

General Election Matchup (With leaners)
Harris..........44
Kratovil........28

Republicans will crow that their candidate leads handily in an open seat Democrats have targeted (Kratovil is a member of the DCCC's Red to Blue program). But the poll provides another reminder that every survey has to be taken with a grain of salt: Not only does a 300-voter sample size come with a high margin of error, but a survey that takes place on a single night is seen as much less reliable than a survey taken over multiple evenings.

Harris is a strong fundraiser who's pulled in just over $2 million already and still has $609,000 on hand, more than Kratovil's $454,000, and the Republican has grassroots support from his fellow state senators in a heavily Republican district. But while the poll looks good at first glance, Kratovil's chances shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

Strategy Memo: A Surge Of Questions

Good Wednesday morning. What's going on in Major League Baseball? The Tampa Bay Rays are in first place in late July, ahead of both the Yankees and the Red Sox; Chicago has two teams in first place; and in the NL West, the first place team doesn't have a winning record. As you chew on that -- and check out the newest edition to the RCP family, The Scorecard -- here is what Washington is watching today:

--The Senate will continue consideration today of S. 3268, the Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act of 2008. The House is also in session, with the foreign affairs committee -- a little more than two weeks before the Olympics commence in Beijing -- holding hearings on continued Chinese repression. Pres. Bush is holding meetings at the Pentagon with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

--We counted five times that CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric asked Obama whether or not the troop surge in Iraq has helped reduce violence. He answered affirmatively, and has indicated that position in past speeches, but he continues to be asked it anyway. It's also a question the McCain campaign has been harping on the past few days.

--This is, of course, a no-win situation for Obama. If he says no, or some version of "no," McCain can jump on him for not recognizing the facts on the ground. If he says yes, as he has, McCain can say, as he has, that he had the correct judgment on the issue. Conversely, Obama can say, as he has, that he had the correct judgment in 2002, when he spoke up against the war while serving in the Illinois Senate.

--McCain has also recently used an argument against Obama that George H.W. Bush wouldn't use against Bill Clinton in 1992, Carl Cannon notes. McCain said Obama is "someone who has no military experience whatsoever." The statement is obviously true, and one Obama can't hit back on. As Wesley Clark found out, backlash ensues when one says that someone's experience in war -- especially John McCain's -- doesn't necessarily qualify them to be president.

--While on a conference call with reporters yesterday, New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson possibly overreached when she said McCain could actually have troops pulled out of Iraq before Obama, not the other way around. That's one way to combat the news that two Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, support a troop withdrawal in a similar timeframe as Obama. Wilson said that, unlike Obama, McCain would not be tied to a timetable, allowing him to remove troops before 16 months into his administration.

--Jonathan Martin reported that the McCain campaign later clarified Wilson's remarks, saying that the conditions on the ground will determine when troops are able to leave and that the commanders have said 16 months is not a likely timeframe for withdrawal.

--While both campaigns will continue to use Iraq as a winning issue for them, Mark Halperin lists the things McCain must do in order to win, including recognizing "that most Americans care more about the price at the pump, their mortgages, and their food and health care costs then about McCain's life story, prescience on the surge, or total number of trips made to Iraq."

--Question Of The Day: With Obama's tour of the Middle East earning him good reviews (and lots of press), should McCain have waited until later in the campaign -- when there would not be enough time for Obama to go -- to begin taunting the Illinois Senator for not visiting since 2006? While McCain can still say he's been to Iraq more times, Obama now can say he's been there more recently than McCain. Not to mention, the world has been watching Obama for the past week, while McCain was welcomed to Manchester, New Hampshire two nights ago by "just one reporter and one photographer."

--Today On The Trail: McCain is in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania before heading down to New Orleans tonight. McCain has been up by double-digits in the latest polls in Louisiana, while Obama holds a 7.7-point lead in RCP's average in Pennsylvania. Obama continues his tour of the Middle East; today he is in Israel.

--Kyle Trygstad

Giffords Up In AZ

As we reported on The Scorecard this afternoon, Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords leads in two polls taken in recent months in her Tucson-based district. The polls, taken for both Giffords and her challenger, show different margins, but the freshman leads by a number outside the margin of error.

A poll for Giffords' challenger, State Senate President Tim Bee, was conducted by Arizona Opinion, a leading Republican polling firm in the Copper State, between 5/15-23 among 500 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Giffords and Bee were tested.

General Election Matchup
Giffords..........47
Bee.................40

A poll for Giffords' campaign obtained by The Scorecard tells a different story. The Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research survey, conducted June 18-22 among 502 likely voters for the same 4.4% margin of error, also tested Giffords and Bee.

General Election Matchup
Giffords..........59
Bee.................35

The Tucson-based district is likely to be a key battleground this year, as both parties have signaled their willingness to get involved. President Bush visited last week for a fundraiser benefiting Bee, which the campaign estimated pulled in a whopping $500,000, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved $705,000 worth of advertising time in the district.

Gard Close In Own Poll

One of the top Republican challengers running for Congress this year is trailing his Democratic foe by just four points, a new poll for his campaign shows. But after losing a close contest to Wisconsin Rep. Steve Kagen in 2006, the fact is former Assembly Speaker John Gard is still trailing in a Republican-leaning district, even in his own poll.

The survey, conducted for Gard's campaign by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 400 likely voters 7/8-9 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gard and Kagen were tested.

General Election Matchup
Kagen.........46
Gard............42

McCain........46
Obama.........41

McCain's lead in the Green Bay-based district bodes well for Gard's campaign, which is certainly counting on some coattail effect to override the anti-Republican wave that cost him a win two years ago. Too, history seems to be on the Republican's side, as the polling memo notes just one Democrat, Father Robert Cornell, has ever won re-election in the Eighth District.

Still, Kagen is in good position financially. He held cash reserves of $926,000 through the end of the Second Quarter to Gard's $649,000. Gard outraised Kagen by about $4,000 in the last three months.

Dems Lead In AK

Given two strong pickup opportunities, Democrats have already made Alaska a big priority, and a new survey shows the party is already leading two long-time Republican incumbents. For Republicans, the good news is that incumbent Rep. Don Young doesn't look likely to win his primary, and that Senator Ted Stevens remains more popular than his House colleague.

The survey, taken for DailyKos by non-partisan pollster Research 2000, polled 600 likely voters between 7/14-16 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Stevens and his Democratic opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, were tested, as were Young and likely Democratic nominee Ethan Berkowitz, the former House Minority Leader. The party identification breakdown was 31% Republican, 20% Democratic and 49% independent or other.

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Begich........47 / 83 / 13 / 53 / 43 / 51
Stevens......45 / 7 / 81 / 38 / 50 / 40

Berkowitz....51 / 86 / 18 / 58 / 47 / 55
Young..........40 / 6 / 71 / 34 / 45 / 35

McCain.........51 / 10 / 82 / 48 / 54 / 48
Obama.........41 / 86 / 8 / 43 / 39 / 43

Both races look encouraging for Democrats, but the poll doesn't tell the whole story. In the Senate race, evidence of the state's overwhelming Republican tilt show through; Stevens wins 45% of the vote despite the fact that just 36% say they have a favorable opinion of the incumbent, while 61% have an unfavorable impression.

And in the House race, it looks increasingly possible that Young will not even be the Republican nominee. A strong challenge from Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, a fellow Republican, could deprive Democrats of an ethically-wounded foe in November. Only 37% see Young favorably, while 61% view him unfavorably.

Berkowitz and Begich are viewed much more positively, both with 52% of the state seeing them in a favorable light. Just 29% see Berkowitz unfavorably, while only 27% said the same about Begich. Still, the narrowness of both races that feature popular challengers to unpopular incumbents demonstrates that Democrats have their work cut out for them.

DCCC Drops More Cash

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is following up its first major ad buy two weeks ago by reserving another $18 million in television time for their candidates across the country. The new purchase, which brings Democrats' total reservations to $53 million, will target a total of twenty new districts, increasing the playing field to fifty-one seats on both sides of the aisle.

The new purchase, much like the first round, heavily favors spending in Republican-held districts. Seven of the targeted seats are being vacated by Republican members of Congress this year, while another eight are held by GOP members seeking re-election. The five remaining seats are held by Democrats, including Alabama Rep. Bud Cramer's open seat.

Republicans, who trail in cash on hand by a six-to-one margin, took some comfort after the first round of advertising reservations by crowing about some seats left off the list of early targets. Many of those seats are included in the second round, pointing to districts like those in which Democrats have had recent success.

Among those archetypes are seats held by Reps. Dave Reichert, of Washington, and Mark Kirk, of Illinois. Both are suburban districts in which Democratic candidates at other levels, including the presidential, have won. Democrats have reserved $949,000 to target Reichert, whose district encompasses much of suburban Seattle, and $1.4 million to take on Kirk in the pricier Chicago suburbs.

Democrats have also found success in the economically-depressed stretch between the Northeast and the Rust Belt. The party has laid down a combined $2.7 million to target three Republican-held seats in upstate New York, two held by retiring Reps. Tom Reynolds and Jim Walsh and one by incumbent Rep. Randy Kuhl.

But the party has to play defense as well, and the DCCC is starting with two of its three most junior members. Democrats reserved $723,000 to defend Louisiana freshman Don Cazayoux in the first round, and it has now put aside a combined $2.08 million to defend its other two special election winners, Reps. Bill Foster, of Illinois, and Travis Childers, of Mississippi.

Democrats will also spend money defending two freshmen members, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who faces a tough challenge in State Senate President Tim Bee, and California's Jerry McNerney, who is running against highly-touted Republican recruit Dean Andal.

A full list of districts targeted and the amount the DCCC has reserved can be found after the jump.

State / District / Incumbent (Party) / Money reserved / Points (Approx.)

Republican Incumbents
Florida / 18-21-25 / Ros-Lehtinen (R), M. Diaz-Balart (R), L. Diaz-Balart (R) / $1.4 million / 2,400
Idaho / 01 / Sali (R) / $349,000 / 4,000
Illinois / 10 / Kirk (R) / $1.4 million / 2,300
Missouri / 06 / Graves (R) / $798,000 / 5,600
New York / 29 / Kuhl (R) / $900,000 / 6,600 *
Washington / 08 / Reichert (R) / $949,000 / 2,425

Republican Open Seats
Alabama / 02 / Everett (R) / $598,000 / 10,000
California / 04 / Doolittle (R) / $1.01 million / 2,325 *
Illinois / 11 / Weller (R) / $1.6 million / 4,200
Louisiana / 04 / McCrery (R) / $714,000 / 9,000
New Jersey / 03 / Saxton (R) / $1.7 million / 3,300
New York / 25-26 / Walsh (R), Reynolds (R) / $1.8 million / 13,400 *

Democratic Incumbents
Arizona / 08 / Giffords (D) / $705,000 / 5,000
California / 11 / McNerney (D) / $1.01 million / 2,325 *
Illinois / 14 / Foster (D) / $1.02 million / 2,400
Mississippi / 01 / Childers (D) / $1.06 million / 10,000

Democratic Open Seats
Alabama / 05 / Cramer (D) / $678,000 / 8,000

Note: An * indicates that the particular buy is made in concert with that in another district within the state. For example, advertising purchased in California's Fourth and Eleventh Districts were made together, for a total of $2.03 million reserved for 4,650 points.

For a complete list of seats the DCCC targeted with its first round of ad buys, click here.

Strategy Memo: On Deadline

Good Tuesday morning. We have no congressional primaries to watch today, although Hawaii's filing deadline is today and Vermont's was yesterday. Before we go check if any fun characters have filed to run for Congress in Vermont -- and as we celebrate former Miami Dolphin (and TV dancer) Jason Taylor's first practice as a Redskin -- here is what Washington is watching today:

--The Senate is scheduled to vote this morning on the motion to invoke cloture on S. 3268, the energy speculation bill. The House is scheduled to convene this afternoon.

--While Barack Obama seems "to have navigated one of the riskiest parts of a weeklong international trip without a noticeable hitch and to have gained a new opportunity to blunt attacks on his national security credentials by his Republican rival in the presidential race," as the New York Times's Oppel and Zeleny write, John McCain's campaign has been trying hard to blunt any positive press Obama has received lately.

--McCain, himself, while visiting the Bush family compound yesterday in Kennebunkport, Maine, said Obama was "completely wrong" on Iraq because was not supportive of the troop surge and that he was stubbornly opposing offshore drilling.

--Stubborn. The word appears to be the McCain campaign's new talking point, especially for describing Obama's plan to pull troops out of Iraq within 16 months of taking the White House. McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann used it yesterday in a conference call with reporters, in which he also downplayed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's apparent support for Obama's troop withdrawal plan as simply an "unartful statement." Then this morning on the "Today" show, per The Page, Rudy Giuliani said Obama's refusal to support the surge is due to his political "stubbornness."

--Unfortunately for the McCain campaign, as the Washington Post and other media outlets have reported, Maliki's statement was not totally misinterpreted or necessarily 'unartful.' Maliki's office posted a transcript of his interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, which when translated into English, the Post reports, he says: "Obama's remarks that, if he takes office, he would withdraw the forces within 16 months, we think that this period might increase or decrease a little, but that it might be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq."

--Interestingly enough, Ali al-Dabbagh, the Maliki aide whose statement saying Maliki had been misinterpreted was distributed by the U.S. military, appeared to back Maliki's statement. He told reporters yesterday: "We can't give any schedules or dates, but the Iraqi government sees the suitable date for withdrawal of the U.S. forces is by the end of 2010." The end of 2010 would be about a half-year longer than Obama's plan.

--With a little over a month until the conventions, both campaigns are working on what appear to be their candidate's weaknesses. As Obama travels through the Middle East in an effort to boost his foreign policy credentials, McCain has released a new ad focusing on one of the most pressing of domestic issues -- gas prices. As the narrator in McCain's new ad "Pump" asks, "Who can we thank for rising prices at the pump?" a picture of Obama appears on the screen as an offscreen crowd chants, "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!"

--Iced Mocha, No Whip...Of The Day: Republican Senators have been freed to vote as they please in order to get re-elected, Politico's Martin Kady II reports. Kady writes that on four votes over the past month, GOP leaders have not whipped members, with the idea being they would rather lose a few votes than a few more seats. Such is the mood for Republicans on Capitol Hill, while Democrats are day dreaming of Obama in the White House and 60 of themselves in the Senate.

--Today On The Trail: Obama visits Amman, Jordan along with Senators Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel, where they are scheduled to discuss their trips to Iraq and Afghanistan at a 10 a.m. eastern press conference on the Hill at the Citadel. While Obama's trip so far has been official Senate business, he now begins the portion of the trip planned by his campaign. John McCain will go back today to where it all started -- New Hampshire, possibly his most friendly territory outside of Arizona. He'll hold a town hall meeting in Rochester. Later in the day he heads to Baltimore for a private fundraiser.

-- Kyle Trygstad

DCCC Holds Volunteer Contest

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced a new contest among every Democratic House campaign to see who can bring out the most volunteers on July 26 -- exactly 100 days until the election -- to canvass and man phone banks. The winner, per the DCCC, will benefit from a fundraising e-mail sent on their behalf to the 3 million people in the committee's address book.

Calling it "Mobilize for Change: A National Day of Action," DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen said the contest is a "way for campaigns to boost their volunteer base."

"The DCCC is committed to reaching voters across the country with our message of change and has begun contacting voters earlier than ever before," Van Hollen was quoted saying in the press release. "By starting earlier, Democrats are reaching voters that are not yet being fully bombarded by political messages, which we know from our three special election wins is critical to our success."

In what it calls an "unprecedented" voter contact program that aims to reach as many voters as possible through door knocks and phone calls, the campaign committee says its on pace to reach 13 million voters in more than 50 districts. To put that in some perspective, 13 million voters is just more than one-tenth of all the people who voted for president in 2004.

Messages left with the DCCC and Obama campaign, inquiring whether there would be any coordination on this project between the two, were not returned by the time of publication.

Both the DCCC and its GOP counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee raised their cash-on-hand totals last month, though the DCCC still holds a more than six-to-one advantage. After raising $10 million from June 1 to June 30, the DCCC reports having $54.6 million in the bank. The NRCC had a good month raising $6 million, though still has just $8.5 million on hand.

--Kyle Trygstad

FEC Second Quarter -- Illinois

Our final look at competitive House contests, until Kansas, Michigan and Missouri file later this week, focuses on Barack Obama's home state, where Republicans have gotten some good news. The GOP, which once could have lost as many as four seats, looks well-positioned to defend most of their incumbents, though one open seat is still giving the party heartburn:

Illinois 06: Freshman Republican Peter Roskam won a narrow two-point victory in 2006 over Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth in the race to replace retiring Rep. Henry Hyde. This year, even though he represents a Republican-leaning district, Roskam is taking no chances, having raised $408,000 in the Second Quarter and retaining $1.21 million in the bank. He will face the former deputy director of the state Homeland Security Department, Jill Morgenthaler, who raised $202,000 and still had $231,000 in the bank. The suburban Sixth District could swing Democratic eventually, but Roskam looks well-positioned this year.

Illinois 08: Perpetual Republican target Melissa Bean, who has survived a number of well-funded GOP challengers, is no fundraising slouch, having raised $421,000 in the last three months while keeping $1.55 million in the bank. Bean will face Republican businessman Steve Greenberg, who raised $232,000 and kept $105,000 in the bank. Greenberg has expressed willingness to self-fund, though Bean beat back a GOP rival who wrote his own checks and outspent the incumbent in 2006. After beating longtime Rep. Phil Crane in 2004 in a district that encompasses the northeast corner of the state, Bean is starting to look like a long-term survivor.

Illinois 10: Speaking of perpetual targets, Republican Mark Kirk, whose Tenth District boarders Bean's to the south towards the Chicago suburbs, won't have an easy race for a long time. The four-term Republican raised a whopping $890,000 in the last quarter and still has $2.85 million on hand, a huge amount of cash that will come in handy in the expensive Second City media market. 2006 opponent Dan Seals, who came within six points of winning, has raised more this year than he did two years ago, and with $643,000 raised in the last three months and $1.17 million on hand, he's done well for a challenger. But a challenger who trails by a 2.5-to-1 margin still faces a tough fight.

Illinois 11: A T-shaped district stretching from Joliet, a Chicago suburb, to Bloomington in the middle of the state, Rep. Jerry Weller's retirement has given Democrats a reason to hope for another takeover. State Senator Debbie Halvorson has raised an impressive amount of money, pulling in $366,000 through the end of June and keeping $917,000 on hand. But businessman Martin Ozinga, who replaced the winner of the GOP primary, raised a stunning $810,000 last quarter and still has $670,000 on hand. Republicans, who looked unlucky, got a break with Ozinga, who could develop as a good candidate.

Illinois 14: Freshman Democrat Bill Foster, who won his seat in early March, will face a tough race in November against his defeated Republican foe, Jim Oberweis. Foster raised $518,000 in the Second Quarter, with $443,000 on hand, while Oberweis raised $233,000 and kept $547,000 on hand. Both candidates spent a lot of their own money on the special election, which can probably be expected again by November. In an only slightly GOP-leaning seat with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, Foster is the favorite to keep his job for another two years.

Illinois 18: Republican Ray LaHood's retirement from his Peoria-based district opens up a reliably GOP seat that Democrats may still try to play in. Former television reporter Colleen Callahan, the Democratic nominee, is getting some Netroots attention, and she raised $139,000 to keep $155,000 on hand. While Republicans aren't worried about losing the seat, it's worth pointing out that State Rep. Aaron Schock, their party's nominee, would be just 27 years old when he takes office. Schock raised $407,000 in the Second Quarter and has $299,000 left to spend. LaHood told Politics Nation that he expects Obama to win his district, but Schock remains the front-runner down ballot.

FEC Second Quarter -- Upper Midwest

Last quarter, we put Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri in the Northern Mississippi Valley, Wisconsin and Illinois in the Western Great Lakes and Michigan and Indiana in the Eastern Great Lakes.

After a competitive primary in Iowa, the state's Third District is likely not going to be competitive, while impending primaries in Missouri and Michigan have delayed FEC filings until later this week. So, we've lumped the three together to focus on top races in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana, the Upper Midwest, and separated Illinois into its own category:

Minnesota 01: Mankato Democrat Tim Walz is popular in his district, and with $433,000 raised through the Second Quarter and $1.21 million in the bank, he's in as good a position as any freshman to keep his seat. An increasingly ugly Republican primary is only making matters better for Walz, as State Senator Dick Day continues an uphill battle against party-endorsed Mayo Clinic physician Brian Davis. Davis raised $292,000 in the Second Quarter and ended with $377,000 in the bank, while Day raised just $11,000 and still has $45,000 on hand. The two will square off on September 9.

Minnesota 03: Republican Jim Ramstad's retirement paved the way for a strong Democratic shot at the suburban Minneapolis seat. Attorney Ashwin Madia was the surprising Democratic convention winner, and he's raised an impressive amount afterwards, with $693,000 pulled in and $738,000 on hand. But State Rep. Erik Paulsen is one of the best Republican challengers in the country, and having avoided a costly primary or convention, he's got a big financial advantage. Paulsen raised $621,000 in the Second Quarter and maintained $1.12 million in the bank.

Minnesota 06: Few Republican freshmen are as endangered as Michele Bachmann, whose St. Cloud-based district is more socially conservative than Ramstad's neighboring Third District. Bachmann has proven a strong fundraiser, though, with $378,000 pulled in last quarter and with $1.29 million in the bank. Former Blaine Mayor and state transportation commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, a top Democratic recruit, has been slow to fundraise, pulling in $271,000 in the last three months and keeping $225,000 on hand. The DCCC has reserved $1.4 million in advertising time for Madia in Ramstad's seat, but there's a chance some of that money will target Bachmann as well.

Wisconsin 08: Paulsen isn't alone in the race for best Republican challenger. Most Hill Republicans will agree that former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker John Gard is near the top of that same list. Gard, running again for a Green Bay-based seat, raised $293,000 in the Second Quarter with $649,000 on hand. He lost in 2006 to Democrat Steve Kagen, who has invited some controversy in his first term, but still has a good amount of money; Kagen raised $289,000 last quarter and still has $927,000 on hand.

Indiana 02: Freshman Joe Donnelly has one of the more conservative voting records in the Democratic caucus, and his chances of keeping this northern Indiana district are mounting. Donnelly raised $248,000 in the Second Quarter and had $993,000 on hand, while his Republican challenger, businessman Luke Puckett, has yet to even file his report (A pre-primary report for Puckett showed he'd raised just $33,000 and given himself $150,000). Puckett is one of the GOP challengers headed to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and if he can make oil exploration an issue, he may stay competitive.

Indiana 09: For the fourth time in four elections, Republican Mike Sodrel will face Democrat Baron Hill in this Southeast Indiana district. Hill, the current incumbent, won in 2002 and 2006, while Sodrel served a single term in 2004. Hill raised $295,000 through the Second Quarter and had $1.16 million in the bank, while Sodrel had $193,000 raised in the past three months for a war chest of $379,000. Sodrel may contribute some of his own money to his effort, though, and John McCain is likely to win the district, where President Bush took a nineteen-point victory in 2004, giving Republicans an outside shot at taking back the seat.

FEC Second Quarter -- West Coast

Part ten of our comprehensive look at top House races hits the West Coast (plus Idaho), where each state except Hawaii boasts a competitive contest. To read our earlier take, click here, and follow along our Pacific Ocean swing:

California 04: Rep. John Doolittle's retirement set off a tough Republican primary to replace him. After a costly battle, State Senator Tom McClintock came out on top, putting him in prime position to keep the seat in GOP hands. McClintock raised almost $1.27 million in the Second Quarter and maintained $117,000 on hand after spending a significant amount of money to beat back self-funder Doug Ose. Democratic nominee Charlie Brown, who came close to beating Doolittle in 2006, raised $355,000 and still had $675,000 left over, though facing a rival untainted by the scandalous Doolittle means Brown is the significant underdog.

California 11: Freshman Democrat Jerry McNerney should be in serious trouble in a seat, just outside the Bay Area, that President Bush won by nine points. But McNerney has raised good money, pulling in $416,000 in the last three months and maintaining $1.37 million in the bank. His Republican rival, former Assemblyman Dean Andal, hasn't raised as much money as Washington Republicans hoped he would, finishing the quarter with $174,000 raised and $663,000 on hand. The seat is still competitive, but the freshman who knocked off Republican Richard Pombo in 2006 is in good position so far.

Oregon 05: It was supposed to be one of the best Republican pickup chances of the year, but the Salem-based Fifth District, where Democrat Darlene Hooley is retiring, is looking more like a Democratic hold these days. 2006 Republican nominee Mike Erickson, who has invested serious resources in his own race, raised $105,000 and still has $400,000 in the bank. He's been rocked by allegations that he paid for a former girlfriend's abortion, and though he won the GOP primary, the charges will hurt his chances. State Senator Kurt Schrader raised $355,000 and kept $231,000 in the bank after a surprisingly strong primary challenge from a former aide to Governor John Kitzhaber.

Washington 08: The Bellevue-based Eighth District is one of the most Democratic seats held by a Republican, but Rep. Dave Reichert is one of the GOP's best campaigners. Reichert won his 2006 race by two points, and he faces a rematch this year against a candidate who will be better funded than last time out. While Reichert pulled in $349,000 and kept $916,000 on hand, donors forked $578,000 over to rival Darcy Burner, who has $1.24 million on hand. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised eyebrows a few weeks ago when they did not include the Eighth in the first round of advertising reservations, but Democrats say they will play in the seat. Reichert's a tough candidate, and Burner, by all accounts, has improved since 2006. Few races are going to be more fascinating to watch.

Idaho 01: Freshman Rep. Bill Sali is not popular within his own party; his delegation partner, Rep. Mike Simpson, once reportedly threatened to throw him out a window. And thanks to a technical issue, Sali's fundraising numbers aren't available yet, though a campaign spokesman estimated he will report pulling in $155,000 since the primary and keeping about $250,000 on hand. Democratic businessman Walt Minnick raised $360,000 in the Second Quarter and has $444,000 on hand. Sali will benefit from a big GOP turnout, but Minnick has made a big effort to court Republicans dissatisfied with Sali's conservatism.

Alaska At-Large: Perhaps no incumbent is in more danger than Republican Don Young, but that doesn't mean the GOP is terribly worried about keeping the seat. Young, who has $461,000 on hand after raising $106,000 in the Second Quarter, faces a late August primary against Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, who had $208,000 on hand after bringing in an impressive $266,000 through June, and State Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who raised $43,000 in the quarter and loaned herself enough to end with $289,000 on hand. The winner will likely face former House Democratic leader Ethan Berkowitz, who raised $227,000 and ended with $399,000 in the bank, though he faces his own primary with 2006 nominee Diane Benson, who raised $53,000 to end with $47,000 on hand. If ethically-troubled Young survives his primary, Democrats will have a good shot at the seat, though if Parnell scores the nomination, the Democratic winner becomes much more of a long shot.

Strategy Memo: Maliki's Mistake

Good Monday morning. Only a short period of time left until Congress vacates Washington for all of August and Strategy Memo has to find something new to lead off with. Here's what an anxious D.C. is watching today:

-- The Senate begins consideration of a bill to curb oil speculation, though no roll call votes will occur this afternoon. The House has only a pro forma schedule set for the day. President Bush has a busy day, greeting the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team and hosting them for a social dinner. Between those two events, Bush will meet with the national ambassador for the March of Dimes and the President and Prime Minister of Kosovo. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched a week-long foreign trip yesterday, with stops planned in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa and Hawaii, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey delivers his thoughts on the legal approach to the war on al Qaeda at the American Enterprise Institute.

-- Barack Obama, who is in Iraq at the moment, won the weekend hands down after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reportedly expressed support for a withdrawal plan for U.S. troops that looked an awful lot like Obama's plan. A Maliki spokesman walked back the statement after his office got a phone call from officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Post's Dan Eggen writes, Still, reacting to Maliki's comments, one Republican strategist sort of involved in the McCain campaign tells Marc Ambinder "We're [not happy at all]." (This is a family blog, but you get the picture.)

-- That the White House would get involved and ask Maliki to withdraw his statement only makes things better for Obama. Published in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Maliki's office claims the remarks are taken out of context and mistranslated. But the newspaper is standing by their reporting, pitting a Bush Administration with historically low approval ratings against a position the majority of Americans support. Tampering too obviously with the presidential campaign isn't going to help Bush elect another Republican. Too, Bush's involvement only serves to remind people which candidate he's rooting for in November, which can't be good for John McCain.

-- But like all good press secretaries, Maliki's made and distributed a recording of the interview, and it's pretty hard to walk back comments like those the Prime Minister made. "Obama's remarks that -- if he takes office -- in 16 months he would withdraw the forces, we think that this period could increase or decrease a little, but that it could be suitable to end the presence of the forces in Iraq," Maliki said, per a New York Times translation. "Who wants to exit in a quicker way has a better assessment of the situation in Iraq."

-- Meanwhile, Obama is in Iraq today after spending some of the weekend in Afghanistan, along with a few hours hanging out with U.S. troops in Kuwait and, on Sunday, with Sheik Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, the tiny country's emir. In Afghanistan, Obama sat down with President Hamid Karzai, and in Iraq he is expected to meet with top commanders on the ground, as well as with Maliki and President Jalal Talabani. Obama's foreign trip has generated huge headlines and dominated the political conversation, and far from being a danger to his campaign, the candidate is executing this trip like he does the rest of his presidential bid: Tightly controlled, with little room for error (He's given a major interview to CBS's Face The Nation, and that's the list).

-- Not all was bad news for McCain this weekend, as word leaked that evangelical leader and one-time McCain foe James Dobson said he could back the Republican nominee, the Associated Press reported last night. Dobson, who runs Focus on the Family out of Colorado Springs, speaks to a slice of the conservative base that hasn't demonstrated complete acceptance of McCain as their chosen candidate just yet. While it's true the GOP base is smaller now than it was during either of President Bush's runs for the White House, McCain still needs solidarity, and Dobson's endorsement, if it comes, will help.

-- But neither candidate is ceding evangelical voters, and, in what might be divine intervention, the two have agreed to meet for a presidential forum at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, in the middle of August. The church will host each candidate for an hour of questions from pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life, the New York Times reports, focusing on issues important to Warren like poverty, AIDS and the environment, as well as on how each candidate makes decisions. The event looks like a win for Obama, who gets to say he accepted a joint appearance without actually having to debate, but any time McCain gets to compare himself side-by-side with Obama is another opportunity to hammer home the fact that most Americans think McCain is more qualified to be commander in chief.

-- Debt Of The Day: Hillary Clinton has lent her own campaign another $1 million, Federal Election Commission filings show, while the debt she has yet to pay off is rising. The Times' Michael Luo writes on Clinton's loan climbing to $13.2 million, with little more than a month to recover anything more than $250,000. Too, the campaign is still losing money, spending $5.4 million while raising just $2.7 million. This month, after all the staff has gone, is likely to be better, but the amount of help Obama has given Clinton in retiring her debt, which still stands at $12 million, could become a sore point between the two Democratic heavyweights.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain kicks off his week at a picnic for military families in South Portland, Maine, before spending the rest of the week focusing on the economy in top swing states. By the way, Maine is where top McCain aide Mark Salter has said he will retreat to begin work on McCain's convention speech. Maybe McCain is dropping his buddy off. Obama, meanwhile, is in Baghdad after a stop in Basra earlier. He will meet with Maliki and General David Petraeus tonight.

This Week On PN Radio

Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page) as:

-- Have Democrats taken over the middle? And what happened to the once-mighty herds of Republican moderates? We'll talk to retiring Republicans Ray LaHood and Tom Davis to find out how the GOP can get its big tent back.

-- Barack Obama can win the South. Either that or Obama has no chance to pick up North Carolina, Georgia and anywhere else South of the Mason-Dixon line. We talk with UMBC Professor Thomas Schaller about Democrats' chances in previously Republican states.

-- And the Netroots Nation is meeting in Austin, Texas to plot strategy ahead of November's elections. Which matters more, the left's bloggers or the right's dittoheads? We'll get a live report from RCP's Kyle Trygstad in Austin.

All that and a few surprises, we're sure, Saturday morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Dems Make NC Play

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has for months talked up the prospects of a close race in North Carolina, where State Senator Kay Hagan is running against first term Republican Elizabeth Dole. Now, the committee is putting its money where its mouth is, reserving around $5 million in advertising time in the state, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.

That's a substantial sum in a state that didn't initially look like it would be competitive. Still, a new poll for Dole's campaign shows the incumbent leading by a wide margin, indicating Hagan may need the DSCC's help to pull back near even. The survey, conducted by The Tarrance Group, polled 550 likely voters between 7/7-9 for a margin of error of +/- 4.2%. Dole, Hagan and postal worker Christopher Cole, a Libertarian, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Dole................51
Hagan.............36
Cole..................6

Early polls showed the race much closer than the current 15-point gap, but Dole's advertising blitz in the past month looks like it paid off. After a series of advertisements Dole ran highlighting her work on immigration, the incumbent's lead ballooned from one within the margin of error to the current double-digit head start.

But Hagan had a strong fundraising quarter, and that's helped her seriously narrow the once-overwhelming cash advantage Dole had. Having raised $1.69 million from the end of the pre-primary period, on April 17, through the end of June, Dole spent $2.1 million and ended the quarter with $2.7 million on hand. Hagan raised $1.53 million in the same period and ended with $1.2 million in the bank.

The DSCC enjoys a substantial fundraising advantage over its Republican counterpart, though it's not as big a disparity as the two House committees. At the end of May, Democrats had a little less than a two-to-one advantage, with $38.5 million in the bank compared with $21.5 million for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. If Dole is in any further trouble, Republicans will be able to step in, but they'd certainly want to save their money for elsewhere.

FEC Second Quarter -- Desert West

After a bit of a breather this morning, we're back with part nine of our increasingly comprehensive look at the best House races in the country. Three months ago, we took a look at Arizona and Nevada and found a number of good races (Click here for our first look). That's the way it is this quarter, too, in the Desert West:

Arizona 01: National Democrats see former State Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick as one of their most promising prospects for a pickup, and she hasn't disappointed, raising $328,000 and keeping $668,000 on hand through the June 30 deadline. But she does have to get through a primary, where she will face television reporter Mary Kim Titla, who raised $54,000 and still has $57,000 in the bank, and Howard Shanker, who raised $33,000 and still has $21,000 lying around. The winner will face Republican nominee-in-waiting Sydney Hay, who raised $95,000 in the Second Quarter and kept $257,000 on hand.

Arizona 03: NRCC chairman Tom Cole once told Politics Nation that Rep. John Shadegg would be safe because he's a "paranoid incumbent." After a few quarters of strong fundraising from his Democratic opponent, Shadegg ramped up his own performance this quarter, pulling in a whopping $536,000 and keeping $1.35 million in reserve. Attorney Bob Lord had a good quarter, raising $233,000 and keeping $707,000 in hand, but unless national Democrats ride to the rescue, Shadegg looks like he will easily outspend Lord in the northern Phoenix district.

Arizona 05: A late Republican primary is good news for freshman Democrat Harry Mitchell, who is in enough trouble to merit defensive advertising reservations from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Mitchell raised $335,000 in the Second Quarter, keeping $1.37 million on hand to defend his Tempe- and Scottsdale-based district. In a five-way Republican primary, former Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert leads the pack, with $163,000 raised through the last three months and with $521,000 on hand. Republicans Jim Ogsbury, who raised $50,000 and still has $323,000 in the bank, and Susan Bitter Smith, who pulled in $150,000 and retains $248,000 through the quarter, trail. Former State Rep. Laura Knaperek raised $34,000 betwen April and June and has $106,000 on hand, and State Rep. Mark Anderson brings up the rear with $29,000 raised and $69,000 on hand.

Arizona 08: State Senate President Tim Bee has given Republicans a roller coaster ride during his campaign. He was the hot prospect, then he was disappointing, and now he's hot enough again to merit special fundraising attention. Bee raised $390,000 in the Second Quarter and had $688,000 on hand after June 30, and, thanks to that special fundraising attention -- in the form of a visit from President Bush today -- he'll add an extra $500,000. But he's up against one of the best freshman Democratic fundraisers in the country in Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who raised $562,000 between April and June and had a huge $2.07 million in the bank, putting hers near the top of all Democratic warchests. The battle for the Tucson-based seat is going to get seriously expensive.

Nevada 02: Freshman Republican Dean Heller had one of the closer races in 2006, pulling out a five-point win with just 50% of the vote. Heller raised $224,000 in the Second Quarter and kept $984,000 in reserve in anticipation of another tough fight with his 2006 opponent, former state Democratic chairwoman Jill Derby. Derby actually outraised Heller, pulling in $293,000, but trails significantly with $353,000 in the bank. In 2006, Heller only outspent Derby by a $1.67 million to $1.59 million margin, meaning Derby will likely have to step up her fundraising to make the race competitive in a district that takes up more than 95% of the state's land.

Nevada 03: Centered around Henderson and stretching to the southern tip of the state, Republican Rep. Jon Porter has seen his share of competitive races, and this year he will face another one from a candidate who's already won the district. After the likely Democratic nominee surprised observers by pulling out of the race, replacement Dina Titus, a state senator who came just a few points from winning the governor's mansion, jumped in the race and had an explosive Second Quarter, raising $575,000 and keeping $553,000 in the bank. Porter is no fundraising slouch, having raised $419,000 during the quarter and keeping $1.27 million around. Democrats think the Third District is their best shot at a Silver State pickup, so watch for serious party involvement here.

That rounds out this week's look at Second Quarter FEC reports. Check back Monday for the final four installments, when we round up the West, the upper Mississippi Valley, the Great Lakes and hot Senate races.

Dem Way Up In GOP Seat

With the retirement of Rep. Tom Davis, a moderate who represents parts of increasingly Democratic suburban Washington in Virginia, the GOP knew it would have trouble holding the seat. A new poll conducted for the Democratic nominee, though, suggests the seat is almost out of reach already.

The poll, conducted for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly by Lake Research Partners, surveyed 500 registered voters between 7/10-14 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Connolly, businessman Keith Fimian, Davis' hand-picked successor, and Green Party candidate Joe Oddo were tested.

General Election Matchup
Connolly.......52
Fimian...........21
Oddo..............2

The district, which encompasses most of Fairfax and Prince William Counties, has been trending Democratic along with the rest of Northern Virginia, which has seen a big population influx in recent years (Anyone from the Washington area will understand why Davis is sometimes jokingly referred to as "R-Orange Line"). Having given President Bush a seven-point margin in 2000, district residents gave him just a 2,000-vote win in 2004. Against an underfunded rival last year, Davis won with just 55%.

The district is affluent, with a median income of more than $80,000 thanks to the plethora of government contractors, and well-educated, and moderate voters who accepted the seven-term Davis, elected before they moved in, might not be so inclined towards a new Republican.

Fortunately for Republicans, their candidate has a massive cash advantage that may prove a mitigating factor. Fimian has more than $1 million in the bank, while Connolly only has $275,000 after a bruising primary against a former member of Congress and other Democrats. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved $1.3 million in advertising time here to aid Connolly, but with a strong fundraising quarter and more polls like these, he may not need the help.

Republicans have a seriously uphill climb in what increasingly looks like one of Democrats' best pickup opportunities in the country. Fimian is virtually unknown in the district, meaning his numbers will go up once he broadcasts his case to voters, but with a thirty-point deficit and an opponent over the magic 50% mark, it will be difficult for him to hold Davis' seat for Republicans.

Kirk Looks Strong

There are fewer incumbents who better fit the description of a paranoid incumbent than Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk. The moderate whose district sits just north of Chicago won his first term with just 51%, and after two easier elections won a fourth term in 2006 with just 53% of the vote. This year, a new poll for his campaign shows, Kirk leads his 2006 opponent by a much wider margin.

The poll, conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for Kirk's campaign, surveyed 300 likely voters on 6/9 for a margin of error of +/- 5.6%. Kirk and advertising executive Dan Seals were tested among a sample that included 35% Democratic respondents, 33% Republican respondents and 32% independents or others.

General Election Matchup
Kirk...........53 (+3 from last, 3/08)
Seals........32 (+3)

A one-day poll is not a standard survey length, and Democrats will make an issue out of the numbers. Most pollsters will conduct their surveys over multiple days to ensure that one news story or event doesn't weigh too heavily on the sample's mind. Too, the sample size is relatively small.

But Kirk's lead is easily outside the margin of error, and his favorable rating is a strong 67% to 16%. Seals' approval rating is 39% compared with 16% who see him unfavorably, a good ratio for a challenger, though he will have to bring up his name identification before he closes the gap with Kirk.

A moderate, Kirk is not likely to be cast as in lock step with Congressional Republicans or President Bush. And though John Kerry and Al Gore won the district in both 2000 and 2004, Kirk has been on the ballot with hometown favorite Barack Obama before, winning 64% of the vote when Kerry beat Bush by a 53%-47% margin in the district.

Still, Democrats are optimistic that they will eventually take the district back. Seals beat out a former Clinton Administration official in the Democratic primary in February, but if he can't knock off Kirk this time around, it may be the last time Seals makes a bid for Congress.

Chabot Leads In Cincy

Few states disappointed Democrats more in 2006 than Ohio, where a number of targeted Republicans survived competitive House contests. This year, Democrats are back, in some cases with new challengers, in others with more money, and Republicans again find themselves a target. A new poll for one of those endangered members, though, shows Democrats still have a way to go.

The survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of Rep. Steve Chabot, polled 400 likely voters between 6/30-7/2 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Chabot, a Republican, and State Rep. Steve Driehaus, the Democrat, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Chabot...........50
Driehaus........37

Obama...........46
McCain...........39

After winning by just a 52%-48% margin in 2006, Chabot's pollster writes in the publicly-released memo, the Republican leads by a wider margin now than he did two years ago. Too, Chabot's favorable image is strong at a time when most incumbents are worried about their own popularity. 63% of poll respondents said they viewed Chabot favorably, while just 23% view him unfavorably.

Chabot's First Congressional District, based in Cincinnati, has only a narrow advantage for Republicans. President Bush won the district with 51% in both his races, with John Kerry taking 49% and Al Gore taking 46%. That Obama is leading in the district is a hopeful sign for Driehaus, but the Democrat still has work to do.

National Democrats will help out, having reserved $928,000 in television time in the district. Chabot has a significant cash advantage for the moment, but watch for Democrats steer significant resources toward Driehaus's race.

Strategy Memo: Cash Money

Good Friday morning. Tuesday's All Star game was an extra-inning affair, and the Congressional baseball game was just as close. Republicans took home the trophy by an 11-10 score, with Florida Rep. Adam Putnam scoring the walk-off game winning run. Aside from bruises and a few scrapes, here's what Washington is watching:

-- The House and Senate are out of session today. President Bush is in Arizona, fundraising in Tucson for State Senate President Tim Bee, who is taking on Democratic freshman Gabrielle Giffords in the state's Eighth Congressional District. Later today, he fundraises for former congressional aide Pete Olson, who is running to oust Rep. Nick Lampson in the Texas' Twenty-Second District, just outside Houston. Bush will spend the weekend at his ranch in Crawford. Back in Washington, Defense Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Rice will welcome the president and prime minister of Kosovo.

-- Yesterday, we told you Barack Obama's campaign had raised $52 million in June and that he and the Democratic National Committee had somewhere around $72 million on hand. That meant, yet again, that national Democrats had failed to raise a significant chunk of change and still badly trailed the Republican National Committee. But it turns out Obama's number-crunchers were slightly off, and the DNC actually did have a good month in June, raising $22.4 million during the month. The RNC still outpaced Democrats by $3.6 million, but having gone from a pathetic $4.7 million in May to nearly quintupling that has to be a relief to everyone at DNC headquarters.

-- It also means the cash gap has closed significantly. Instead of a $20 million cash disparity, Obama and the DNC are now behind by just $3 million, the Los Angeles Times reports, with $92 million in the bank as compared with $95 million for John McCain and the Republicans. Still, McCain just has to send a lawyer to the Federal Election Commission to get an $84.1 million contribution, and the RNC's fundraising has been solid all year long. There remains the possibility that national Republicans could outspend national Democrats, but the DNC's good numbers this month make that a bit more remote.

-- Having dug themselves out of the financial doldrums, the DNC has finally set up its independent expenditure wing, a little more than two weeks after the RNC did the same. The Democrats' shop will be run by Jonathan Prince, former deputy campaign manager to John Edwards, and while he's legally barred from coordinating attacks on John McCain, he probably knows the style; in 2004, Prince worked with Obama strategist David Axelrod on an independent group that ran ads backing Democratic Senate candidates, the Associated Press' Jim Kuhnhenn reports. The party says they will spend more than the $118 million on independent ads they spent in 2004 backing John Kerry.

-- And in the last sign of the day that Democrats are learning lessons and picking up cues from Republicans, the party, along with Obama's campaign, have set up joint fundraising programs with eighteen competitive states, allowing one person's $28,500 check to be divided between several organizations. As Bush fundraises for Bee and Olson today, he'll also be raising money for the Arizona and Texas state parties. Now, Obama's doing the same. Typical swing states like Ohio and Florida join Obama's more out-there hopes like North Dakota and Alaska to form the basis of what could be a very interesting map in November.

-- Meanwhile, Obama is getting set for his first major overseas trip as the presumptive Democratic nominee, a few months after McCain made his own Middle East and European swing. Next week, Obama will travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as to Iraq and Afghanistan, followed by stops in Germany and the United Kingdom, a trip that's going to bring him coverage unprecedented for a nominee, as all three network news anchors will go with him for interviews. Joined by Iraq war foes Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed, Obama barely has to do anything in the war zone to make the front page of every paper in the country. (The trip is already getting good coverage. Check out the New York Times' primer on Obama's foreign policy team)

-- McCain, on the other hand, is balancing his critiques of Obama's trip delicately. On one hand, McCain spent yesterday praising Obama for going to Iraq, in a backhanded sort of way, after not being there for 900 days or so. On the other, McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker said yesterday that many of the European aspects of the trip amounted to little more than an overseas campaign rally, per the Times' Larry Rohter. Watch Republicans criticize Obama for setting policies on Iraq before visiting, but aside from that, next week's news looks set to be dominated by Obamania abroad.

-- Irritants Of The Day: The State Department's only diplomatic post with a legislative liaison unit, the Washington Post reports this morning, is in Baghdad, and at times the Iraqi embassy can be overrun by obnoxious lawmakers who put their feet in their mouths. Whether it's a member of Congress asking a mosque administrator where he went to church, or others demanding audiences with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani or Moqtada al Sadr, frequent Congressional delegations can be a bit of a pain in the rear for an otherwise very busy embassy.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is still in Michigan, where he will hold a town hall meeting early this morning in Warren, just north of Detroit, and will tour a General Motors plant in the city. It's been a profitable trip; McCain raised $1.4 million at a fundraiser yesterday, the Detroit News reports. Later tonight, McCain will make his third appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. Obama has no public events planned today.

FEC Second Quarter -- Rocky Mountains

The Mountain West is the emerging battleground for both parties, especially as each taps more into voters' more libertarian sensibilities. And there is no shortage of races about which to get excited along the nation's highest mountain range. Click here for our First Quarter take on the hot races, and take a look at how those races are developing:

New Mexico 01: Both parties got the nominees they wanted in Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, the Republican, and former city councilmember Martin Heinrich, the Democrat running in this Albuquerque-based seat. White pulled in $459,000 in the Second Quarter, aided by a fundraiser with President Bush, and has $634,000 in the bank. After a more contentious primary, Heinrich, who outraised White with $576,000 pulled in, trails the Republican with $354,000 on hand. Democrats plan to spend money here to capture a seat that has eluded them in recent years, and Republicans could follow suit.

New Mexico 02: Two tough primaries produced nominees for November who will face off in a Republican-leaning open seat that both parties will make competitive. Restaurant entrepreneur Ed Tinsley, the Republican winner, raised $274,000 through the quarter and had $112,000 left over at the end of June, while former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague, the Democratic nominee, raised $396,000 and still had $75,000 left over. Teauge starts at a geographical disadvantage; his base is in the extreme eastern part of the district, while Tinsley is from Las Cruces, the population center. But the DCCC has reserved advertising time here, too, making it a potential pickup.

Colorado 02: A heavily Democratic seat left open by Rep. Mark Udall, who is running for Senate, means Democratic candidates are fighting an expensive battle to replace him in Congress. State Senator Joan Fitz-Gerald is the prohibitive favorite, and she raised $422,000 through the Second Quarter, with almost $711,000 in the bank ahead of the state's August 12 primary. Businessman Jared Polis has poured millions into his own race, raising $3.18 million in the Second Quarter thanks to a $3.07 million donation from his own checkbook. He still has $866,000 on hand. And environmental activist Will Shafroth will complicate the picture; he raised $280,000 in the last three months and still has $735,000 on hand. The winner will face only token Republican opposition in the Fall.

Colorado 04: Like Jean Schmidt in Ohio, Rep. Marilyn Musgrave's tenure in Congress has been filled with controversy and close calls. She won just 46% of the vote in 2006, the lowest percentage of any winner that year. This time around, she will face former Congressional aide Betsy Markey, who spent last quarter outraising the three-term incumbent. Musgrave pulled in $280,000 last quarter to retain $1.15 million on hand, while Markey raised $390,000 to keep $580,000 in the bank. Last year, a third-party candidate took 11%. This year, it's just a Markey-Musgrave head to head, which could spell trouble for the incumbent.

Colorado 05: The Second District is a Democratic free-for-all, and the Fifth is the same for Republicans. Freshman Doug Lamborn pulled in $116,000 to end the quarter with $237,000 left over, including $47,500 in debt, while two of his 2006 primary opponents nip at his heals. Former congressional aide Jeff Crank raised $102,000 and still has $105,000 to spend, while retired Air Force Major General Bentley Rayburn raised $61,000 and still has $62,000 in the bank. The district is home to Focus on the Family and the Air Force Academy, making the winner of the GOP primary the heavy favorite over retired Air Force officer Hal Bidlack, the likely Democratic nominee who finished the quarter with $77,000 on hand.

Wyoming At-Large: Rep. Barbara Cubin's decision to retire for medical reasons gave Republicans more optimism in their ability to keep a seat that came within 1,000 votes of flipping parties in 2006. Former State Treasurer Cynthia Lummis and rancher Mark Gordon are the leading Republican candidates; Lummis raised $199,000 in the Second Quarter and still has $247,000 in advance of the August 19 primary, while Gordon has largely self-funded his campaign, pulling in $416,000, almost $350,000 from his own pocket ($349,999 to be exact, a dollar shy of tripping the Millionaire's Amendment) with $69,000 left on hand. 2006 Democratic nominee Gary Trauner raised $318,000 between April and June and finished with a whopping $702,000 on hand. Democrats think they have a shot here, but that Wyoming is a very Republican state in a presidential year makes their job harder.

FEC Second Quarter -- Dust Bowl

Part seven in our exhaustive look at the best potential races of the year takes us west to the golden fields of Nebraska south to the Rio Grande and the Gulf of Mexico. Check out our last post on the Dust Bowl here. We would include Kansas in this list, but thanks to an August primary, candidates there aren't required to file with the FEC until July 24. We'll update when that time comes.

The hot races we're watching from Texas north:

Texas 07: We weren't convinced this is a real race three months ago, and we still aren't convinced. But Republican Rep. John Culberson raised $394,000 in the second quarter and has $550,000 on hand, and that raises some alarm bells, given that his Democratic opponent, businessman Michael Skelly, has outpaced him by such a huge margin. Skelly raised $408,000 in the Second Quarter and has a whopping $1.05 million in the bank, making netroots Democrats pay attention. At the very least, Skelly will make life uncomfortable for Republicans in a district that gave a 28-point majority to President Bush.

Texas 10: Another heavily Republican district and another seat that might not really be in play, but Rep. Michael McCaul will face a minor celebrity in November in Larry Joe Doherty, host of the trial show "Texas Justice." McCaul raised $246,000 through June, keeping $489,000 on hand, while Doherty slightly outraised him with $247,000, keeping $260,000 on hand. That's enough to make us pay attention, especially when McCaul beat a Democrat by a 55%-40% margin in 2006. But the Republican remains the heavy favorite in a district John McCain will likely win easily in November.

Texas 22: Republicans have few better opportunities to reclaim a lost seat than in the suburban Houston Twenty Second District. Formerly Rep. Tom DeLay's seat, the GOP now has its eye on Democrat Nick Lampson, who barely beat a write-in candidate with a funny name. Lampson, who raised $261,000 over the last three months and has almost $1.15 million in the bank, will face a candidate hand-picked by Republicans in former Congressional aide Pete Olson. Olson outraised Lampson in the Second Quarter, with $354,000 pulled in, but after a contentious primary he's rebuilding his warchest and has just $261,000 on hand. The DCCC has reserved $1.1 million in advertising time to protect Lampson, but this year, against a good Republican candidate, that may not be enough.

Texas 23: Lampson isn't the only Democratic incumbent the party is worried about in Texas. Stretching from the El Paso suburbs to the San Antonio suburbs along the Rio Grande, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez beat a Republican in the Twenty Third District by just eight points in 2006. This quarter, he raised $332,000 and retained $1.19 million in the bank, while Republican Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson raised $262,000 and still had $280,000 in the bank. The DCCC has reserved ad time in the Twenty Third, as well, but they may not need to use it.

Nebraska 02: Yet another race where Democrats might not ordinarily have a chance makes our radar screen because of the possibility that Barack Obama could compete there. Incumbent Republican Lee Terry has made comments about his constituents' independent streak, calling them "Obama-Terry voters," and after his close 55%-45% win in 2006, he faces a repeat challenger in businessman Jim Esch. Terry raised $249,000 in the Second Quarter and still has $617,000 in the bank, while Esch, who faced a Democratic primary, raised $219,000 and has $141,000 in the bank. Terry got a boost when one of Esch's defeated Democratic rivals endorsed the Republican incumbent.

FEC Second Quarter -- Ohio Valley

No state disappointed Democrats more in 2006 than Ohio. But this year, the party again thinks the Ohio Valley will be a big part of their gains. Check out what we wrote last quarter by clicking here, and join us on a tour from the Great Lakes to the mountains of West Virginia:

Ohio 01: In Cincinnati, Ken Griffey Jr.'s tenure with the Reds isn't the only thing in jeopardy this year. Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, who won a surprisingly close 52%-48% victory in 2006, could find himself in serious trouble come November as well. Chabot raised $305,000 in the Second Quarter, leaving $1.31 million in the bank, while his Democratic opponent, State House Minority Whip Steve Driehaus, raised $200,000 and retained $631,000 in the bank. Democrats are committed to winning the seat, reserving $928,000 in advertising time, and that alone could make for another close contest.

Ohio 02: Perpetual target Republican Jean Schmidt has faced four close elections in the three years she's been in Congress. This year, though she represents a seat that is likely to go easily for John McCain, she could face another one. Schmidt pulled in $301,000 in the Second Quarter, leaving her with just $393,000 on hand. Her 2006 opponent, physician Victoria Wulsin, lost by just 2,600 votes then and slightly outraised Schmidt this quarter, pulling in $309,000 and keeping $378,000 in reserve.

Ohio 07: We're not convinced retiring Rep. David Hobson's seat, south of Columbus, is really in play, but one Democratic poll showed a tight contest between State Senator Steve Austria, the Republican, and attorney Sharen Neuhardt, so we'll include it out of an abundance of caution. Austria raised an impressive $342,000 in the Second Quarter, leaving him with $361,000 on hand, while Neuhardt raised $190,000 with $108,000 left over. Democrats face a seriously uphill climb, though, in a district that voted for President Bush by a fourteen-point margin.

Ohio 15: Republican Rep. Deborah Pryce's retirement after a narrow win in 2006 has made her challenger that year, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, the overwhelming favorite in many people's minds. But don't count out Republican State Senator Steve Stivers, perhaps the GOP's top recruit this year. Kilroy raised $365,000 in the last three months, leaving her with $1.16 million in the bank. But Stivers outraised his Democratic rival, pulling in $429,000 in the last quarter while saving $880,000 in reserve. The DCCC has reserved $1.2 million in advertising time, and Republicans will likely respond, as this is shaping up to be one of the closest races in the country.

Ohio 16: The state's third Republican retirement, from Rep. Ralph Regula, left open a seat south of Cleveland and Akron that Democrats are also enthusiastic about capturing. The DCCC has reserved $1.3 million in advertising time to aid State Senator John Boccieri, who raised $391,000 on his own last quarter and kept $531,000 on hand. Republicans are happy with State Senator Kirk Schuring, who pulled in $330,000 and still has $349,000 in the bank. A poll for Schuring's campaign showed him leading by six points.

West Virginia 02: The Mountaineer State's lone Republican finds herself a Democratic target this year, but Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is used to tough races. The four-term member of Congress raised $388,000 in the Second Quarter, while keeping more than $1.23 million on hand for her fight against Democrat Anne Barth, a former aide to Senator Robert Byrd. Barth raised $295,000 and still has $353,000 on hand, and as a Red to Blue member, Barth has national Democrats' attention. Still, Moore Capito has beaten well-funded challengers before, and she remains the favorite, for now.

FEC Second Quarter -- Florida

The Sunshine State, like Pennsylvania, just has too many competitive races to be lumped in with any other state. Republicans may have a big advantage in the state legislature, and Charlie Crist remains a very popular governor, but House races are a different story. Click here to take a look at what we wrote about the state after the First Quarter, and here's our take on quarter number two:

Florida 08: One of the biggest surprises of 2006 came when Republican Rep. Ric Keller fended off a surprisingly tough challenge from marketing executive Charlie Stuart by a narrow 53%-46% margin. This year Stuart is back, and both candidates are raking in big money in preparation for another tough fight. Keller raised $267,000 in the Second Quarter, leaving him with $935,000 in the bank, while Stuart raised $224,000 and still has $415,000 left over. He faces serious primary fights from a number of well-funded Democrats, but Stuart is favored to win the primary. Stuart is not a member of the DCCC's Red to Blue program, but if Florida heats up for Democrats, look for the DCCC to take another gander at this central Florida district.

Florida 13: After a race so close that a special House committee had to get involved, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan will face a rematch with Democrat Christine Jennings, both of whom spent tons of personal money to make this the most expensive House race in the country in 2006. Buchanan raised a whopping $510,000 in the past three months to leave him with $1.57 million in the bank, while Jennings, a banker, pulled in $379,000, not a shabby showing at all. The Democrat still has $579,000 in reserve to fight for the district, which lies just south of Tampa.

Florida 16: Even after his departure in 2006, then-Rep. Mark Foley's name was still on the ballot, leading to one of the cleverest slogans of the year: "Punch Foley for [State Rep. Joe] Negron," the GOP replacement. Negron's not running against freshman Democrat Tim Mahoney this year, but a number of other Republicans are, making him one of the most endangered Democrats in Congress. Mahoney raised $335,000 and still has $1.17 million after the Second Quarter. Republican Hal Valeche pulled in $62,000 but still has $829,000 to play with, while Tom Rooney, one of the heirs to the owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, raised $90,000 and has $451,000 in the bank. State Rep. Gayle Harrell raised $98,000 during the last three months and retains $240,000 for her race. The state's August 26 primary, relatively late on the calendar, could be the only thing that saves Mahoney.

Florida 18: The first of three Cuban-majority districts is probably the safest for its Republican incumbent. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen holds much of Miami and south to the Keys, and she's got $1.89 million in the bank after raising $281,000 for the quarter. Her Democratic opponent, businesswoman Annette Taddeo, is no fundraising slouch, having pulled in $154,000 and keeping $457,000 on hand, thanks to a sizable personal loan, but she'll need a bigger bankroll for the race she faces in November. A poll out two weeks ago showed Ros-Lehtinen with a huge lead.

Florida 21: Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart's Cuban-majority district, just west of Miami, could be in a bit more trouble. Diaz-Ballart raised $474,000 and had $1.75 million on hand through Second Quarter, but his rival, former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez, bettered that, with $601,000 pulled in through the end of June. Martinez has $1.08 million in the bank, along with designation as a DCCC Red to Blue candidate, and the same early July poll that showed Ros-Lehtinen ahead by such a wide margin shows Diaz-Balart leading by a skimpy four points.

Florida 24: One race we forgot to include in the First Quarter features Rep. Tom Feeney, the former Speaker of the Florida House, who has been accused of a closer relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff than had previously been disclosed. Feeney hasn't been accused of wrongdoing, but his Daytona Beach-based seat might still be in play. Feeney's district gave President Bush a ten-point win in 2004, but the incumbent isn't taking his race lightly. He raised $421,000 in the Second Quartr and has $795,000 in the bank. He'll have to step up the pace, though. Not only did former Democratic State Rep. Suzanne Kosmas outraise him in the Second Quarter, pulling in $479,000, but she also has more in the bank than Feeney, with $936,000 on hand.

Florida 25: The other Diaz-Balart, Mario, finds himself in a similarly difficult position to that of his brother. Based farther west of Miami, Mario's Twenty-Fifth District stretches to the state's Gulf coast, and his opponent, Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chair Joe Garcia, is down just five points, per the poll of Hispanic-majority districts. Diaz-Balart raised $387,000 in the past quarter and retains $1.04 million on hand. Garcia outraised his opponent by more than $100,000, pulling in $493,000 and ending the quarter with $701,000 in the bank.

Strategy Memo: The Old War

Good Thursday morning. Two days after the American League took fifteen innings to beat the National League by a 4-3 margin, Democrats will face their Republican foes at the Nationals' new stadium in the annual Congressional Baseball Game. We're not making predictions, we're just pointing out that Republicans have won seven years in a row. Here's what else Washington is watching today:

-- The House will perpetuate the energy debate today by encouraging oil drilling on existing leases. Republicans argue that many of the leases have no oil under them, making drilling futile. The Senate is considering increased regulation of the energy futures market. President Bush will attend the funeral of Tony Snow, his former press secretary who passed away on Saturday after two bouts with cancer. Later, Bush travels to California to witness wildfire damage and to hold a Republican National Committee fundraiser in Napa, before overnighting in Tucson, where he has a fundraiser scheduled tomorrow.

-- The long wait is finally over, and the news is decidedly mixed: Barack Obama's presidential campaign raised $52 million in June, closer to the low-end estimates of $30 million than the high-end estimates by some in the media of $100 million. Campaign manager David Plouffe, in an email to supporters, thanks them for the average donation of just $68 in the first month after the presumptive Democratic nominee wrapped up his party's nod. It's Obama's best month since February, and it's a full $30 million more than John McCain raised in June. But it's half of what a spectacular month could have been.

-- Too, Plouffe points out, Democrats are actually running behind their Republican counterparts in the fundraising department. While neither the Obama campaign nor the Democratic National Committee have actually filed their reports, the two committees have a combined $72 million stockpiled, an increase from the $47 million they had together at the end of May. McCain and the RNC, though, have about $96 million in the bank. Add to that a contribution of $84.1 million to McCain from taxpayers and the fact that the RNC is likely to once again far outpace national Democrats and Obama's campaign is actually in danger of being outspent.

-- Obama spent part of his day yesterday explaining how his administration would not be consumed with fighting "the last war," and instead would look ahead to emerging threats. Joined by non-proliferation maven Sam Nunn, the former Georgia Senator, Obama also said his administration would work to secure loose nuclear weapons and then eliminate them, the AP's Glen Johnson reports. Both Nunn and Senator Evan Bayh, who hosted Obama in West Lafayette, Indiana, have generated veep buzz, but more importantly, is Obama beginning a contrast between the next and last wars? That sounds suspiciously like Bill Clinton's bridge to the 21st century, which he used to make rival Bob Dole look like yesterday's news.

-- Speaking of fighting the last war, top McCain adviser Carly Fiorina is still meeting with disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters, this time in Clinton's backyard in Westchester, New York. The Wall Street Journal's Cooper and Emshwiller write that Fiorina calls top representatives from new Clinton-backing organizations "intensely uncomfortable" with an Obama presidency. It's the second meeting with Clinton supporters Fiorina has had in recent weeks. But with national polls showing the same number of Democrats backing Obama as Republicans backing McCain (And keep in mind that Republicans are generally a more homogeneous voting bloc), hasn't the Clinton-to-McCain ship sailed?

-- One name that hasn't surfaced a lot, except in Democratic talking points, is George W. Bush. The albatross around Republican necks is playing a role in down-ballot races, but if he gets involved in the presidential race it's not going to be to his favored candidate's liking. That could be why a top McCain adviser not terribly subtly linked the unpopular president's management style to that of Barack Obama, as Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports. "I think the American people have had enough of stubbornness and inflexibility in national security policy," Randy Scheunemann said on a conference call yesterday. That's a deliberate shot across the bow if there ever was one.

-- Then again, while Bush has a legacy to protect that can be aided by electing a fellow from his own party to replace him, the relationship between the president and McCain has never been good. They admire each other's tenacity, Time's Jay Carney writes, but that's about where the respect ends. The list of issues on which McCain joined Democrats over the Bush White House is long and distinguished, and if President Bush ever decides to exert any form of revenge, another giant bear-hug would be just the way to flex those muscles.

-- Big Brother Of The Day: It knows your email address. Your phone number. Your magazine subscriptions. And whether you're a member of the ACLU or the NRA. It's not the government's terrorist-watch list. It's Barack Obama's campaign, as Salon's Mike Madden writes. Thanks to the most sophisticated data-mining operation Democrats have ever run, the five million or so people who have signed up using their email addresses have full files, and the future of political data management as we know it has arrived.

-- Today On The Trail: John McCain lands in Kansas City this morning for a rally at the airport followed by a town hall meeting. Later tonight, he holds a fundraising reception in Ferrysburg, Michigan. Obama hasn't made his schedule public yet, but wife Michelle will hold a breakfast event to fundraise with Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire in Seattle and half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng hosts a forum for women in Tampa, Florida.

FEC Second Quarter -- The South

Our fourth installment of Federal Election Commission report summaries takes a look at the South, where Democrats are experiencing a resurgence after two special election victories earlier this year. For our last look, click here. We're not including Florida in this particular region -- like Pennsylvania, the Sunshine State gets its own section. But from North Carolina to Louisiana, there are plenty of other hot contests:

North Carolina 08: In 2006, Rep. Robin Hayes won re-election by just over 300 votes in a seat Democrats openly acknowledge they should have paid attention to earlier. This year, they're actively backing former teacher Larry Kissell, a member of the Red to Blue program, who last month put out a poll showing him ahead of Republican Hayes. Kissell needs to speed up the fundraising, though; through the last three months, he's pulled in just $178,000 with $232,000 on hand, while Hayes raised an impressive $470,000 and still has $1.17 million lying around. In 2006, Hayes outspent Kissell by a more than four-to-one margin, so he may need a similar boost this year to keep his job.

Georgia 08: In 2006, few Democrats came as close to losing their seats as did Rep. Jim Marshall, one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. Marshall's seat, which spans from the south Atlanta suburbs through Macon and near the Florida border, gave President Bush a twenty-two point margin in 2004, and this year Republicans are enthusiastic about retired Air Force General Rick Goddard's chances. Goddard raised $193,000 in the Second Quarter, keeping $489,000 in the bank, and almost matched Marshall's $201,000 raised. Still, Marshall has a big head start, with $1.37 million left over.

Alabama 02: When State Rep. Jay Love won the Republican runoff yesterday, he won the right to face a popular mayor who, despite the fact that the southern Montgomery-based district is a Republican seat, still decided to run as a Democrat. After a disappointing First Quarter, Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright is back on track, raising $346,000 in the second three months of the year and showing $281,000 cash on hand. Love, who emerged from an ugly primary, raised $270,000 in the last three months and spent most of it, retaining just $91,000 in the bank. But Love has shown the ability and willingness to self-fund -- he's already lent his campaign $650,000 -- and he could erase any disparity with Bright with one check from his own pocket.

Alabama 05: Another Republican-leaning seat, this northern Alabama district also picked their GOP nominee yesterday, pushing 2006 nominee Wayne Parker into a contest with Democratic State Senator Parker Griffith in the race to replace Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer. Griffith, who won his primary outright, pulled in $456,000 in the Second Quarter and still had $352,000 in reserve. Parker will need to replenish, and quickly; he had just $73,000 left after June 30, though that number likely plunged near zero after the close primary. John McCain will win the seat handily, but Democrats are favored to keep it in their column for now.

Mississippi 01: Just because Democrat Travis Childers won the district's special election in early June doesn't mean Republicans aren't going to keep trying to take back a seat President Bush won by 25 points. Childers, who raised $1.03 million in the last quarter leading up to the special election, still has $161,000 in the bank in the month after he took a seat in Congress. His erstwhile opponent, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, raised $712,000 during the same period and kept $54,000 on hand. The two will likely face off again in November.

Louisiana 06: Another winner of a special election, Democrat Don Cazayoux, also had a good quarter leading up to his June 3 victory. Cazayoux raised almost $1.02 million and kept $271,000 on hand for what is likely to be an even more difficult race in November. He will face State Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican who has also had a good quarter, raising $213,000 and saving $195,000 for a rainy day. Cazayoux's flawed special election opponent, Woody Jenkins, will not be running again. Making matters worse, Cazayoux's defeated primary opponent, State Rep. Michael Jackson, is running as an independent. Jackson, who is African American, could give Cazayoux problems with the Democratic base; the district is 33% black. Jackson raised just $4,000 in the Second Quarter and had a negative cash balance, but if he can make a dent, it could hand the seat back to Republicans.

FEC Second Quarter -- Pennsylvania

We like to break down House races by region, but once again the nineteen districts in Pennsylvania present so many races that we'll stick to one state in our third look at competitive House races around the country. For a look back at the First Quarter races we spotlighted, click here. We've even added a few to our second round:

Pennsylvania 03: We spotlighted a Democratic poll yesterday that showed arboretum director Kathy Dahlkemper leading Republican Rep. Phil English by a single point in this northwestern district, but Dahlkemper badly trails in cash on hand. After raising $161,000 through the entire Second Quarter, which included the state's April 22 primary, Dahlkemper had $128,000 in the bank. During the same three months, English pulled in $422,000 and held $787,000 in reserve. A smart politician, English will be a tough Republican for Democrats to knock off, but in a working-class area hit hard by slow economic times, it's not out of the question.

Pennsylvania 04: Jason Altmire remains one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House after beating Republican Melissa Hart in this suburban Pittsburgh district. Altmire is raising huge money though, with $456,000 pulled in through the Second Quarter and with a warchest of $1.57 million. Hart, who is running for her old seat, raised just shy of $300,000 for the quarter, and has $625,000 in the bank. Altmire won last year even while being outspent more than two-to-one, and the DCCC has reserved just over $550,000 in advertising time on his behalf. Still, Hart is probably the best candidate Republicans could have gotten in a district that is likely to support John McCain for president, making it a good pickup chance for the GOP.

Pennsylvania 06: Jim Gerlach will never have an easy race for re-election, though this year he will have a Democratic opponent with less money than last year. Gerlach won by 3,000 votes against an opponent who outspent him in 2006, but this year his $762,000 in the bank after the Second Quarter far outpaces businessman Bob Roggio, who raised $180,000 in the last three months and kept $260,000 in the bank. Gerlach raised $343,000 for the same period. Perhaps, by September or October, Gerlach will be able to breathe easier than he has in years past.

Pennsylvania 07: One of two seats Democrats won in the Philadelphia suburbs, freshman Democrat Joe Sestak continues his prodigious fundraising pace. Sestak pulled in $436,000 during the Second Quarter and kept $2.59 million in reserve. His highly-touted opponent, veteran Craig Williams, raised $280,000 during the period with $360,000 left on hand. Williams is one of the challengers heading to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this week, and if he can make energy an issue, he could dent Sestak's growing popularity in the district.

Pennsylvania 08: The only Iraq war veteran to serve in Congress, freshman Democrat Patrick Murphy raised a whopping $714,000 last quarter, ending the period with $2.24 million in the bank. His opponent, whose son died in the same war, is struggling to keep pace, but Republicans are high on the prospects of Tom Manion, who they say has a strong shot at knocking off the freshman Murphy. Manion raised $242,000 in the last quarter and retained $505,000 in the bank in his race for the Bucks County-based suburban Philadelphia district.

Pennsylvania 10: In 2006, Chris Carney ran against a scandal-tainted incumbent Republican in a heavily Republican district, winning by a six-point margin. This year, Carney faces an opponent who doesn't carry the same baggage, and who can largely self-fund his own contest. Carney recognizes the threat, and raised a solid $354,000 in a district that has cheap television rates; he's got $1.15 million left over. His opponent, businessman Chris Hackett, made it through a bruising primary and raised $367,000 this entire quarter, to keep $267,000 in the bank. Hackett has already loaned his campaign $740,000, and more could be coming.

Pennsylvania 11: Democratic incumbent Paul Kanjorski could be in serious trouble this year. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is running their first television advertisements of the year on Kanjorski's behalf, and the twelve-term incumbent has raised $488,000 in the Second Quarter, nearly two-thirds of the money he spent during all of the 2006 cycle. With $2.17 million in the bank, Kanjorski will have plenty of money to take on Republican Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who raised $333,000 in the last three months and still has $322,000 left. Barletta is being outraised, but his prominence on immigration issues could make up for being outspent.

Pennsylvania 15: Second-term Rep. Charlie Dent, like Gerlach in the Sixth District, isn't going to face a lot of easy re-election campaigns. One of only a few Republicans who represent districts both John Kerry and Al Gore carried, surrounding Allentown, Dent could face another tough race this year against Democrat Sam Bennett, who served as Allentown Democratic Party chair and ran for Mayor in 2001 and 2005. Dent raised $231,000 in the Second Quarter and retained $687,000 in the bank. Bennett pulled in $227,000 and had $354,000 on hand at the end of the period.

FEC Second Quarter -- Mid-Atlantic

Part two of our new look at how top candidates around the country are doing takes us to New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia, and as in the Northeast, we're taking a look at more races than we did last quarter. For a look back at what we wrote after the First Quarter, click here. Take a look at the races we're watching near Washington, D.C.:

New Jersey 03: After Republican Rep. Jim Saxton's retirement and a bruising Republican primary, businessman Chris Myers, who was a vice president at Lockeed Martin, had a difficult quarter, raising $242,000 in a district that depends on advertising in the expensive Philadelphia media market. Myers retained $155,000 in the bank, little more than one tenth of what Democratic State Senator John Adler has in reserve. Adler raised $738,000 in the Second Quarter and retained $1.46 million after the end of the quarter. The district voted for Al Gore by eleven points in 2000, but for President Bush by two points in 2004, making it a key swing seat that both parties will go all out to keep.

New Jersey 05: Another new addition to the list, but only for Democrats' interest in the race. Rabbi Dennis Shulman, the Democratic nominee, raised an impressive $234,000 in the Second Quarter, ending with $258,000 in the bank. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attended a fundraiser for Shulman, signifying that Democrats might wade into the state's farthest north district. But incumbent Republican Scott Garrett looks to be in good position for now, having raised $293,000 and keeping $649,000 in reserve. The district leans Republican, and Garrett won his third term by eleven points after spending just over $1 million, indicating he's probably safe come November.

New Jersey 07: Four-term Rep. Michael Ferguson is stepping down from his marginally Republican seat at the end of the year, having won re-election by a tiny 3,000 vote margin over Assemblywoman Linda Stender in 2006. Stender is back, and she's got cash. The Democratic nominee raised $498,000 in the Second Quarter to finish with $1.2 million in the bank. Her Republican opponent, State Senator Leonard Lance, raised a disappointing $191,000 after a bruising primary, and held just $81,000 in reserve. If Republicans are going to have a shot at keeping the seat, Lance is going to have to step on the fundraising gas.

Maryland 01: State Senator Andy Harris did what no other Republican has been able to in the last decade when he knocked Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, one of the most liberal Republicans in the House, out of the GOP primary in February. Harris could face a tough Democratic challenger in state's attorney Frank Kratovil, but the Republican is well-funded and sitting in a district that gave Bush a 26-point win in 2004. Harris raised $432,000 in the last three months and has $609,000 in the bank, as compared with the $454,000 Kratovil has left over after raising $355,000.

Virginia 02: Incumbent Republican Thelma Drake is used to being challenged for her Norfolk- and Virginia Beach-based district, and this year is no different. During the Second Quarter, she built up her warchest to $682,000 cash on hand, after having raised $281,000 over the period. Her Democratic opponent, businessman Glenn Nye, has kept pace with $262,000 raised through the last three months and with $409,000 on hand. The DCCC is running radio ads targeting Drake, but the district's high military population could help her this year, especially with John McCain at the top of the ticket.

Virginia 05: Former Democrat Virgil Goode, who switched to the Republican Party in February 2002, could see a challenger from his old party emerge this year in his Southside district, which runs from Charlottesville to the North Carolina border. The DCCC is also targeting Goode with radio ads highlighting his support for some of President Bush's policies in an early attempt to soften his numbers. Goode pulled in $390,000 in the Second Quarter, which, because of Virginia's primary, covered separate periods of April 1 through May 21 and May 22 through June 30, and kept $834,000 on hand. Democrat Tom Perriello raised $277,000 during the post-primary period and $313,000 during entire quarter. He still has $519,000 on hand. In what Democrats are calling an "emerging" race, Goode is leading, but Perriello has a shot.

Virginia 10: Exurban Washington is changing, but it may not be changing fast enough for Democratic nominee Judy Feder. The former Clinton Administration official took 41% of the vote in 2006, and now has an impressive $812,000 in the bank after raising $316,000 through the entire Second Quarter. The incumbent, Republican Frank Wolf, scored 57% in 2006 despite rumors of his impending demise, and through the last three months he's pulled in $359,000 for a total of $849,000 on hand. President Bush won the district by eleven points in 2004, and while population shifts might put it in Democratic hands in the future, that future might still be a ways off.

Virginia 11: In one of Democrats' best pickup opportunities this year, the party got exactly the candidate they wanted in Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly. In the post-primary reporting period, Connolly raised $283,000, and thanks to a tough primary with ex-Rep. Leslie Byrne, he held just $275,000 on hand. His Republican opponent, businessman Keith Fimian, raised $334,000 in the same period and kept $1.04 million in the bank, thanks in part to a $325,000 loan from the candidate. Democrats are determined to win the suburban Washington seat, and the party just reserved $1.3 million in ad buys there to aide Connolly. But Fimian is no slouch, and he's turned out to be a better fundraiser than most expected.

FEC Second Quarter -- The Northeast

It's that magical time of year when Federal Election Commission reports are due, offering a key window into who may be vulnerable, and which challengers are for real. We wanted to reverse our order from the First Quarter and start with Michigan and Indiana, but since Michigan's primaries are August 5, Second Quarter reports aren't due in the Wolverine State for another few days.

So it's back to the Northeast, where plenty of hot races are just getting started. To check out our early take on contests in New York, New Hampshire and Connecticut, click here. While we wish there were more contests, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont don't have much to offer this year. Without further ado, the Second Quarter reports:

-- New Hampshire 01: Republicans Jeb Bradley and John Stephen continue to fight it out in advance of the September primary for the right to take on freshman Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in November. But Shea-Porter, who has refused DCCC offers to make her a member of the Frontline program for endangered Democrats, isn't going to make it easy for either of them. She raised $260,000 in the Second Quarter and still has $749,000 in the bank. That's a lot more than the $99,000 Bradley raised or the $137,000 that Stephen has around, and their smaller warchests, of $475,000 and $257,000, will be further depleted once the primary is over. The latest poll out of the Granite State shows Shea-Porter leading Stephen but losing to Bradley, the foe she narrowly defeated in 2006.

-- New York 13: In the last three months, this race went from a contest between incumbent Rep. Vito Fossella and New York City Councilman Domenic Recchia to a battle between Democratic city councilmember Mike McMahon and 2006 nominee Steve Harrison, both Democrats, and no real Republican, after Fossella's arrest on drunken driving charges and subsequent retirement. McMahon raised an impressive $497,000 in the first few months since getting in the race, retaining $471,000, while Harrison raised $34,000 and has $63,000 left over. Democrats made a big ad reservation in the seat, but without a viable Republican challenger, they probably won't have to spend it.

-- New York 20: A new addition to the list, freshman Democratic Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand has become a stunningly prolific fundraiser -- she's raised more than $3.6 million this cycle after spending $2.6 million to oust Rep. John Sweeney in 2006 -- but her opponent, Republican official Sandy Treadwell, has money of his own and he isn't afraid to spend it. From April through the end of June, Treadwell had raised $111,000 and given himself $948,000. He ended the period with $1.27 million in the bank. That's a lot, but he'll need more to compete with Gillibrand, who has stockpiled $2.8 million through the same period.

-- New York 25: Republican Rep. Jim Walsh's retirement left 2006 Democratic nominee Dan Maffei, who came within 3,400 votes of beating Walsh, the prohibitive favorite in the Syracuse-based seat. And Maffei is already fundraising like an incumbent, raising $473,000 through the Second Quarter and retaining $961,000. His opponent, former Onondaga County Legislator Dale Sweetland, raised $134,000 and kept $107,000 in the bank. Maffei is already running television ads, making him the favorite to steal another seat for Democrats.

-- New York 26: Rep. Tom Reynolds disappointed fellow Republicans by deciding to step down after this year, but a late and divisive Democratic primary could help the GOP keep a seat. National Democrats favor Iraq war veteran Jon Powers, who raised $272,000 in the Second Quarter to add to his already impressive haul. He finished the period with $489,000 cash on hand. Attorney Alice Kryzan pulled in $69,000 and still has $247,000 in the bank, while 2004 and 2006 nominee Jack Davis, the plaintiff who just got the Millionaire's Amendment overturned, hasn't raised a dime since kicking off his campaign but loaned himself $35,000. Businessman Chris Lee has the Republican field to himself for now, and has raised $351,000 in his first quarter. Added to a $320,000 loan and Lee has $636,000 in the bank, a nice head start especially if Democrats are forced to deplete their warchests.

-- Connecticut 02: Another freshman Democrat, Rep. Joe Courtney, is still building an impressive cash advantage over a Republican once thought to be among the party's best recruits. Courtney raised $327,000 between April 1 and June 30, bringing his cash on hand total to $1.4 million. His opponent, retired Naval officer Sean Sullivan, turned in another disappointing quarter, with $89,000 raised and $155,000 cash on hand. Republicans who were once touting Sullivan as a top prospect are now mum on his potential in November.

-- Connecticut 04: Perpetually targeted Rep. Chris Shays is one of an increasingly small handful of Republicans who represents a district Al Gore and John Kerry both won against President Bush. He's survived the last four years by winning re-election with just 52%, in 2004, and 51%, in 2006. But he always raises big bucks, pulling in $717,000 in the Second Quarter and keeping just shy of $1.7 million on hand. His Democratic opponent, Greenwich Democratic Party chairman Jim Himes, raised a similar amount, $698,000, and still has $1.44 million in the bank. National Democrats just reserved nearly $700,000 in advertising for Himes, an amount House Republicans are unlikely to match, making this one a race to watch.

Georgia Incumbents Win

Despite what looked like spirited challenges, two Georgia incumbents easily won their primaries last night, likely guaranteeing them a seat in the 111th Congress, while Republicans got the candidates they wanted in two runoffs in Alabama.

In the northern Tenth District, freshman Republican Paul Broun, who has been in Congress for just a year, took 71% of the vote to knock off State Rep. Barry Fleming. Broun will face Democratic nominee Bobby Saxton, an Iraq war veteran, in November, but in a district that gave President Bush a thirty-point win, he is expected to coast to victory.

South of Broun's district, in a seat that encompasses both Savannah and Augusta, two-term Rep. John Barrow survived a primary challenge with surprising ease, as many suspected State Senator Regina Thomas, who is African American, would have a good chance to knock off Barrow in a 45%-black district. But Barrow, who got help in the form of a radio ad featuring Barack Obama, won a wide 76%-24% victory. He will face former Congressional aide John Stone in November.

Democrats came a step closer to settling on a Senate candidate to take on Republican Saxby Chambliss, as well. DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones led the Democratic field, taking 40% of the vote, while former State Rep. Jim Martin finished second, with 34%. The two will head to a runoff on August 5, though polls have showed Chambliss easily leading both candidates.

Runoffs can be costly politically. In Alabama, two Republicans who came through runoffs last night start in a hole now, having to scramble to catch up to Democratic nominees who settled their races months ago.

With the retirement of Democratic Rep. Bud Cramer, Republicans have a shot to take back a seat that votes heavily for their candidates on a presidential level. President Bush won the northern Fifth District by twenty one points in 2004, but Cramer, who held the seat for eighteen years, never had a serious battle for re-election. This year, State Senator Parker Griffith won the Democratic nomination early, while advertising executive Wayne Parker had to wait until last night to secure the GOP nod. He beat attorney Cheryl Guthrie by a whopping 79%-21% margin.

Farther south, Democrats actually have a shot to pick up a Republican-held seat based in and around Montgomery and vacated by Republican Terry Everett. Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright cleared the Democratic field, while State Rep. Jay Love and State Senator Harri Anne Smith had to fight over the Republican nomination that was decided yesterday. Love, who spent heavily out of his own wallet, won a surprisingly close 53% to 47% margin. The two nominees will face off in what will be one of the most closely-watched races in the South.

Strategy Memo: Money Talks

Good Wednesday morning. Apologies for the sluggish post this morning, but staying up until 1:30 a.m. to watch an All Star game will do that. Dan Uggla, call your agent; no manager's going to put you in the game next year. Here's what Washington, home of 0-for-3 All Star Christian Guzman, is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets this morning to continue debate over a measure to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The House will vote on intelligence authorization and on a river designation in Massachusetts that has become a surprising flashpoint against House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank. Frank will spend part of his day taking testimony from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, who spends his second day on the Hill explaining economic woes. President Bush will meet with the president of Burkina Faso before hosting a tee ball game and a social dinner for Major League Baseball. We can only assume attendees are sleeping in after such a long game last night.

-- The sixteenth day of every third month is our favorite here at Politics Nation, as Federal Election Commission reports came pouring in before the deadline last night. The overwhelming impression one gets: Democrats once again far outraised Republicans, including some challengers who are nowhere near the DCCC's list of top recruits. We'll have a comprehensive breakdown of the top races from around the country over the next few days, but when even Scott Harper, a businessman running against five-term Republican Judy Biggert in Illinois, outraises his incumbent opponent, it's safe to assume a bad quarter for the GOP.

-- Presidential campaigns, along with the various party committees that help House and Senate candidates, are required to file their FEC reports on the 20th of every month, so treasurers have an additional few days to scrape together details. Still, those numbers usually leak early. We know John McCain raised $22 million in June, while the Republican National Committee ended the month with $68 million in the bank. But while Barack Obama's campaign has been the first to trumpet good fundraising numbers, we still don't know what they've raised. Campaign insiders have said only the haul will be more than $30 million for June. But wasn't that supposed to be Obama's $100 million month?

-- McCain's money has come more from larger bundlers than Obama's has, and while the Illinois senator is shunning lobbyist money, McCain is doing no such thing. About a dozen of McCain bundlers who have raised more than $500,000 to his campaign are lobbyists, the New York Times reports, though that shouldn't be a surprise. Take a look at any incumbent member of Congress and you'll find top donors tend to be those inclined to lobby. Perhaps the most surprising is that the paper of record cites "more than 100" of McCain's top bundlers who were either "Pioneers" or "Rangers" for President Bush. That's out of the 548 bundlers the Bush-Cheney campaign had in 2004, not a great ratio to pass on to the next GOP nominee.

-- In the end, McCain's money comes from a smaller number of people. His campaign bundlers have brought in 53% of the campaign's total, USA Today's Fredereka Schouten reports, while Obama's bundlers have provided just 17% of his campaign's cash. 91% of Obama's donations are coming in pieces smaller than $100. But there's a danger in relying on nontraditional sources of cash, and Obama's fundraising in August will foretell how much future candidates can rely on such small amounts: Everyone goes on vacation and tunes out in August, traditionally the weakest month for political fundraising, and Obama's going to have to find a way to get vacationers to cough up some dough.

-- A New York Times/CBS News poll out today shows mixed news for the Obama coalition. He's leading McCain by a 45%-39% margin, though McCain actually leads among white voters by a nine-point margin, while Obama has the edge among black voters, 89%-2%, and among Hispanic voters, 62%-23%. 31% of respondents, including 47% of black respondents, said they thought Obama's election would improve race relations in the country, while 17% said he would make the racial situation worse, generally favorable news. But for the first time, a majority of voters -- 51% -- think Obama is saying what he thinks people want to hear, while 43% think he's saying what he believes. For a candidate whose message is based on optimism and a new kind of politics, that could prove dangerous in the future.

-- What matters most? Both surveys agree, while McCain and Obama babble on about Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, 38% say the economy is what they're most concerned about, along with 14% who say oil and gas prices. Just 10% named war as what concerned them most, according to the Times/CBS survey. That's bad news for McCain; 61% of respondents think the Republican would continue President Bush's economic policies, and just 20% of Americans approve of Bush's handling of the economy, while 71% disapprove.

-- Vacation Of The Day: Forget Cancun or Baja, the place to be in July and August is a tour bus driving through Crawford, Texas. That's where DNC chief Howard Dean will hit the trail, registering voters for Barack Obama, the AP's Nedra Pickler writes. Dean will travel through the recently Republican South, from Crawford to Austin to New Orleans, Hattiesburg and Jackson, with additional stops in Louisiana, North Carolina and Georgia scheduled. In August, Dean's bus will take him to the Midwest, with stops along the Rust Belt, before heading to the Democratic convention on August 25. One worry, though: Are gas costs alone going to eat up the $4 million national Democrats have left in the bank?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain lands in Cincinnati this morning and has a brief welcome ceremony scheduled for the airport. He will address the NAACP's national convention an hour later, followed by a fundraising event in Nebraska where couples will pay up to $50,000 for the opportunity to hobnob. Obama will join Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, for a summit on 21st Century threats.

Georgia On Voters' Minds

Votes in Georgia head to the polls today to pick nominees for November's elections, and at least two incumbents could find themselves in serious trouble by the end of the night. In neighboring districts bordering South Carolina, Reps. John Barrow, a Democrat, and Paul Broun, a Republican, face challengers who could give them a run for their money.

In Barrow's Twelfth District, which encompasses Savannah in the south and Augusta up north, it's usually Republicans who have given the two-term congressman heartburn. Barrow narrowly defeated Rep. Max Burns in 2004, one of Democrats' few bright spots that year, even as President Bush won a 2,600-vote majority in the district, and held Burns off by a mere 900 votes in 2006.

This year, it is a Democrat who is giving Barrow a race. State Senator Regina Thomas has won support from some in the netroots community who criticize Barrow for being too conservative. Through the June 30 pre-primary deadline, Thomas had raised just $26,000 as compared with the $1.65 million Barrow had on hand.

But Barrow faces a racial problem, as well. A white Democrat, Barrow represents a district that is 45% African American, and Thomas, who represents Savannah in the state legislature, is black. Despite Thomas' lack of funding, she's worrying Barrow enough that he's run radio advertisements featuring an endorsement from Barack Obama, one of the few races the presumptive nominee has become personally involved in.

Barrow's colleague, freshman Republican Broun, faces his own challenge in today's primary from State Rep. Barry Fleming, as Greg Bobrinskoy wrote last week. Broun, who replaced the late Rep. Charlie Norwood in a surprise upset last year, is favored to win, though his could be a close race as well.

Georgia voters are also picking a Democrat to take on Senator Saxby Chambliss, and though polls show the first-term Republican easily handling any of his potential foes, five candidates are still fighting for the chance to face him in November.

National Democrats favor Jim Martin, a former State Representative who ran for Lieutenant Governor in 2006. Vernon Jones, the DeKalb County CEO, has led several primary polls, while former television reporter Dale Cardwell looks like he's advancing in polls as well. Businessmen Rand Knight and Josh Lanier trail the top three candidates.

Through the pre-primary filing deadline, both Martin ($775,000) and Jones ($640,000) had raised respectable sums, but each campaign treasury is dwarfed by Chambliss' $4 million cash on hand. While Democrats have a good shot at winning a number of other Senate seats, their hopes for taking back Georgia's seems remote.

English Down One

Adding to Republican worries in one of the states hardest hit by the 2006 Democratic wave, a new Democratic poll shows Pennsylvania Rep. Phil English could face a difficult re-election battle against a political neophyte in an increasingly Democratic-leaning year. Republicans question the poll's veracity, as Roll Call's Shira Toeplitz reports, but such a close contest is enough to make anyone sit up and take notice of a race that was once off the radar screen.

The poll, conducted by Momentum Analysis on behalf of Democratic nominee Kathy Dahlkemper, surveyed 400 likely voters from 7/8-10 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. English and Dahlkemper, who works as director of the Lake Erie Arboretum, were tested among a sample size that was 49% Democratic and 45% Republican.

General Election Matchup
Dahlkemper.........41
English................40

Generic Dem.......45
Generic GOPer....35

Though English hasn't been involved in any controversy or scandals, it is no wonder he remains vulnerable. His Third District, which occupies the northwest corner of the Keystone State, includes Erie and several counties heading south towards Pittsburgh, looks a lot like other Pennsylvania and upstate New York districts where Democrats swept Republicans out of power in 2006: Heavy blue collar population, a sagging economy and a falling population.

English knows something about close races and the scares they can provide. After winning his first two runs for Congress with 49%, in 1994 and 51%, in 1996, English didn't face another serious challenge until last cycle, when teacher Steven Porter held him to 54% despite being outspent about six-to-one.

This year, English also has a big cash advantage, with $690,000 in the bank through the April 2 pre-primary filing deadline. Dahlkemper, who won a four-way primary, had just $73,000 on hand three weeks before she won the nomination. Federal Election Commission reports due out tonight will show just how much catching up Dahlkemper has to do. Still, English may need the extra help; Dahlkemper's poll showed just 35% of voters responding positively to English's job performance, while 52% said his performance was negative.

Republicans question the poll results, and especially the party identification makeup of the sample, in a seat that gave President Bush a five-point win in 2000 and a six-point win in 2004. While Democratic registration has surged, national Republicans will point out that Hillary Clinton won the district overwhelmingly, raising questions as to whether Barack Obama can fare any better than Al Gore or John Kerry did.

If English survives this year, he could have a future in the House Republican Conference. A former aide to the Pennsylvania State Senate and a part of Rick Santorum's surprising win in 1990, English is a politico at heart who ran for chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, finishing third to Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole and Texas Rep. Pete Sessions before the start of the 110th Congress.

All Tied Up In WA

A new survey confirms what many in Washington State already knew: The race for governor is a dead heat. The rematch between Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, and former Republican State Senator Dino Rossi comes four years after Gregoire won, following multiple recounts, by just 129 votes, and it represents one of Republicans' best hopes of taking back a governorship this year.

The poll, conducted by Moore Information, a Republican firm based in Portland, Oregon, surveyed 400 registered voters between 7/9-10 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Moore Information has done work for the Republican Governors' Association before, but this poll was not sponsored by the RGA. (Major update: The poll was conducted for Rossi's campaign. We regret the oversight.) Gregoire and Rossi were tested.

General Election Matchup
Gregoire........45 (-2 from last, 7/07)
Rossi.............45 (+2)

Virtually every poll this year has shown the two candidates neck and neck, though most have shown a slight Gregoire lead. Both candidates have raised incredible amounts of money, but Rossi has lately narrowed the cash-on-hand edge that Gregoire once enjoyed.

Too, both candidates have gotten bad press lately over associations with outside groups. Rossi has benefited from the Building Industry Association of Washington and its allies, which have poured money into his campaign, while Gregoire is taking heat for money she's raised associated with Native American tribes and teachers' groups.

Though the candidates aren't on television yet, Gregoire is running radio spots associating Rossi with President Bush, while Rossi is up with his own spots noting the early attacks. But Gregoire's ads come after the Builders and other Republican allies started running ads that slammed Gregoire's tenure as governor.

The two candidates are not each others' biggest fans. And given the early negativity and shear volume of money involved in the race, the tone doesn't look like it will change any time soon. Watch both national parties pour resources into the Evergreen State, as Gregoire and Rossi fight what could again be one of the closest races in the country.

Nixon Way Ahead

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon continues to run well ahead of either of his potential Republican challengers, a new poll shows. The Democrat, who initially planned to run against well-funded incumbent Matt Blunt, now finds himself running alone as his GOP opponents slug it out in an increasingly bitter primary, in one of the best pickup opportunities for either party in governors' races this year.

The poll, conducted by Research 2000 on behalf of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and KMOV-TV, surveyed 800 likely voters between 7/7-10 for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. The poll included a subsample of 500 likely Republican primary voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Nixon, Rep. Kenny Hulshof, State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, teacher Scott Long and frequent candidate Jen Sievers were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
(All / Men / Wom)
Hulshof..............32 / 26 / 27
Steelman............24 / 20 / 29
Long...................12 / 15 / 8
Sievers.................5 / 4 / 6

General Election Matchups
(All / Dem / GOP / Ind / Men / Wom)
Nixon.................52 / 83 / 14 / 56 / 49 / 55
Hulshof..............35 / 7 / 69 / 31 / 39 / 31

Nixon.................53 / 85 / 14 / 58 / 50 / 56
Steelman............34 / 6 / 68 / 30 / 38 / 30

With few governors' races actually on the table this year, Missouri looks like Democrats' best, and probably only, shot at taking back a GOP-held governor's mansion. Nixon's favorables are solid, with 56% saying they have a favorable impression and just 38% saying they have an unfavorable impression, and his GOP rivals' numbers aren't that good (Hulshof: 43% favorable, 33% unfavorable. Steelman: 39% favorable, 32% unfavorable.).

Too, the eventual Republican nominee will have to face a scenario much like John McCain now faces on a national level: Matt Blunt is simply not a popular guy. Just 42% of Show Me Staters say they see the one-term wunderkind favorably, while 54% view him unfavorably. It is little wonder, faced with a deep-pocketed and popular opponent, that Blunt threw in the towel.

Missouri is going to be a swing state in the presidential election in November, but Nixon doesn't have to be worried about being associated with any sort of "liberal" tag Barack Obama brings along with him. Nixon was one of the first candidates or incumbents we saw who offered a statement supporting the Supreme Court's ruling on the Second Amendment, and his tough-on-crime image always serves candidates well.

To make this a contest again, Republicans are going to have to come up with a new angle of attack on Nixon or some new approach to appealing to Missouri voters that will probably involve distance from Blunt. Until they come up with that attack or approach, the race looks like Nixon's to lose.

Strategy Memo: War, Peace And Polls

Good Tuesday morning. If your Bastille Day plans were wild, we hope you're feeling better after some sleep. Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate meets this morning to continue consideration of an anti-AIDS bill named for two late House members who made humanitarian foreign policy their goal, Democrat Tom Lantos and Republican Henry Hyde. The House is in session as well, working on minor bills. President Bush holds a photo opportunity today with winners of a math competition, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with the president of Cameroon. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke will give his semi-annual report on monetary policy to the Senate Banking Committee, alongside Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

-- We spent yesterday talking about the importance of Iraq to both Barack Obama and John McCain and their respective chances at making it to the White House, and we'll do much the same today, thanks to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll that shows the country divided over an approach to Iraq. 47% of respondents said they trust McCain to better handle the situation in Iraq, while 45% said they thought Obama would do the better job. Considering McCain's strength on the war issue -- other polls show him trailing miserably when it comes to domestic issues -- Obama's team is either wise to try to use McCain's best issue against him or foolish to not choose some more fertile battleground.

-- One political observer Politics Nation spoke with yesterday brought up an old quote from a journalist in the 1960s. To paraphrase, elections are about three things: War and peace, kitchen tables and black and white. One of those things has to be predominant. McCain is working on making sure the war and peace aspect is what most people are paying attention to this year. Asked whether each candidate would be a good commander in chief of the military, 48% said yes for Obama, while an equal number said no. A whopping 72% said McCain would be a good head of the military, with just 25% saying no. If November becomes a battle over battle, if you will, McCain can score the upset.

-- Obama isn't done making his case on Iraq. The presumptive Democratic nominee will give what his campaign is calling a major address on the issue in Washington today (Ironically at the Ronald Reagan building downtown) following yesterday's op-ed in the New York Times. Obama will lay blame at the hands of current policy towards Iraq: "Our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe," Obama plans to say, per speech excerpts. Too, Obama will keep trying to shift the focus to Afghanistan: "The central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was," he'll say, citing al Qaeda presence in Afghanistand and Pakistan.

-- Meanwhile, McCain will give his own big speech this week centered on Afghanistan, Politico's Avi Zenilman reports. McCain confidante Lindsey Graham let slip word of the impending address during a conference call in which he and other McCain advisers hit Obama for paying too much attention to Afghanistan at the expense of attention for Iraq. The constant back-and-forth is certainly heating up in advance of Obama's trip to the Middle East, which will presumably include a stop in one or both countries.

-- Perhaps the reason both candidates are focusing so much on Iraq when the economy seems to be a more pressing issue in American minds is that they're staying in their comfort zone. Obama's entire rationale for running for president was a 2002 speech in which he cautioned against going to war in Iraq; in a primary campaign in which he and rival Hillary Clinton differed on almost nothing, it was the largest distinction he could draw. McCain, on the other hand, rested his candidacy on the premise that he would do better for the country than anyone else, backing it up by vocally supporting the surge which has reduced violence in the last eighteen months. The two candidates, in short, are talking up Iraq because that's their most comfortable subject.

-- Earlier, we mentioned that McCain, by focusing on Iraq, has the chance to "score the upset." That's how the race feels, like Obama is ahead by a wide margin and McCain is desperate for media oxygen. But, as The Fix wrote yesterday, the race is surprisingly close. Take a look at different measures and come up with different explanations: The latest RCP National Average shows Obama leading by just four points; the latest RCP Electoral Count has Obama leading by a wider 255-163, just fifteen votes short of a majority. The truth lies in the long run: It doesn't matter who's ahead now (Al Gore and John Kerry both led at approximately this point, while Bill Clinton, in 1992, trailed both the incumbent President Bush and Ross Perot). It only matters that it's a close race.

-- Viper's Nest Of The Day: "It's my top priority today and it will be my top priority tomorrow," McCain told an audience member yesterday. Iraq? No, he was talking about immigration reform during a question and answer period at the National Council of La Raza, the Washington Post's Juliet Eliperin writes. Taking a renewed public stand on immigration reform offers McCain benefits and drawbacks. Benefit: Attract some Latino voters who might otherwise back Obama. Drawback: Offend the conservative base with whom he is barely on speaking terms already, who might otherwise sit on their hands.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama offers his address on Iraq and national security to an invited group of guests in downtown Washington before filming interviews on the subject with Gwen Ifill, of PBS, that will air tonight on The NewsHour, and with Larry King of CNN. McCain has a town hall meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico today, returning to the first state in which his campaign ran advertising for the general election. Later, he heads to St. Louis for a fundraising event.

GOP Leads In Regula Seat

In a landscape in which Democrats seem to find new House targets on a daily basis, Republicans look for any good news they can find. The GOP got some today in a suburban and rural Ohio district south of Cleveland and Akron many once believed was as good as gone to Democrats. According to a new poll, not only are Democrats not running away with the seat, the Republican State Senator is leading.

The Tarrance Group survey, conducted for State Senator Kurt Schuring's campaign, surveyed 400 likely voters between 7/8-9 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Schuring, the Republican nominee, and State Senator John Boccieri, the Democratic nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Schuring............40
Boccieri.............34

Sure, it's a Republican poll, but the fact that Schuring is ahead of Boccieri, a widely-touted candidate who made the party's Red to Blue list of top challengers, is a big plus for the GOP. Given so many undecided voters, though, and the fact that Schuring is well below the critical 50% marker, there is little question that both parties will target the seat heavily.

The Sixteenth District, represented by Republican Ralph Regula for the last 36 years, includes Canton, as well as three counties to the West, in Wayne, Medina and most of Ashland Counties. The third-ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Regula is stepping down this year, giving Schuring and Boccieri shots at representing the seat.

The district voted for President Bush with 53% in 2000 and 54% in 2004, though Regula managed only 58% in both his Republican primary and in the general election in November. Recent Democratic candidates including Governor Ted Strickland and Senator Sherrod Brown have won Stark County, where Canton is, indicating the district's growing Democratic population.

Still, the seat remains fundamentally Republican. Schuring has a very good chance of keeping the seat in GOP hands, but Boccieri should not be counted out. Watch for both parties to make the seat a top priority this Fall.

McKinney Wins Green Nod

Former Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney will run for president as the Green Party's nominee after winning a four-way fight at the convention in Chicago this weekend.

McKinney represented a suburban Atlanta district from 1992 to 2002, when she lost to one-term Rep. Denise Majette. Two years later, McKinney returned after defeating a crowded field as Majette ran for Senate; but after an altercation with a Capitol Hill police officer in 2005, McKinney lost her bid for re-election to Rep. Hank Johnson.

This weekend, McKinney won on the first ballot among the 350 delegates who attended the Green Party convention. This Fall, she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Green Party expects to be on the ballot in 36 states, and their goal is to secure 5% of the vote.

That may be too ambitious a hurdle to overcome. The party's best performance, from consumer advocate Ralph Nader, drew just 3% of the vote in 2000, and in 2004, the Green Party ticket received just 0.1% of the vote. Still, with both McKinney and Nader -- running as an independent -- in the race, they have the potential to swing a few states, as any Democrat will claim happened in Florida in 2000.

McKinney isn't the only former member of Congress from Georgia to seek the White House this year. One-time Republican Rep. Bob Barr is running as a Libertarian as well.

Schaffer, Udall To Debate

How do you know the election season is heating up? When candidates start to debate. How do you know it's heating up earlier than ever? From the fact that the first debate of the season takes place not on Labor Day, but on Bastille Day.

Democratic Rep. Mark Udall and former Republican Rep. Bob Schaffer, who are battling over retiring Senator Wayne Allard's seat, will meet today at the Wildlife Experience, a nature conservation museum about ten miles south of Denver, for the first of what promises to be a fiery series of debates.

Sponsored by 9News, Denver's NBC affiliate, the candidates will face a moderator but will have plenty of chances to interact with each other, and both will have plenty to say. Republicans cast Udall as too liberal for the state, while Democrats have criticized Schaffer for ties to Jack Abramoff and to a disputed oil deal in Iraq.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee counts Colorado as one of five states currently held by Republican Senators in which their candidate is leading. The latest public poll, taken in mid-June for Quinnipiac University, shows Udall leading by ten points, aided by a huge advantage among independents and a massive gender gap.

Adding to the pressure on Schaffer, Udall announced this morning he had pulled in more than $2 million during the Second Quarter, ending with $3.9 million in the bank. The campaign spent significantly on a statewide television campaign over the last two months, reducing the approximately two-to-one cash-on-hand advantage Udall held over Schaffer. Still, the Republican will likely continue to trail in cash in the bank when he reports his own haul by tomorrow.

The hour-long debate is only the first meeting between the two candidates. Negotiations are under way for a second debate, to take place on Denver's Fox affiliate, though details have yet to be worked out. Schaffer has proposed seven debates over the Summer alone.

To watch today's debate, click over to 9News for a live stream at 10 a.m. Mountain Time, or noon on the East Coast.

Blackburn In Trouble?

In the Democratic wave of 2006, Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn won 66% of the vote in Tennessee's Seventh Congressional District. But this year, a new poll shows, Blackburn could be in serious jeopardy against a Shelby County Register who looks like he's giving the three-term congresswoman a run for her money.

The only difference is that Blackburn and her opponent, Tom Leatherwood, will face off in the August 7 Republican primary instead of in November.

The survey, conducted by Ethridge and Associates for Leatherwood's campaign, polled 300 likely voters between 6/28-29 for a margin of error of +/- 5.6%. Leatherwood and Blackburn were tested.

Primary Election Matchup
Blackburn...........48
Leatherwood.....37

Eleven points may not seem close. But for a three-term veteran who is seen as a rising star in the House -- after losing a battle for Conference Chair, she holds leadership positions at both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Study Committee -- that's not a comfortable margin, and it's certainly not the 27-point margin by which Blackburn led in Leatherwood's previous poll, in March.

Leatherwood faces a seriously uphill climb, though. The Seventh District spans from the Memphis suburbs and Shelby County, where he serves as Register after being a State Senator, east along the Mississippi border before climbing into a Y-shape to include Clarksville, on the northern border with Kentucky, and the county south of Nashville, in the middle of the state. Reaching that many voters in such far-flung destinations is going to be a challenge.

Still, Blackburn won her original primary, in 2002, by being the only candidate from the Nashville area, while others split the suburban Memphis vote. Now, with just one opponent from Memphis, she may have reason to worry. And while finance reports released tomorrow will shed light on just how serious a foe Leatherwood is -- he reported raising just $25,000 through the end of March -- poll numbers with a month to go make it look like he's got a shot.

Bipartisans For Buchanan

Freshman Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan needs fundraising help. His 2006 race, in which he replaced Senate candidate Katherine Harris in Florida's Thirteenth Congressional District, was the most expensive in the country that year, costing him $5.5 million of his own money and $8.1 million in total. With all that help, he still won by just 369 votes in a district that gave President Bush a thirteen-point margin in 2004.

This year, Buchanan will face his 2006 opponent, banker Christine Jennings, who contested the election results in 2006 after dozens of ballot boxes in traditionally-GOP (though Democratic-trending) Sarasota County registered 18,000 undervotes, in which voters cast ballots for other races but not for Congress. Jennings, too, has her own money; she spent $2.1 million from her own pocket two years ago, and she promises to be well-funded again.

Buchanan has already had a good fundraising year, pulling in more than $600,000 in the Second Quarter alone and ending with over $1.5 million on hand. The second quarter put him over $3 million raised for the cycle, his campaign said in a release. Jennings has yet to release her fundraising report this quarter, though national Democrats have included her in the Red to Blue program for top challengers.

For Buchanan, it always helps to have friends. And inside the district, which runs from the south Tampa suburbs in Manatee County through Sarasota and includes two inland counties, Buchanan has found at least one Democratic friend to help him raise precious campaign cash. Investment banker David Grain, along with his wife and another couple, held a fundraiser for Buchanan in Bradenton, Florida, last month, featuring hor d'oeuvres and libations, per the invitation, bringing in $500 a head.

Grain, founder of Grain Capital, and his wife, Dr. Lisa Grain, are big donors, having given $45,000 in the past few cycles, but they're not mega-donors who write massive checks at the drop of a hat. What makes the fundraiser for Buchanan interesting is Grain's history of backing Democratic candidates. He's got a favorite at the moment, too; Grain is a bundler for Barack Obama, as well as a member of his National Finance Committee. The Grains have maxed out to Obama and have raised another $100,000 on the Illinois Senator's behalf.

Too, the couple has ponied up big time to the very group that could go after Buchanan in November. While Grain gave Jennings $1,000 during her failed 2004 primary run, the couple has handed more than $21,000 over to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this cycle alone, with the latest donation coming just two weeks before the June 13 fundraiser for Buchanan.

Who says bipartisanship doesn't exist?

Strategy Memo: It's The Iraq, Stupid

Good Monday morning. Roll Call's annual Congressional baseball game coming on Thursday, which means this week's posts may be infused with a little more humor than normal. The average member of Congress is not the most in-shape person in the world, and the sight of them running, fielding and sliding is enough to make anyone chortle. Here's what Washington watches this morning:

-- The House is dealing with several bills under suspension this afternoon, while the Senate is starting work on a bill to combat AIDS around the globe. President Bush will make a brief appearance in the Rose Garden today to mark the tenth anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act, while Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, after a busy weekend on the economic front, addresses the Detroit Economic Club in Dearborn, Michigan. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Steve Preston is in Kansas City to give a speech to the National Association of Counties.

-- The big administration newsmaker over the weekend was Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen, who confirmed the government would make available the cash to help Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the nation's two largest mortgage lenders, survive the current housing crisis. Too, Paulsen said he would push Congress to buy stock in both companies, MarketWatch reported, and give them a higher credit line, in exchange for a more collaborative role played by the Federal Reserve. The move sent the dollar higher after four days of decline, Bloomberg notes, though it's another indication that the housing market teeters on the brink of implosion.

-- And yet both presidential candidates are spending their time on another issue. After a week in which his commitment to pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq was questioned, Barack Obama used Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's call for a timetable for withdrawal as the basis for reasserting his own commitment to get U.S. troops out of the country. In a New York Times op-ed, Obama calls for redeploying troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan and a renewed diplomatic surge that includes $2 billion to Iraqi refugees and seeks the renewed cooperation of neighboring countries.

-- Polls repeatedly show Obama and John McCain running neck and neck on the war in Iraq, while Obama usually has wide leads over McCain when it comes to handling the economy, or gas prices, or a host of other issues that are also close to the top of the American consciousness. So why would he continue to talk about McCain's best issue when he could instead shift the debate to his own turf? The war in Iraq is either a McCain strength that Obama needs to undercut, or an Obama weakness on which he has an opportunity to grow. Take the war away from McCain and he has little else going for him. But focus on Iraq while trying to build up Obama and, if it happens too slowly, they put the ball squarely in the Republican's court.

-- Meanwhile, the New Yorker made serious news this weekend, first with a long profile of Obama and his Chicago days, and second with a cover depicting Obama and wife Michelle in the Oval Office, complete with just about every stereotype conservatives have tried to make stick, including a flag in the fire place, Osama bin Laden on the wall and tribal garb and a fist bump (Why Michelle has a big gun, though, we just don't know). The LA Times writes both campaigns called the image "tasteless and offensive," though in their weekly press release (Which approximately twelve people read) the New Yorker points out that it's meant to satirize "the use of scare tactics and misinformation in the presidential election to derail Barack Obama's campaign."

-- In any close election contest, if the race becomes about one candidate, that candidate generally loses. But with two such promising brands in McCain and Obama, this race could prove the opposite. Both candidates are seen favorably by a huge swath of the electorate at a time when virtually everything else associated with Washington has a negative rating. Still, the New Yorker cover should strike a nerve with the Obama team. McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told Politics Nation a while back that a presidential campaign can make a mistake in thinking their candidate is known after the primaries, but that they really aren't. Lots of people don't know Obama yet, and if any one of those bits of misinformation is someone's first impression, Obama could face trouble.

-- McCain is in San Diego today to address a key Hispanic group, the National Council of La Raza, at their annual convention, marking the third big-name Hispanic organization he's addressed in the last few weeks. Polls still show Obama leading by a wide margin among the group, which in recent years has swung decidedly more Democratic. But McCain, as the Associated Press writes, will make his most overt claim on Hispanic voters, saying his backing of comprehensive immigration reform, which at one point put his campaign on the brink of defeat, makes him the candidate willing to do what's best for Hispanics. President Bush's strong performances among Hispanics were crucial to his 2000 and 2004 campaigns, and McCain has to agree with Obama's assessment, made the day earlier, of the role the demographic will play this year: "Make no mistake about it: The Latino community holds this election in your hands," the Democrat said.

-- Inconvenient Truth Of The Day: Barack Obama does not take money from lobbyists. Neither, according to a new policy, does the Democratic National Committee (Though with just $4 million on hand as of last month, you'd think they wouldn't be so picky). Forget the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees, which still take lobbyist bucks, because they're not really associated with the presidential contest. But what about the Democratic National Convention Committee, where Obama will set the tone for the final eight-week sprint to the finish? Turns out the chief fundraiser, lawyer Steve Farber, is a top lobbyist in Denver whose firm has one of the fastest-growing Washington offices around, the New York Times writes today. Anything McCain's going to jump on? Fortunately for Obama's campaign, the top fundraiser for the convention committee is about as inside baseball as anything.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is in San Diego, where he will address the National Council of La Raza before jetting off to Albuquerque for a fundraiser. Obama will be in Cincinnati, Ohio, this evening, where he will address the NAACP's annual convention. McCain will address the same convention tomorrow. Side note: This is the 99th annual NAACP convention. Anyone want to guess who next year's keynote speaker will be, win or lose?

This Week On PN Radio

Saturday morning, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon Eastern, join Politics Nation on XM Radio's POTUS '08, when we'll tackle the week in politics. Listen free here (link about half-way down the page) as:

-- A new study from the Family Research Council suggests same-sex marriage bans could once again drive voter turnout and give Republicans a reason to hope in November. But, like immigration, we debate whether gay marriage is an actual vote-moving issue.

-- Could John McCain and the RNC actually outspend Barack Obama? What happened to Barack Obama's hundred million-dollar month?

-- John Boehner is headed to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with ten Republican freshmen. WIth energy and gas prices climbing through the roof, have Republicans found their winning issue?

-- And, get this, we take your listener mail! We'll do our best to answer as many as possible, but ask away: Is there a kind of poll you want to know about? Is there an issue you think will play a major role in this year's election that's being overlooked? Email your questions to Politics Nation today, and tune in Saturday to hear our answers.

All that and a few surprises, we're sure, Saturday morning on Politics Nation, only on XM Radio's POTUS '08. Listen live, Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon Eastern and again at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Broun Faces Tuesday Primary

Just a year after being elected to fill the unexpired term of the late Rep. Charlie Norwood, freshman Paul Broun of Georgia's Tenth District faces a challenge from State Rep. Barry Fleming in next Tuesday's Republican primary. Heavily Republican by nature, the winner of Tuesday's primary is expected to cruise to victory in November.

Located in northeast Georgia, the Tenth has three major population centers, including Athens in the center, Toccoa in the north, and Augusta, the most heavily populated region, in the south. Those population centers mean candidates running in the district have to pay careful attention to geography, something Broun took advantage of during his 2007 election.

Broun, from Athens, was widely expected to lose in the primary runoff, having won less than half the vote of the first primary's leader, State Senator Jim Whitehead, who hailed from the Augusta region. Yet in the runoff, Broun scored an upset after repeated gaffes by Whitehead, such as a remark that the "liberal" University of Georgia (located in Athens) should be bombed, sparing only the football team. Broun squeaked by Whitehead in the runoff by a mere 394 votes, thanks to a huge margin of victory in his home region of Athens, where he won 89% of the vote.

Broun's opponent this time around, Barry Fleming, is again running with an Augusta base. He's ahead of Broun in fundraising, having decided to run almost immediately after Broun defeated Whitehead, and has attacked the incumbent. Fleming has argued that the Congressman is not conservative enough for the district and has highlighted questions about Broun's run-in with bankruptcy years ago and contempt of court charges for failing to pay alimony.

But the majority of criticism has been of Broun's particular brand of conservatism. Broun labels himself a "constitutionalist" in the mold of Ron Paul (with whom he is friends). This has provided ammunition for Fleming on certain votes such as gay marriage, where Broun is less likely to grant the federal government the power to restrict individual behavior.

Fleming, who has been endorsed by the Augusta Chronicle, told Politics Nation that his campaign is downplaying the Augusta versus Athens theme which Whitehead used in the last election and is instead highlighting his "conservative, effective experience as a majority whip in the state house pushing tax reform, tax cuts, reducing crime, and protecting traditional families." Fleming says he has spent time in the northern portion of the state, hoping to cut into Broun's base of support.

Paul Broun's spokesperson Jessica Morris says that Fleming has run an entirely negative campaign, "distorting the congressman's voting record as well as getting personal." Morris says Broun has highlighted his support for the Fair Tax, enforcing the border, and reigning in government spending. She cited Broun's support for legalizing marijuana as an issue Broun has been unfairly attacked on, attributing it to the Congressman's support for state's rights.

Yet despite Fleming's aggressive campaigning over the last year, his strong fundraising and his sometimes negative attacks, Broun's campaign cites polls commissioned in each of the last four months showing Broun routing Fleming by massive margins. While local news coverage has played up this race as a nail-biter, Broun's "Ron Paul-like" conservatism has a good chance to keep the GOP nomination.

-- Greg Bobrinskoy

Franken Files For Sen

Comedian Al Franken, winner of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's endorsement for a Senate seat held by Republican Norm Coleman, officially filed paperwork to run for the seat yesterday, the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported. By formally filing with the Secretary of State, Franken, who so far faces only nominal opposition in the state's September 9 primary, is likely setting up a battle royale in November between two candidates who have already shown a personal disdain for each other.

Franken has not had an easy ride in the last few months. After entering the race, local and national Democrats vocally worried about his past as a comedian with a penchant for sometimes off-color jokes. Lately, columns he wrote for Playboy Magazine and parts of his biting commentary in several of his books have come back to haunt him, while revelations that his accountant failed to pay taxes in seventeen states have dogged him as well.

But it hasn't stopped him from raising boatloads of cash. The one-time Saturday Night Live actor has already pulled in $11.5 million, including just over $2.25 million in the Second Quarter, and has $4.2 million cash on hand. For a challenger, that figure is unheard of so early in the year, especially without self-funding the campaign. Franken's burn rate -- that is, the pace at which he spends the money -- has been very high all year, but the race promises to be close; despite his rough few months, Franken is still just ten points behind his Republican rival, a recent poll showed.

Coleman, a moderate Republican who has assiduously distanced himself from the national GOP and President Bush, raised more money than Franken for the first time in several fundraising quarters. Through June 30, Coleman had pulled in $2.35 million for the Second Quarter, bringing his total raised to $15.4 million and his bank balance up to $7.2 million. That's already more than 150% of what Coleman raised for his entire 2002 campaign.

But in a state that has voted Democratic for president more consecutive times than any other, Coleman will need the cash in a presidential election year. Too, the Republican incumbent has been dogged recently by accusations that he is benefiting from a wealthy friend who is giving him a sweetheart deal on a room in a Washington, D.C. condo. While Coleman denies any wrongdoing, it's given Democrats an opportunity to shift the conversation away from Franken and back to Coleman.

Add to both flawed candidates' troubles the notion that Jesse Ventura might jump into the race, as he seemed to suggest earlier this week, and Minnesota has the potential to become one of the more exciting races this year. Ventura, the former wrestler and governor, says he will decide by the Tuesday filing deadline whether to throw -- bodyslam? -- his hat in the ring.

Without Ventura in the race, strategists on both sides will likely suggest each candidate spend the millions they will have in their campaign accounts to try to make the debate about their opponent's foibles. If the news in early November is about Franken, Coleman will win re-election. But if it's about Coleman, President Bush or anything that includes the word "Republican," the race will be too close for many Minnesota Republicans to watch.

Dems Make Major Buy

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is taking advantage of its huge financial advantage already, making major media buys in 31 Congressional districts around the country, according to an internal document obtained by Politics Nation. The DCCC has reserved $34.5 million worth of television time, including $22.5 million in districts currently held by Republicans.

Democrats enjoy a huge financial advantage over Republicans. Through the end of May, the DCCC held $47.1 million in cash reserves, while the National Republican Congressional Committee had just $6.65 million in the bank. That disparity will play a huge role in November, and Democrats are already laying the foundation with the first round of major ad buys.

Of the nineteen Republican districts Democrats have reserved time in, the party has a good chance to pick up as many as a dozen. Nine Republican incumbents, including Alaska Rep. Don Young, Michigan Reps. Joe Knollenberg and Tim Walberg, Nevada Rep. Jon Porter and Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot, are early targets of DCCC media buys.

The party is targeting ten Republican-held open seats as well. In Arizona's First District, Rep. Rick Renzi's retirement has made Democratic former State Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick the early front-runner. In New York's Thirteenth District, Rep. Vito Fossella's retirement after being charged with a DUI has left Republicans virtually without an opponent.

But after picking up thirty seats in 2006 and another three in special elections this year, Democrats realize they have to play defense as well. The party will defend Reps. Jason Altmire, a Pennsylvanian who faces a rematch with his 2006 opponent Melissa Hart, Texan Nick Lampson, who will face former Congressional aide Pete Olson, and Harry Mitchell, a freshman from Arizona who will face the winner of a competitive primary.

Too, the party has already reserved time to defend retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley's suburban and exurban Portland seat in Oregon. State Senator Kurt Shrader, the Democratic nominee, is seen as the front-runner after Republican Mike Erickson faced embarrassing personal revelations following his state's May primary.

In total, the DCCC has reserved $12 million to protect their own incumbents and Hooley's open seat. The nine Republican incumbents will be targeted with up to $9 million in total spending, while the DCCC has reserved another $13.5 million for Republican-held open seats.

Still, these numbers can change over the coming months. Reserving time is not the same thing as buying time, and, should Democrats decide one race is easily won or already lost, the party can shift resources to other districts. Having reserved time only ensures the DCCC can spend money before commercial advertisers and other political candidates buy the time remaining, driving prices up.

Too, with Barack Obama, John McCain and both parties expected to spend millions in a wider number of states than normal, both including traditionally Democratic and Republican states, cheaper political advertising rates will run out quickly, while traditional advertising rates will balloon.

Full list of targeted districts and amount of ad buys after the jump.

State / District / Incumbent (Party) / Money spent / Points reserved (approximately)

Republican Incumbents

Alaska / At large / Young (R) / $586,000 / 4,000
Colorado / 04 / Musgrave (R) / $667,000 / 2,000
Connecticut / 04 / Shays (R) / $697,000 / 2,200
Florida / 24 / Feeney (R) / $1 million / 3,000
Michigan / 07 / Walberg (R) / $1.5 million / 10,800
Michigan / 09 / Knollenberg (R) / $1.1 million / 3,200
North Carolina / 08 / Hayes (R) / $1.6 million / 9,250
Nevada / 03 / Porter (R) / $916,000 / 3,000
Ohio / 01 / Chabot (R) / $928,000 / 4,300

Republican Open Seats

Arizona / 01 / Renzi (R-Open) / $1.7 million / 4,400
Minnesota / 03 / Ramstad (R-Open) / $1.4 million / 5,000
Missouri / 09 / Hulshof (R-Open) / $941,000 / 10,000
New Jersey / 07 / Ferguson (R-Open) / $1.8 million / 2,400 -- *
New Mexico / 01 / Wilson (R-Open) / $1.3 million / 5,000
New Mexico / 02 / Pearce (R-Open) / $1.2 million / 5,900
New York / 13 / Fossella (R-Open) / $1.3 million / 4,000 -- *
Ohio / 15 / Pryce (R-Open) / $1.2 million / 5,000
Ohio / 16 / Regula (R-Open) / $1.3 million / 5,000
Virginia / 11 / Davis (R-Open) / $1.3 million / 1,800

Democratic Incumbents

Arizona / 05 / Mitchell (D) / $1.7 million / 4,400
Florida / 16 / Mahoney (D) / $1.5 million / 9,400
Indiana / 09 / Hill (D) / $1.6 million / 10,800
Kansas / 02 / Boyda (D) / $1.2 million / 16,200
Kentucky / 03 / Yarmuth (D) / $659,000 / 4,000
Louisiana / 06 / Cazayoux (D) / $723,000 / 5,000
New Hampshire / 01 / Shea-Porter (D) / $564,000 / 450
Pennsylvania / 04 / Altmire (D) / $554,000 / 3,200
Texas / 22 / Lampson (D) / $1.1 million / 2,200
Texas / 23 / Rodriguez (D) / $707,000 / 4,000
Wisconsin / 08 / Kagen (D) / $475,000 / 5,000

Democratic Open Seats

Oregon / 05 / Hooley (D-Open) / $1.2 million / 5,000

* -- Fossella's and Ferguson's districts are in the New York City media market, the most expensive in the country. The DCCC's buys here are mostly targeted toward cable television.

Heinrich Leads Own Poll

There are few candidates Republicans are more excited about than Bernallilo County Sheriff Darren White, a strong campaigner with an impressive fundraising streak so far and a moderate record that could be the party's only hope of keeping an increasingly Democratic-leaning Albuquerque-based district. But a new poll, conducted for White's opponent, shows White isn't in the clear just yet.

The survey, taken 6/29-7/2 for Albuquerque city councilmember Martin Heinrich by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, polled 518 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Heinrich and White, who won their respective primaries early last month, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Heinrich............47
White................44

The First District, held by Rep. Heather Wilson who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate this year, voted for both Al Gore and John Kerry by narrow margins. The only reason Wilson kept the seat, many believe, is thanks to her determined skill as a campaigner. White, who was elected by a wide margin in the district's Democratic base of Bernallilo County, has the same reputation.

Still, Heinrich is no slouch in either the fundraising or the campaigning department. And Democrats, with the opportunity to pick up a Senate seat and an outside shot at a more Republican district in the southern part of the state, will likely invest significant resources in the state.

Both White and Heinrich will likely benefit from their top-of-the-ticket counterparts. In an interview with Politics Nation in April, White voiced enthusiasm for running alongside John McCain, a Westerner who represents a different type of Republican. And Heinrich will see an added Democratic turnout, especially among Hispanic voters, amongst whom Barack Obama is polling far ahead of McCain.In a district that is 43% Hispanic, that's a big boost for the Democrat.

For more on New Mexico's First District, check out our rundown of the race after visiting both Heinrich and White in April. Given the swing nature of the seat and the implications it has in terms of Republicans holding on to the Mountain West and among Hispanic voters, the Heinrich-White battle may be one of the most exciting, and telling, we'll see all year.

GOPers Head To ANWR

Sensing an increasingly favorable political issue, House Minority Leader John Boehner and ten Republican freshmen will travel to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge late next week to highlight the need for new energy exploration. The trip follows a group of five Republican challengers who will visit the Arctic Circle earlier in the week to highlight their own support for drilling in the region.

Boehner's group will stop first at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, before heading to Alaska, as part of what Republicans are calling their "all of the above" energy plan aimed at reducing gas prices.

Republicans have found new political life in what had been a losing political issue as gas prices continue to climb past the $4 a gallon mark. Democrats have long hammered the GOP for voting in favor of big oil companies, but recent polls show concern over gas prices and support for new energy exploration growing among voters. "Policies not widely embraced when gasoline was $2 per gallon -- such as oil exploration on a tiny patch of Alaska's vast North Slope -- now enjoy the American people's overwhelming support in the face of $4 per gallon gas," Boehner said in a statement announcing the trip.

He will be joined by Reps. Michele Bachmann, of Minnesota, Gus Bilirakis, of Florida, Mary Fallin, of Oklahoma, Dean Heller, of Nevada, Ohio's Jim Jordan and Bob Latta, Colorado's Doug Lamborn, California's Kevin McCarthy, Nebraska's Adrian Smith and newly-elected Steve Scalise, of Louisiana. Of the ten freshmen, only Bachmann is expected to face a close race, though national Democrats are excited about Heller's opponent. Lamborn faces what could be a difficult primary fight.

Still, at a time when Republicans are struggling to find a winning political issue, gas prices and new exploration could be key to salvaging at least a few seats in Congress. Democrats have used the energy crisis effectively so far, but if Republicans can find a toehold, spending a weekend in Alaska might be the first step towards claiming newly favorable terrain.

Strategy Memo: Surrogate Stumbles

Good Friday morning. Anyone want to lay odds on the next time we go forty-eight hours without a campaign surrogate saying something dumb? We're betting it won't be until November 5. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate is in pro forma session today, while the House has left early for a long weekend. President Bush is meeting with his economic team at the Energy Department today before taking off for Camp David. Both presidential candidates addressed the League of United Latin American Citizens earlier this week, and today it's Hillary Clinton's turn to do so. The New York Senator, who won more votes among Hispanics than any candidate in the primaries, will address the group's presidential banquet.

-- In April, Barack Obama took serious heat for suggesting that some working class voters in economically depressed areas would "cling" to their guns and religion because they are bitter at their economic conditions. It was a major gaffe, one that will elicit advertisements in the Fall questioning whether Obama understands Middle America. It's a line John McCain has returned to a number of times, and it may be an effective tool. But now Obama has a response, as he can point to top McCain adviser Phil Gramm, the economist and former Texas Senator, who said the U.S. is in a "mental recession" and has become "a nation of whiners."

-- Gramm stood by his comments, made to the Washington Times, even though they brought repudiation from close friend McCain himself. Addressing the Wall Street Journal editorial board, he noted the economy grew by 1% in the First Quarter, revised upwards from 0.6%, as the Washington Post points out. The only part he backtracked on was the "whiners" comment: "When I said we've become a nation of whiners, I'm talking about our leaders. I'm not talking about our people," he told the Post's Weisman and Bacon.

-- But it doesn't matter if Gramm is right or not, just like it didn't matter that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was not echoing Obama's religious philosophy, or that Samantha Power wasn't speaking for Obama when she called Clinton a "monster," or that John McCain didn't shout down a questioner in South Carolina when she suggested the New York Senator was a derogatory name for women. Obama, like McCain has done in similar situations, pounced and quickly tied the two together. "This comes after Senator McCain recently admitted his energy proposal for the gas tax holiday will have mainly 'psychological benefits.' Now I want all of you to know that America already has one Dr. Phil, we don't need another," Obama said during a rally in Fairfax, Virginia. McCain moved to distance himself, but it's another example of a surrogate ruling the day.

-- Not all was bad news yesterday, as McCain announced his best fundraising month of the presidential contest, pulling in $22 million and retaining $27 million in the bank, the AP's Jim Kuhnhenn writes. Remember, that's money he has to spend by the time he's nominated for president, on September 4, before public matching funds kick in. But the news gets better: The Republican National Committee, which can spend all the money it likes virtually in conjunction with McCain's efforts after the St. Paul convention, kept up its torrid fundraising pace in June, pulling in almost $26 million in June and ending the month with $69 million in the bank.

-- Do a little math and a little rounding and Republicans have $95 million available today, with $69 million of that able to be spent between September 4 and November 4. That's a little over a million dollars a day, and the fundraising pace is only going to increase. The RNC is raising money in $25,000 chunks, while McCain contributors are limited to $2,300 a pop. That means McCain likely has more donors this month than the RNC, giving him hope that the base is actually getting excited about his chances.

-- The fundraising numbers bring up another big question: Whither Barack Obama? Early in June, just after he wrapped up the Democratic nomination, some estimated he could raise as much as $100 million that month. But the only stories that leaked from a campaign notoriously vocal about its fundraising success were stories about reluctant Clinton donors and a slowed-down internet fundraising effort. And, eleven days after the month ended, with reports due in four more days, we have yet to hear from Team Obama. Are they setting us up for a huge, mind-boggling number of dollars raised that will earn a new round of very positive stories, or are they seriously lagging in a once-torrid fundraising pace? We'll know by Tuesday, July 15, at the latest. By the way, if this graph is any indication, the news may not be good for Obama.

-- Strategy Of The Day: Hit the Upper Midwest, and hit it hard. That's what McCain is doing lately, stopping yesterday in Michigan and Minnesota before heading to Wisconsin today. McCain will be in the Eau Clair area, the Leader-Telegram writes, before heading home to Phoenix for the weekend. Recent polls have shown McCain trailing in all three states, but with the help of, say, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty or sort-of Michigan native Mitt Romney on the ticket, the three states, which combine for 37 electoral votes, could make all the difference in November.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day with a town hall focused on energy issues in Dayton, Ohio. McCain's last event is a town hall meeting for women's issues in Hudson, Wisconsin. DNC chairman Howard Dean, meanwhile, is stumping through Maine, stopping in Waterville and Lewistown to register voters.

Kucinich Giving Impeachment Another Try

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who introduced 35 articles of impeachment last month, is set to introduce just one article on the House floor today. According to a press release distributed by the congressman's office, Kucinich will argue for impeachment on the grounds of "Deceiving Congress with Fabricated Threats of Iraq WMDs to Fraudulently Obtain Support for an Authorization of the Use of Military Force Against Iraq."

"The breadth and depth of the President's misrepresentations do not argue for incompetency as a defense, but for deceit as an impeachable offense. We have arrived at a teachable moment in our Constitutional history. Congress must insist on accountability. We must regain our rightful role as a co-equal branch of government charged with providing a check and balance to Executive abuse of power," Kucinich wrote to House colleagues, per Politico's John Bresnahan.

Kucinich plans to read the text of the article from the terrace of the Cannon House Office Building at 2:00 p.m. today. Later in the afternoon Kucinich hopes to read the article on the House floor for consideration. The bill he introduced on June 10 was referred to committee on a 251-166 roll call vote, all but killing the measure.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: Jesse's Grill

Good Thursday afternoon. Turns out Politics Nation isn't invincible after all, especially when it comes to ankles. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The Senate continues consideration of a housing reform bill today, with a cloture attempt coming this morning. Later, the upper chamber will vote on nominations of General David Petraeus to take over U.S. Central Command and Lieutenant General Ray Odierno to take Petraeus's slot as commander of troops in Iraq. The House takes up a bill on designations of historic trails, which could cause a fight over private property rights. And President Bush will sign the new FISA bill into law this afternoon at the White House.

-- The big news of the day, though, is an apology issued by the Rev. Jesse Jackson after comments he made on a live mic in which he said he would like to deprive Barack Obama of a sensitive part of the male anatomy for what Jackson said was talking down to African Americans. Jackson made the comments to a Fox reporter in what he thought was a private moment, though the comments have now been replayed on Fox News and will continue to make the rounds. Universally repudiated, Jackson apologized for the comments, an apology Obama accepted.

-- The underlying sentiment, though, is an interesting point that cuts to the heart of Obama's candidacy. The old guard, be it of African American political leaders or of the Democratic Party as a whole, has passed the torch to Obama and a new generation of leaders. Some have done so gracefully -- many early Obama endorsers said as much when they backed him -- and others, most notably Jackson and Bill Clinton, have been less artful. Jackson's sentiment that Obama is in some way stealing his thunder is understandable, but that he would say it in such a manner just makes Jackson look worse.

-- The generational gap is a theme that's going to play out in the general election, too. The two candidates will frame it as another "change versus experience" battle, but with one septuagenarian candidate and one who hasn't even turned 50, it would be nearly impossible not to see the election as a contest of two contrasting generations. But while the Democratic primary electorate may be ready for a new set of leaders, the electorate at large may be less so, giving McCain a hope for November. Don't forget that senior citizens are the most reliable voting bloc, while the younger voters Obama hopes to turn out have always proven fickle.

-- Among those out of the gate with statements condemning Jackson's comments was his son, Obama national co-chairman and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. The younger Jackson repudiated his father's remarks and urged him to "keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself." By the way, Jackson's own apology stressed that the remarks were meant to be private and that he didn't know the mic was on, channeling President Bush's apology for comments about New York Times writer Adam Clymer. Politicians of both parties should remember the fundamental rule of public speaking: Always assume the mic is on. And the rest of America should keep asking: Is an ugly sentiment said in private any better than an ugly sentiment aired in public?

-- Another lesson in politics: If you want to be read, get your stuff on the Drudge Report. Drudge was first up with the explosive headlines about Jackson's comments yesterday, reminding The Fix just why Drudge is one of the biggest names in politics right now. Drudge makes a story, Cillizza writes, by promoting it to his unique and powerful audience, including every political writer in the country, and by figuring out what story is about to bust wide open. "Drudge has become center court at Wimbledon," GOP strategist Alex Castellanos told The Fix. "If it doesn't happen there, it doesn't happen."

-- On the Republican side, we've said it before and we'll say it again: If John McCain is the next president, Mark Salter is going to be a prominent reason why. McCain's former Senate chief of staff, Salter is like a brother to the Arizonan, as McCain himself told Bloomberg's Ed Chen.

Salter is no Karl Rove or Mark Penn, in that he is not a political strategist. He's not a John Podesta or Charlie Black, Washington power players extraordinare. He's simply the person best able to put McCain's thoughts into words. That, for a candidate who is less oratorical than his opponent, makes Salter one of the most crucial cogs in the McCain campaign wheel.

-- Clip-And-Save Of The Day: Political writers will soon begin to offer their version of a Ph.D. thesis -- the definition of voters they see as key to winning in November. USA Today's Susan Page has the first version we've seen this year, based on the level of enthusiasm a voter feels. The news isn't good for McCain: Those most excited to vote are big Obama backers, while those who aren't excited generally prefer McCain. The Republican is going to have to fire up some new backers if he wants a shot at the White House.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is in Fairfax, Virginia this afternoon for a town hall meeting on economic security for women, while wife Michelle goes a-courtin' in Kansas City, Missouri. McCain is holding a town hall meeting in Belleville, Michigan, before heading to Minneapolis for a rally as his plane touches down. Later, the Arizona Senator will have a tele-town hall meeting with Virginians.

Politics Nation note

Politics Nation will be out for a few hours this morning. Please check back later in the morning for updates. Thanks!

Big Daniels Lead

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, once one of Democrats' top targets, is looking more secure in his bid for re-election, as polls continue to show ex-Rep. Jill Long Thompson trailing by a wide margin. A new survey shows not much has changed since Long Thompson won the primary, while Daniels' political position in the state has improved.

The poll, conducted 6/22-29 by Bellweather Research & Consulting, surveyed 1,000 likely voters for a margin of error of +/- 3%. Daniels and Long Thompson were tested.

General Election Matchup
Daniels..............50 (+4 from last, 12/07)
Thompson.........36 (+3)

Daniels did not have the easiest first term, beset by controversies over privatizing the state's toll roads and the eternal conflicts between parts of the state residing in different time zones. But the survey shows Daniels' approval rating at a healthy 57%, while just 34% disapprove of the job he's doing as governor. His personal favorable rating is 55%, compared with just 33% who view him unfavorably.

Long Thompson retains the double problem of a lack of money and a lack of name recognition. Just 31% have a favorable impression of the Democrat, who lost her seat in Congress fourteen years ago, while 17% view her unfavorably. That means more than half the electorate has no opinion of Long Thompson, an issue she will have to overcome by advertising.

Democrats face a tremendously steep uphill climb in the Hoosier State, especially given the millions Daniels has already raised. Through the end of March, Daniels had already stockpiled $5.2 million for his campaign, while Long Thompson likely spent most of her money in the primary and had to start over. New finance reports will come out next week.

Collins Running Away?

Though Democrats have a good shot at winning several Senate seats this year, one of their top opportunities looks like it remains well beyond reach, a new poll shows. Despite picking up one of the toughest possible challengers, Republican Senator Susan Collins is still maintaining a big lead, giving the GOP hope that at least a few Northeastern Republicans will still be in office after this year.

The survey, conducted by the SMS Group from 6/10-18, polled 400 adults for a margin of error of +/- 5%. Collins and Rep. Tom Allen were tested.

General Election Matchip
Collins..........56
Allen............31

The sample of adults is less reliable than a sample of registered or likely voters, who have to go through more screening questions to be included in the pool. But the results track with an April poll that also showed Collins with a lead of more than twenty points.

Voters in Maine are not pleased with the direction of their state -- 60% say Maine is off on the wrong track, while just 23% say it's going in the right direction. But Collins has always been popular, if not as popular as the state's senior senator, Olympia Snowe.

Unless something changes, Collins is headed towards re-election. Democrats have the money, both nationally and in Allen's bank account, to make a significant investment in the state, but starting down more than twenty points is not a position that leads to a lot of electoral victories.

Roberts Up 20

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts has a message for the political world: He's doing just fine. While the GOP faces challenges around the country, a new internal poll shows Roberts leading his opponent, ex-Rep. Jim Slattery, by a wide margin. The state is likely to go heavily for John McCain in November, the strong support of Governor Kathleen Sebelius notwithstanding, though it would not be a surprise if Roberts outpolled the presidential contender.

The survey, conducted for Roberts by TargetPoint Consulting, polled a massive 3,004 registered voters for a margin of error of +/- 1.8%. Roberts and Slattery were tested.

General Election Matchup
Roberts........54
Slattery........34

The results show Roberts with a bigger lead than Slattery's latest internal poll, which nonetheless showed the incumbent Republican leading by twelve points. And given the right-leaning tilt of the state -- President Bush won by twenty-five points in 2004 and by twenty-one points in 2000 -- it will be exceedingly difficult for Slattery to climb back.

Still, Roberts has been running radio ads and has kept up his attacks on Slattery, who spent the past several years in a prominent Washington lobbying shop. Is his attention to the race just due diligence on the part of a paranoid incumbent, or are there other numbers that indicate Slattery could actually give Roberts a race?

We're leaning towards the first answer, but as the race evolves, we'll keep an eye out to see if that changes.

Obama Makes LULAC Pitch

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens, Barack Obama should have known he would be interrupted on a few occasions by a friendly audience chanting "Si se puede" -- his campaign motto, 'Yes we can,' in Spanish. During his speech yesterday, Obama touched on key issues like education, immigration and health care, and made clear how important the Latino vote would be in November.

"This election could well be decided by Latino voters," Obama said. "Every four years some of the closest contests take place in Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico -- states with large Latino communities." With LULAC members from around the country in attendance, some yelled out their home states where they hoped Obama could compete. "Texas?" Obama said. "No. Not yet. California? We're going to stomp them in California."

Obama also made his case against his general election competition, John McCain, who spoke at the conference four hours earlier. "Now, I know Senator McCain used to buck his party on immigration by fighting for comprehensive reform, and I admired him for it," Obama said. "But when he was running for his party's nomination, he abandoned his courageous stance, and said that he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote."

Obama touted his own support for comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate and promised to make it a top priority in the first year of his administration. "We need a president who isn't going to walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform when it becomes politically unpopular," Obama said.

One question plaguing Obama throughout the Democratic primary process was whether he could win over Latinos in the general election, after regularly trailing Hillary Clinton among the emerging Democratic constituency. However, recent polls have shown Latinos favoring Obama over McCain by large margins, and if the response he received yesterday was any measure, Obama has erased any lingering questions of his Latino support.

Despite recent controversy that Obama is moving to the center of the political spectrum or flip-flopping on stances he made during the primaries, the presumptive Democratic nominee still has rock star-like appeal on stage. As he walked to the podium, almost every arm in the room was raised with a camera or camera-phone, and he was cheered loudly and regularly throughout his speech.

Before closing his speech, Obama noted John Kerry's 6,000-vote loss to Pres. Bush in New Mexico in 2004, compared to the 40,000 registered Latinos in the state who didn't vote. New Mexico was one of only two states to vote for President Bush in 2004 after voting for Al Gore in 2000, and it's a state the Obama campaign is targeting as a pickup opportunity.

"During the immigration marches back in 2006, we had a saying: 'Today, we march. Tomorrow, we vote,'" Obama said. "Well, that was the time to march. And now comes the time to vote."

-- Kyle Trygstad

Ventura To Run In MN?

Updated below

Former Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura, the one-time wrestler, movie actor and improbable chief executive of Minnesota, strongly hinted at a run against Republican Senator Norm Coleman in November in a weekend interview with National Public Radio, adding another wrinkle to one of the most contentious Senate contests in the country.

Told his would-be opponents, Coleman and Democrat Al Franken, he would run or hint at a run to try to sell his latest book, Ventura said he would run to oppose Coleman's support for the war in Iraq. "That's the reason I run, not to sell books. I run because it angers me," Ventura told NPR. "All you Minnesotans take a good hard look at all three of us. And you decide, if you're in a dark alley, which one of the three of us would you want with you."

Ventura has said he will not officially announce until next Tuesday, the filing deadline, but close political ally Dean Barkley has been dropping hints for months, as Kyle Trygstad wrote in this space last month. Barkley, who ran Ventura's gubernatorial campaign and served as Senator for the few months after a plane crash took the life of Democrat Paul Wellstone in 2002, had also said that he would run if Ventura did not.

As governor, Ventura had high approval ratings until his final year in office, when they plummeted. He did not seek re-election in 2002, instead handing his Independent Party over to ex-Rep. Tim Penny, who finished third to Republican Tim Pawlenty.

Polls have showed Ventura already collecting nearly a quarter of the vote, taking almost as much support from Coleman as he does from Franken. Too, beating Coleman is nothing new to The Body: Coleman was the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1998 when Ventura came out on top, after starting in the single digits.

Ventura's entry into the race would seriously hurt Franken's efforts to win the seat back for Democrats. By splitting the anti-Coleman vote, Ventura could help re-elect the Republican. Franken has already had a terrible few months politically, with revelations about a Playboy article he'd written in 2000, back taxes due in 17 states and late filings from his political action committee. The addition of Ventura to the race could end up being the nail in Franken's political coffin.

Then again, Ventura's vitriol could be directed solely at Coleman, and should he spend all his time berating the incumbent, Franken may find new life as the one candidate not wholly despised by the electorate. Coleman has been hit by local Democrats lately for paying only nominal rent on a room in a Washington townhouse owned by a wealthy businessman and friend.

Regardless of whether Ventura is serious, and of which other candidates are helped or hurt by the move, a Ventura candidacy would certainly make more interesting a contest that has so far been one of the most bitter and angry, and the most expensive, in the country. One thing is for sure: In a race in which none of the three candidates like each other, there will be no such thing as "Minnesota nice."

Update: Ventura tells the Associated Press that he has not made up his mind, shooting down reports that he will definitely run. The former governor maintained he will make a decision by next Tuesday, the filing deadline.

FEC Back Up Tomorrow

Five new Federal Election Commissioners will participate in the first meeting of their new terms after being sworn in yesterday, tackling a backlog of campaign finance issues and complaints ahead of November. The meeting is the first of 2008, after months of wrangling between Senate Democrats and their GOP counterparts on Capitol Hill and in the White House prevented the FEC from achieving a quorum.

For four of the commissioners, the meeting tomorrow will be the first of their FEC careers. Cynthia Bauerly, a Democrat, and Republicans Caroline Hunter, Donald McGahn and Matthew Petersen are just warming up their seats, though all have legal backgrounds. The second Democrat, Steven Walther, served previously as a recess appointee. The five new members join vice chair Ellen Weintraub, the board's third Democrat, who until yesterday was the only permanent member of the commission.

Meeting tomorrow to elect officer positions for the rest of the year, the FEC will also face a significant workload of advisory opinions for various campaigns, lobbyist disclosure rules mandated by the Senate that have yet to be set, and complaints lodged against candidates and organizations. The FEC does not comment on cases before judgment has been rendered, though spokesman Bob Biersack told Politics Nation two weeks ago the commission typically has about 100 cases in the docket.

Perhaps the most substantial case before the commission is one filed by the Democratic National Committee, which accuses John McCain of unilaterally pulling out of the public financing and matching fund system in the primary in a manner Democrats say is illegal. That could have a bearing on whether McCain gets public funds to the tune of $84.1 million for the general election campaign.

McCain is highly likely to get the funding, but it's still something the commission has to vote on, ensuring that no one is happier about the resettlement of the wayward commission than the folks in McCain national headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

Strategy Memo: Going Ballistic

Good Wednesday morning. A television station in Milwaukee reports that Brett Favre contacted the Packers' general manager via text message to discuss a possible comeback. Why doesn't anyone pick up the phone anymore? Or does that make Politics Nation sound like the old guy on the porch complaining about the kids on the lawn? Here's what Washington is watching this morning:

-- The Senate will vote on amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before recessing for the weekly Republican Party luncheon (Democrats held theirs yesterday, while many Republicans made the trip to North Carolina to pay final respects to the late Senator Jesse Helms). Later today, the upper chamber will again take up housing legislation. The House, meanwhile, will vote on a bill to require preservation of some White House emails. President Bush returns home from his final G-8 summit today, and Attorney General Michael Mukasey will be in the hot seat, grilled by the Senate Judiciary Committee about oversight at the Justice Department a week after a report suggesting some career professionals were hired for their political beliefs.

-- It's a reminder every political watcher needs to keep in the back of their heads: No matter what message a candidate is driving on any given day, it only takes one event for the message to begin driving the candidate. As Barack Obama returns to the Senate to vote on housing legislation, the perfect opportunity to turn the debate back to the economy, he, and John McCain, will instead spend their day talking about the threat of Iran and their support for Israel after the Revolutionary Guard tested nine medium-range missiles today in response to Israeli military exercises, as the Jerusalem Post writes. The Shahab-3 missiles can't reach the United States, but with a 2,000 kilometer range, they could reach ally Israel.

-- Too, watch for presidential politics to take a back seat to bad economic news, as triggered by the missile launches. The shots were fired in the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 40% of the world's oil flows, sending oil prices right back up after a momentary drop yesterday. Crude is still trading lower, after plummeting five dollars a barrel yesterday, but any time world events make people jittery, it's oil prices that will suffer. Gold, too, is up, spiking after settling at a two-week low. With both indicators climbing, it's not likely Wall Street will have a good day, even after the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 152 points yesterday.

-- The lesson: External factors will play a role in this presidential contest, no matter how much Obama and McCain might want to talk about something else. The nimble campaign will respond to major external events and implement the necessary talking points quickly. But the smart campaign will be the one that recognizes exactly which world events are worth deviating from the plan of the day to which to respond. Respond too much, and the campaign loses all control of its message and gets thrown from the track easily. Respond too little, and one's campaign appears deaf to the world around it.

-- Of course, with one candidate dominating on foreign policy and the other on the economy, the presence of Iranian missiles in today's and tomorrow's headlines (Depending on where in the world you pick up your newspaper) will have a political impact. McCain, who is trusted by more Americans on foreign policy than Barack Obama, could use the occasional reminder to the public that he's the experience candidate. "Iran's most recent missile tests demonstrate again the dangers it poses to its neighbors and to the wider region, especially Israel," McCain said in a statement released early this morning. "Ballistic missile testing coupled with Iran's continued refusal to cease its nuclear activities should unite the international community in efforts to counter Iran's dangerous ambitions."

-- Speaking of test fires, Obama's campaign looks like it has learned an important lesson from John Kerry's campaign. In the Spring and early Summer of 2004, Democrats spent far less on advertising than Republicans, giving the GOP the chance to define Kerry as a flip-flopping Northeastern elitist liberal. By the time Kerry got around to responding, it was too late. That's not going to happen to Obama, who launched the first response ad of the 2008 campaign yesterday, taking on an RNC spot that hit the Democrat on energy. The Detroit News reports the spot will air in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the same four battleground states in which the RNC ad is running. Like external events, it takes judgment to determine which attack ads to respond to, and Obama's campaign thinks the first Republican buy meets that threshold. (See Obama's ad here)

-- Meanwhile, Obama has another threat coming his way. Though the press has been kind, to put it mildly, to the Democratic nominee, his recent charge towards the center has done more to generate negative columns and stories than virtually any other moment in the seventeen months he's been running for president. Obama fought back against the notion that he's plunging to the middle during a town hall meeting yesterday in Powder Springs, Georgia, defending new emphases on Iraq, gun control, faith and other issues yesterday, the New York Times' Michael Powell reported. Obama didn't take a lot of heat for skipping town hall meetings with McCain -- the media forgot the story in mere moments, it seemed -- but he may need to spend a little more time repairing these bridges.

-- Erosion Of The Day: Top television networks are considering cutting back their prime time convention coverage, Politico's David Paul Kuhn reports. While the nets will cover major speeches at the Democratic National Convention, the addition of Obama's trip to Invesco Field, where he will accept the Democratic nomination in front of 76,000 adoring fans, is putting more financial pressure on executives, who now have two sites to set up shop, instead of just one. The additional costs "add to the overall question of how the networks should cover what is a non-news event," CBS News vice president Paul Friedman told Kuhn.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama starts his day in Washington with votes on the Senate floor, where he may incur the wrath of lefty bloggers for his votes on FISA legislation. Later, he heads to New York City for a joint fundraiser with Hillary Clinton, aimed at filling Obama's coffers and repaying Clinton's debt. And John McCain returns to Ohio, with a town hall meeting set for Portsmouth, south of Columbus and right on the Ohio-Kentucky border.

McCain Addresses Latino Voters

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In remarks to one of the country's leading Latino organizations, John McCain focused heavily on his plans to reverse a flagging economy through comprehensive unemployment insurance, tax and health care reform, only briefly addressing battles he has fought for comprehensive immigration reform. Instead, in his speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens, McCain spent time on his plans for energy independence and health care reform to a largely friendly audience.

"The economy isn't the sum of an array of bewildering statistics. It's about where Americans work, how they live, how the pay their bills today and save for tomorrow," McCain said. Citing the two million Hispanic-owned small businesses, he urged tax cuts for small businesses, which have created jobs this year while other sectors have shed employees. Most notably, McCain said he would reduce the business tax rate from 35% to 25%.

McCain also called for doubling the child tax credit, reducing the estate tax to 15% and a $5,000 health care tax credit. On energy, McCain again promoted his Lexington Project, to build 45 new nuclear power plants and to develop clean coal, a project he estimated would create "millions" of new jobs.

Too, the Arizona Senator continued his focus on free trade, an issue he spent last week discussing during trips to Colombia and Mexico. "When have Americans ever been afraid of competition? America is the biggest exporter, importer, producer, manufacturer, and innovator in the world," McCain said. "That's why I reject the false virtues of economic isolationism."

Hispanic voters care more about education than the electorate at large, strategists on both sides of the aisle agree. McCain, said former LULAC vice president David Rodriguez, has always been attentive to education needs, and the senator's biggest applause line came when he declared "the civil rights challenge of our time rests in education."

McCain also hit rival Barack Obama for refusing to share the stage with him in a town hall-style meeting. McCain had offered an invitation, he said, but Obama declined. Once an issue on which Obama took heat, few have brought up the town hall meetings McCain once proposed and Obama subsequently rejected.

One cannot leave a meeting with Hispanic voters without addressing the elephant in the room. One of the most prominent backers of comprehensive immigration reform, McCain -- who once received an award from LULAC for his position -- said the fight was not over, but that it would take new work. "We must prove to [opponents of immigration reform] that we can and will secure our borders first, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States," he said. Still, "we have economic and humanitarian responsibilities as well, and they require no less dedication from us in meeting them."

Perhaps no Republican candidate could appeal to Hispanic voters as well as McCain. "I represent the great state of Arizona where Spanish was spoken before English was, and where the character and prosperity of our state owes a great deal to the many Arizonans of Hispanic descent who live there," McCain said. "And I know this country, which I love more than almost anything, would be the poorer were we deprived of the patriotism, industry and decency of those millions of Americans whose families came here from other countries in our hemisphere."

Speaking from a teleprompter, McCain demonstrated an easier speaking style than he has in earlier appearances. After several disastrous speeches, in which McCain's presentation was halting, at best, the Arizona Senator even paused on applause lines today. While Obama still offers a better presentation, McCain's performance at LULAC showed a much better candidate than the one in January who thanked New Hampshire voters for handing him a primary win.

Fire At Burner's Home

We meant to post this last week, but got overrun with stories. Washington State businesswoman Darcy Burner, who came just 7,000 votes away from beating Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, had to pull through some personal tragedy last week when a faulty lamp caused a fire, destroying her home. Burner, who is running against Reichert a second time, her husband and their son were unhurt, thanks to the five year old waking his parents up.

The fire at Burner's house, near the small town of Carnation, destroyed everything inside, save the couple's car, complete with Darcy Burner for Congress bumper sticker, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

Burner and Reichert will face off in one of the most closely divided districts in the country, just east of Seattle and running from Bellevue and the north King County border to the Cascade foothills and Mount Rainier, the state's highest peak. Both have proven prodigious fundraisers, and Reichert, who won just 51% in his second term after scoring 52% in his first term, is a master at voter contact.

Despite the fire, Burner says she's staying in the race. In a district that gave both John Kerry and Al Gore narrow wins, the Democrat is sure to give Reichert a race. But with a voting record near the middle of the House and a reputation as The Sheriff (Reichert served as King County Sheriff and won acclaim for his role in catching a local serial killer, the Green River Killer), Reichert remains the early favorite.

For more on the district we called "America's swing district," check out our backgrounder on the race, from last September.

FL Brothers In Trouble

Two top Democratic targets could be in serious trouble, a new poll conducted by a Democratic-leaning firm shows. And the fact that both districts, represented by Republican brothers Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, are majority Cuban suggests yet another historically Republican voting bloc could be ready to shift their alliances toward the Democratic Party.

The survey, conducted by Bendixen & Associates, polled 350 voters in Florida's Eighteenth, Twenty-First and Twenty-Fifth Districts 6/6-22, an admittedly long time to conduct such small surveys. The margin of error on the poll was +/- 5%. In the Eighteenth, Bendixen tested Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen against businesswoman Annette Taddeo; in the Twenty-First, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez were tested; and in the Twenty-Fifth, the pollsters asked about Mario Diaz-Balart and former Miami-Dade Country Democratic chairman Joe Garcia.

General Election Matchups
Ros-Lehtinen......58
Taddeo...............31

L. Diaz-Balart......41
Martinez..............37

M. Diaz-Balart......44
Garcia..................39

That two incumbents who have historically won by such wide margins -- Lincoln's 59% and Mario's 58% in 2006 were their lowest performances of their careers -- are in trouble speaks volumes about the trouble Republicans are in. Both districts are dominated by Cubans; the Twenty First, east of Miami stretching from Pembroke Pines to south of Hialeah, is 70% Hispanic, and the Twenty Fifth, which contains most of Miami-Dade County and two other counties farther east, is 62% Hispanic.

Democrats are thrilled with both of their candidates, each of whom have been named to the party's Red to Blue program. The new opportunities for the party to appeal to Cuban voters, who have cast reliably Republican ballots since the 1960s, open up all three southern Florida seats to Democrats. Still, Ros-Lehtinen's Eighteenth District, which contains much of Miami south through the Florida Keys, looks safer for Republicans.

Republicans have already pointed out that Bendixen & Associates is a firm affiliated with Democratic candidates. That's true; the pollster worked for Hillary Clinton's campaign during the primaries, though they are not working for any of the candidates running this year. It's a well-respected firm, though, and has a reputation for specializing in polling Hispanic voters.

David Hill, a prominent Republican pollster who deals with both Diaz-Balarts, told McClatchy that his polls show Lincoln leading Martinez by twelve points, while Mario's campaign manager said it was "comforting" that his candidate led even in a Democratic-leaning poll. National Republicans have added both incumbents to their Regain Our Majority Program, and they have more cash on hand than their challengers. Still, it's not a race either should, or will, take lightly.

DNC Platform Cmte Released

National Democrats will be guided by Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, a long-time Barack Obama supporter, when they craft their platform at the convention in Denver, the Democratic National Committee announced today. The Copper State chief will head up the party's Platform Drafting Committee in advance of the full committee hammering out a draft to be voted on by the convention.

Napolitano will be joined by prominent Democrats from around the country, including Reps. Tammy Baldwin, Rosa DeLauro, Patrick Murphy and Linda Sanchez, as well as Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Obama advisers Susan Rice and Heather Higginbottom. The committee includes prominent Clinton backers, like Baldwin and Granholm, as well as Obama backers.

The drafting committee is scheduled to meet August 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, to hear from the public, but that's not the only chance voters will have to give input. The party will also hold platform meetings in local communities which will produce summaries to be reviewed by the full, elected committee, the DNC announced today.

"From the beginning, we said we were going bring down the traditional walls of the Democratic Convention and make this event more accessible and include as many people as possible," DNC chief Howard Dean said in a statement. "This process will empower Americans in all 50 states to make their voices heard as they help write the document that embodies our Party's values and vision for the future."

That Obama's campaign would open the process, at least nominally, to non-party elites is nothing new. Previous nominees have sent their platform committees on junkets around the country to take testimony in a number of different cities. Still, the breadth of Obama's reach is once again in play, as the Illinois Senator makes it known that a certain, likely very high, number of people are interested in crafting the ideological foundation of his campaign.

After the platform is drafted in Cleveland, the full committee will meet in Pittsburgh the following week to hammer out the final version to be voted on by delegates to the convention. Deval Patrick, governor of Massachusetts, and former New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid will co-chair the full committee, along with former Discovery Communications president and CEO Judith McHale.

In charge of the entire process will be Karen Kornbluh, who serves as Obama's policy director in his Senate office. Kornbluh, the Principle Author of the Platform, will be joined by National Platform Director Michael Yaki, a one-time top aide to Nancy Pelosi and a commissioner on the U.S. Comission on Civil Rights.

It is unusual for either party to face serious fights over what normally turns out to be a ratification of the nominee's wishes, though conservatives have hinted that they might cause a ruckus at the Republican Convention in St. Paul, especially over issues like climate change and immigration.

Strategy Memo: Thriving On Conflict

Good Tuesday morning. If you're Midwest Airlines, who do you fear more at the moment, the Federal Aviation Administration or President Obama? After Obama's charter malfunctioned yesterday, one wonders if Midwest will be able to secure landing rights in the next four years. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- After a brief hiatus, the Senate will again take up amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this morning, an issue that could have liberals up in arms at Democratic leadership in Congress and at Barack Obama, who signaled a position on the matter about which his base was not pleased. There will be no votes today, though, to allow members to attend the late Senator Jesse Helms' funeral. The House takes up a number of environmental measures related to oceanic conservation as well as a resolution celebrating Thurgood Marshall's 100th birthday, among others. President Bush remains in Japan for the G-8 summit.

-- John McCain must hate July. The Republican nominee-in-waiting had a miserable month a year ago, with his candidacy almost imploding, and this year it doesn't look any better. Republicans are questioning his ability to manage a campaign while the media gleefully plays along -- so much so that even cable news talking heads are openly wondering where former strategist Mike Murphy will fit in. The three squabbling camps the New York Times identifies, those owned by old aides like Rick Davis and Mark Salter, new Karl Rove acolytes like Steve Schmidt and one defined solely by Murphy, aren't going to have much of a role in the McCain White House if their candidate can't win in November.

-- It's not just the political side of things that's getting to McCain; even his policy proposals are being questioned. McCain, who has called for a balanced budget by 2013, is unlikely to achieve that mission with his current mix of spending cuts and tax cuts, according to economists, the Times' Robert Pear writes. McCain wants to cap federal spending growth at 2.4%, less than half the current growth rate, continue President Bush's tax cuts at a rate of about $700 billion over five years and add $60 billion in tax cuts of his own.

-- Meanwhile, he didn't have an easy time at a town hall meeting in Denver yesterday, the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes writes, bringing up an important point to remember about McCain's campaign: The guy doesn't pre-screen his audience, and he will take hard questions on immigration, the war in Iraq and other issues -- like the recently-passed GI bill McCain was against, as well as the Community Choice Act, which would allow wheelchair-bound people greater choice in where to live. That's great for the media, and it's a refreshing burst of authenticity. But those who live by the dialogue die by the dialogue, meaning McCain probably has more embarrassing moments to come.

-- Not all is rosy for Barack Obama's campaign either, though. Obama's stunning shift to the center of the political spectrum, whether on FISA, abortion issues, gun control, the death penalty and even the war in Iraq, has generated some of the worst headlines Obama has seen all primary season, as well as the harshest editorials from an ordinarily fawning media. Too, Obama is unlikely to get his full, and costly, agenda passed should he win the White House, the LA Times' Peter Nicholas writes today. Forget the "new kind of politics," could Obama be tainted with the specter of the dreaded flip-flop? One thing's for sure, Republicans will definitely paint him as a big-spending liberal.

-- The latest blow to Obama's reputation, and one of the most damaging, comes on Iraq, as the Illinois Senator's position is not what it once was. In an interview with the Military Times, Obama said he would "draw down in a deliberate fashion in consultation with the Iraqi government at a pace that is determined in consultation with General Petraeus and the other commanders on the ground. It strikes me that that is something we could begin relatively soon after inauguration. If, on the other hand, you've got a deteriorating situation for some reason, then that's going to have to be taken into account." That's not the same as the one to two brigades a month Obama had planned to pull out during the primaries, and it's got Republicans across the board pointing out the massive flip-flop, as NYT highlights.

-- Finally, both campaigns are well into the vice presidential vetting process, having narrowed their lists down to folks from whom they will request disclosure documents of various kinds. Obama's campaign team, headed by Caroline Kennedy and Eric Holder, asked at least one potential veep for his information, suggesting there are more files being turned over, while McCain's search chief, A.B. Culvahouse, has his own list of ten candidates, including Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reported yesterday. Still, the choices could be as much as a month and a half away, especially if McCain uses his pick to mitigate Obama's post-convention bounce.

-- Withdrawal Of The Day: The one candidate from whom sources say Kennedy and Holder actually requested disclosure documents, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, will not be Obama's vice president, telling the Illinois senator as much himself and issuing a statement yesterday, per Ambinder and MSNBC. The positives of a Webb candidacy: Military experience, might have helped Obama with Virginia. The negatives: He shoots off his mouth and he's far more conservative than most of his netroots fans think. That could have been a recipe for disaster.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama raised cash in Atlanta last night, and today he heads to Powder Springs, Georgia, in deeply Republican territory, for a town hall meeting. Later, he'll try that whole flying thing again and head to Washington to address the annual League of United Latin American Citizens convention at a Washington hotel. McCain hits the cable nets this morning before delivering his own remarks at LULAC around noon. Later, he has a town hall-style event scheduled for Moon Township, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh.

Young Fears Pombo II

In 2006, four environmental groups ganged up on House Resources Committee chairman Richard Pombo, a Republican from California, and sent him packing after spending millions attacking the incumbent. This year, the groups are targeting other states where they think they can have an impact, including Senate races in New Mexico, Colorado and New Hampshire, as we wrote in April.

Along with those Senate races, though, the groups -- Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife and Clean Water Action -- are expanding their reach, targeting other seats held by Republican incumbents they think can be replaced with more environmentally-friendly Democrats. Some of those targeted incumbents have taken notice and are determined not to become the next Pombo.

One of the most endangered incumbents is Pombo's predecessor, Alaska Rep. Don Young. A member of Congress since the early 1970s, Young has been the fiercest advocate for drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among other pro-energy exploration stances he's taken. Now, his chief of staff worries Young will be next on the target list, a point he made in an email to lobbyists, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

"While each of you may have different opinions as to what may have contributed to [Pombo's defeat], at the strategic level, we will all agree it is a textbook case in how Outsiders [sic] can reach into a district with money, volunteers, and a well coordinated attack (to) defeat an incumbent not necessarily on his/her record, but on innuendo and perception," wrote Mike Anderson, Young's top aide, in an email obtained by the Daily News.

Outside groups have already gotten involved in Alaska. Defenders of Wildlife has made Young's defeat a top priority, running an advertisement already that highlighted Young's ties to Veco Corp., an oil services company that is the subject of a federal investigation that has already sent several state legislators to jail. A spokeswoman for Defenders of Wildlife confirms plans to get involved in the race to a greater extent in the future.

Republicans in Washington, too, are worried about Young's prospects. In November, the Republican nominee will face former State Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, who has run ahead of Young by double digits in several public polls. Still, the good news for the GOP is that Young may not be the nominee: He faces the state's Lieutenant Governor, Sean Parnell, in an August primary. Parnell's ticket beat a ticket with Berkowitz on it in 2006, and Parnell could prove a better candidate in the Fall.

Young has at least two chances of losing his re-election bid this year. In either case, Defenders of Wildlife and other organizations will do their best to see that he does so. Whether they claim credit for Young as the second round of Pombo, or if they save that distinction for another incumbent, remains to be seen.

Clarification: Young, or Parnell, will not necessarily face Berkowitz in November. Berkowitz has his own primary, in which he will face Diane Benson, who ran against Young in 2006 and ran for governor in 2002. Benson held Young to 57% in 2006, his lowest win percentage since 1994. National Democrats will privately admit they favor Berkowitz, but Benson has run before and could benefit from better name recognition.

Romney Back In NH

For any other politician, a stop in New Hampshire might be construed as evidence of a lack of faith in their party's nominee and his chance of winning this November. But for Mitt Romney, showing up at a Fourth of July parade in the Granite State could be as simple as stepping outside his vacation home near Lake Winnipesaukee.

Romney slapped on stickers bearing the names of local Republican candidates, including Senator John Sununu and former Rep. Jeb Bradley, as he led his campaign bus -- complete with John McCain signs -- through Wolfeboro city streets on Friday, the Concord Monitor reported. But instead of wondering whether the former Massachusetts governor would be a candidate again, spectators said Romney might make a good vice presidential nominee.

One of the few veep hopefuls who headed to McCain's Sedona, Arizona ranch a month ago, Romney has gone out of his way to demonstrate his usefulness to the ticket, including holding major fundraisers for McCain in Utah, Michigan and Boston. Romney, predictably, shot down questions about whether he would be interested in the gig: "No speculation on that front," he told the paper.

Romney isn't the only former candidate to return to New Hampshire this year. Mike Huckabee was back a few weeks ago to stump for a former supporter, state Senator Bob Clegg, who is running against freshman Democrat Paul Hodes in the Second District (Bradley is seeking a return to his old seat in the First District). Both House candidates face contentious primaries, and Bradley is seen as one of Republicans' best chances to take back a seat.

Still, keep an eye on once-and-future candidates throughout the rest of the year. If McCain loses in November, those surrogates who head to Iowa and New Hampshire after their bids end will be the first ones on the phone seeking to consolidate their base for a 2012 run. Doing so now, though, is dangerous, especially if someone harbors vice presidential ambitions. Don't read too much into Romney's trip, though. Romney's vacation home is near the Wolfeboro parade route.

Bush To AZ

President Bush will head to Tucson later this month to help a top Republican challenger raise some serious money. The visit comes at an important time for State Senator Tim Bee, the Arizona Senate president, who this week lost a prominent supporter in what will be a tough battle against freshman Democrat Gabrielle Giffords.

The president will stop by a private home on July 18, the Arizona Capitol Times reported Thursday, and will join bigwigs for a fundraiser benefiting Bee, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Pima County Republican Party. Bee and Giffords both raised nearly $475,000 in the First Quarter, but the Republican trails his Democratic opponent by a wide margin; Giffords is one of the best fundraisers in the Democratic freshman class, with $1.67 million through the end of March.

Bush will head to the home of a couple of prominent Republican fundraisers and will be hosted by Sandy Froman, a former president of the National Rifle Association, and Jim Click, an auto dealer who plays a big role in Arizona GOP politics.

Bee can use the money and the press it will generate after losing a campaign co-chairman next week. Seeking to replace Giffords in the Eighth District, which borders Mexico and New Mexico and stretches west to Tucson, Bee is hoping to follow in the footsteps of ex-Rep. Jim Kolbe, who retired in 2006. Kolbe, who joined Giffords on stage during her victory party that year, had initially backed Bee but last week pulled his support, the Sierra Vista Herald writes.

Kolbe refused to tell reporters why he was withdrawing his backing, though speculation centered on a measure the State Senate put on the November ballot that would constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. Bee, as Senate president, sponsored the measure and shepherded it through the chamber. Kolbe is openly gay, though neither he nor the Bee campaign would say that was the reason for the pulled support.

Kolbe never had trouble keeping the seat in Republican hands, and it gave President Bush four- and seven-point wins in 2000 and 2004, respectively. But Giffords, herself a former state senator, scored one of the biggest takeover wins of 2006 after a competitive Republican primary produced an immigration hardliner decidedly against the Kolbe mold. In an unusual twist, both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads in the GOP primary that year, and the hardliner, Randy Graf, narrowly beat a more moderate candidate.

Along with the boatloads of money she's pulled in, Giffords got great press when she got married late last year to Mark Kelly, who she met while on a young leaders exchange trip to China. Kelly isn't as well-known in the district as his wife is, but as the commander of the most recent mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery, he could be quite a draw at fundraisers.

Still, in two weeks, it will be Bush who draws out the big donors, and the big bucks, on Bee's behalf. Both candidates are expected to have good quarters when they report to the Federal Elections Commission next week.

Obama To Invesco

Barack Obama will accept the Democratic presidential nomination at Invesco Field, the Democratic National Convention Committee announced this morning. The football stadium, across a parking lot from the Pepsi Center where the rest of the convention events will occur, will be able to accomadate 75,000 spectators, about five times the number that could fit in the arena.

The final night speech in front of so many people will give Obama a chance for a big boost coming out of Denver, and could put serious pressure on Republican nominee John McCain to do something equally rousing during his convention the following week. Speculation has increased of late that McCain will wait until the following day to announce his running mate in order to mute some of Obama's expected post-convention bounce.

Thousands of tickets to the Invesco event will be made available to the public, the DNCC announced. "This decision will enable thousands of residents from Colorado, the Rocky Mountain West and across the nation to witness history first hand," Colorado Governor Bill Ritter said in a statement. "What a way to fire up our grassroots activists as we head into the fall campaign."

Adding to the drama, Obama's acceptance will take place on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech on the Mall in Washington. But some may question how the convention committee, dangerously over-budget and having failed to meet their fundraising goals, will pay for the venue. Still, even if the Obama campaign has to foot the bill, the chance to give a soaring address to 75,000 admirers in prime time, with wall-to-wall network and cable coverage, is an opportunity no candidate could afford to miss.

DNC chairman Howard Dean, convention co-chair and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Obama senior adviser Anita Dunn will hold a conference call early this afternoon to announce further details.

Strategy Memo: Seeing Spots

Good Monday morning. Here's hoping everyone still has all their fingers after the Fourth of July. ESPN reported a conversation between one of their writers and Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia which occurred via text message. We're allowed to do that now?!? Here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate returns from recess today to resume consideration of major housing legislation, with a cloture vote scheduled for late this afternoon. The House is still on vacation, though they return to work tomorrow. President Bush is in Toyako, Japan, a resort town on the island of Hokkaido, for his final G-8 summit, and on his way over yesterday, staffers surprised him with a cake for his 62nd birthday. The summit lasts until Wednesday.

-- On the campaign trail, John McCain is taking every chance he can to call Barack Obama's judgment into question. This weekend, the battle was over Obama's statements that his position on Iraq was open to change as the situation on the ground evolves (CNN has the backgrounder). McCain's team, reverting to their assertion that "words do matter," wondered how Obama's Democratic base would feel about an evolution away from pulling out troops within 16 months, as the Illinois senator has proposed, perhaps the core reason Obama managed to beat Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Obama held a second press conference on Thursday after fury erupted over his initial comments, in which he tried to walk them back.

-- Meanwhile, McCain is getting more help from a veterans' organization that has so far been the largest Republican-leaning 527 organization to weigh in on behalf of the Arizona Senator. Vets for Freedom will start a $1.5 million ad buy this month that will target Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, the Washington Post's Michael Shear writes, in an effort to convince voters the war in Iraq is being won. The message: "We need to finish the job." Expect that mantra to repeat itself over the next few months, as it's one that plays heavily into McCain's message.

-- The Vets for Freedom ad mentions neither McCain nor Obama, but a different ad that began over the weekend takes on Obama directly over energy costs, tagging Obama as "just the party line." The $3 million ad buy comes not from a 527 organization, but from the Republican National Committee, which launched its first buy of the year, targeting Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Politico's Mike Allen reports. It's not a small expenditure, and it's not something that national Democrats can do much about. With $53.5 million in the bank as of May 31, the RNC can easily outspend the DNC, which maintains a puny $3.9 million on hand. Yes, Obama will outspend McCain, but that isn't the full financial story.

-- In House and Senate contests, any Washington strategist advising a challenger or an incumbent will urge that the candidate make their race about the other guy. Focus on the opponent's weaknesses, construe his arguments as either too far left or too far right, and put doubts about his or her ability to do the job in voters' minds. This presidential contest has aspects of that -- Obama questioned over his authenticity after seeming reversals on Iraq, public financing, et cetera, and McCain for his position changes on off-shore drilling and even his own campaign finance law. Both candidates will say the phrase "my opponent" before launching a tirade many times over the coming months.

-- But of course this race has to be about more than just the other guy, and both Obama and McCain have to watch out for their own reputations. John Kerry found out how important protecting the brand is, after a 527 organization slammed his service in Vietnam, service that he had made an integral building block for his race. This time, it's a contest between a decorated veteran with a long record of service and sacrifice against a fresh face ready to bring change. Those brands are what got both candidates where they are today, and they are alternately the candidates' biggest biographical strengths and biggest strategic weaknesses. Should the brands collapse, the campaigns will, too.

-- The real conclusion from the last two weeks: If this election is about the war in Iraq, John McCain has a serious shot at the win. With an argument last week over retired General Wes Clark's comments on McCain's service as a qualification to be president, and with this weekend being dominated by questions of whether Obama is reneging on one of his most fundamental campaign promises, the discussion still centers on Iraq, and McCain trails Obama by six points in the latest RCP Average, a margin unchanged by more than a point or two in roughly the past month.

-- So where do those numbers move when the battle is about the economy? Given that gas prices are huge and that the U.S. economy has lost jobs six months in a row, the focus is almost certain to turn there eventually, and we may find an answer sooner rather than later. Both candidates are going to spend this week on the economy, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney writes, and both candidates face challenges ahead. McCain admits he's not an expert, while Obama had trouble connecting with working class voters who will be paying the most attention to candidates' messages on economic issues.

-- Unrest Of The Day: Conservatives played a diminished role in the Republican primaries, with key activist groups divided between several candidates. But in the general, conservatives will play an outsized role, to the benefit or detriment of McCain's campaign. They have already won concessions from McCain, urging him to speak more to social issues on which they agree, but they're not done yet. Conservatives are planning an assault on the Republican platform at the convention, the Post's Shear writes on the front page today, which will have to be rewritten to cut out President Bush's name. Their imprint, and the subsequent disagreements with their presidential nominee, could be an embarrassment for McCain come November.

-- Today On The Trail: Both candidates start focusing on the economy today, with Obama holding an economic security discussion in Charlotte, North Carolina, and McCain stopping off at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Also in Denver today, work crews hired by the Democratic National Committee will begin work on the Pepsi Center, which will be renovated in the just more than month and a half before the convention begins on August 24. The convention is behind fundraising schedule and over budget, the New York Times reported this weekend, making at least a few Democrats nervous.

A Risch Proposition

The race for Larry Craig's old Senate seat will likely be a rematch between two candidates who faced off in 2006 for Lieutenant Governor. A new poll from the Spud State shows the result could be the same as the last time, when incumbent Republican Jim Risch defeated former Rep. Larry LaRocco.

The survey, taken for LaRocco's campaign by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic research firm, polled 500 likely voters between 5/20-25 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Risch, LaRocco and rancher Rex Rammell, running as an independent, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Risch..........43
LaRocco.....28
Rammell........6

Risch won gratitude from fellow Republicans when, after being elevated to governor following Dirk Kempthorne's appointment to U.S. Interior Secretary, he declined to enter the gubernatorial primary in favor of then-Rep. Butch Otter. In return, the state GOP virtually handed Risch the nomination to replace Craig in the Senate.

Still, Risch's approval ratings probably aren't as high as he would like. 49% approve of his job as lieutenant governor, but just 42% said he did an excellent or good job as interim governor. 38% said his performance was fair or poor. And just 44% of the state views him favorably, while 23% view him unfavorably.

LaRocco isn't in much better position. The two-term Congressman served from 1991 to 1995, before being ousted in the Republican landslide in 1994. Fourteen years later, just 29% of Idahoans see the Democrat favorably, while 20% view him unfavorably. In a state in which President Bush won 68% of the vote in 2004, LaRocco will be a serious underdog all year. Perhaps, he hopes, Craig becomes Risch's most visible surrogate.

Dems Trail Chambliss

Though Democrats have been able to expand the Senate playing field into states like North Carolina, Mississippi and Alaska, the party hasn't made every race this year competitive. The latest poll out of the Peach State shows Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss in strong position to keep his seat for another six years.

The poll, conducted by Strategic Vision, surveyed 800 likely voters between 6/27-29 for a margin of error of +/- 3.5%. Chambliss was tested against DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones, ex-State Rep. Jim Martin, former reporter Dale Cardwell, engineer Rand Knight and Josh Lanier, a veteran and former aide to Senator Herman Talmadge. A subsample of 328 likely Democratic voters had a margin of error of +/- 5.4%.

Primary Election Matchup
Jones...............25 (-3 from last, 5/14)
Cardwell..........22
Martin...............17
Knight...............14
Lanier.................6

General Election Matchups
Chambliss.........57 (-1)
Jones................27 (-2)

Chambliss.........58 (+1)
Cardwell...........29 (+2)

Chambliss.........58 (nc)
Knight...............28 (+3)

Chambliss.........58 (+1)
Lanier................25 (+1)

Chambliss..........57 (no trend)
Martin.................28 (no trend)

Chambliss and his Senate colleague, Republican Johnny Isakson, each enjoy good approval ratings. 53% approve of Chambliss' job performance, while 33% disapprove, and Isakson has a 58%-31% approval rating. Still, if Democrats have any chance at making the race competitive, it could be because just 12% of Georgians approve of the job Congress is doing, while 77% disapprove.

Republicans have a lot to worry about this year, but given that Chambliss is running so far ahead of any of his possible rivals, Georgia will not be on the list of things to fret over.

Barrow Hit From The Left

Georgia Rep. John Barrow faces a dilemma many Democrats in moderate districts often confront: a primary challenge from the left. Barrow's voting record places him in the middle of the House. Likewise, his district, which was redrawn in 2005, has been decided by less than 9,000 votes combined in the last two presidential elections.

In his bid for a third term, Barrow is facing State Senator Regina Thomas in the July 15 primary. In a Tuesday night debate, Thomas called herself the "true Democrat" and attacked Barrow for votes he cast on issues such as the Iraq war, tax cuts and most recently, the updating of FISA. "The incumbent has always voted with Bush and the Republicans, and look at where we are," Thomas said, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Thomas hit Barrow on another issue incumbents on both sides of the aisle will face in primaries and general elections this year: gas prices. "This gas crisis did not just come about," Thomas said. "Being in Congress for four years and still talking about what you're going do, it should have already been done."

When Barrow first ran for the seat in 2004, the district included his hometown of Athens, located about 70 miles east of Atlanta. That year Barrow was one of only two challengers in the country to knock off a Republican incumbent. Then in 2005, redistricting moved Athens into the Tenth District, a heavily Republican area of the state that Republican Charlie Norwood had represented since 1994. Most of Barrow's district remained in the Twelfth, however, so Barrow made the strategic decision to move to Savannah and run for re-election in his district in 2006. That year he came closer to losing re-election than any other Democrat in the country, winning by less than 900 votes in his second consecutive defeat of Max Burns.

With both candidates hailing from the same city, the primary won't turn into a geographical divide as previous contests have (such as the 2007 special election in Georgia's Tenth District). However, Thomas has represented Savannah, the largest city in the district, in the state Senate since 2000, while Barrow is still in just his second term in Congress. Whoever wins the primary will likely receive a boost from the Democrat at the top of the ticket: Barack Obama. The Twelfth is a moderate district where 45% of the population is black.

--Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: Shake It

Good Thursday morning. Politics Nation Radio is pre-taping Saturday's show this morning, so apologies for the light posting. And, if we don't get a chance to say it any other time, have a safe and happy Fourth of July. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate remain on Independence Day recess through Tuesday, and most of the rest of Washington has shut down. President Bush attends a ceremonial groundbreaking at Walter Reed Hospital today, but other Cabinet officials have the day off. On the Capitol Lawn, the National Symphony Orchestra is holding a dress rehearsal in advance of tomorrow's festivities that will feature Huey Lewis and the News, Taylor Hicks, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Smits and Scott Hamilton, among other celebrities.

-- As the week comes to a close, it hasn't been stellar for either candidate. But it feels like it's been a lot worse for John McCain, who, while on foreign travel, ordered a shake-up of his campaign that leaked yesterday, the New York Times and others report. It's the second time responsibilities have been juggled, the first coming almost exactly a year ago. In this iteration, Steve Schmidt will take on a much bigger role in managing day-to-day operations, while campaign manager Rick Davis will focus more on long-term projects.

-- Others taking a more prominent role in McCain's shop include Greg Jenkins, who directed the Bush advance team in the White House, brought in to erase errors in setting up campaign events; and Nicolle Wallace, former Bush communications director who will travel with McCain. It's not a major house-cleaning, but McCain hopes it can be enough to get what had looked like a flailing campaign back on track. A move like this is better done today than in September, and don't believe those who will point to this as McCain running into a brick wall; the shake-up last year actually worked for McCain. By the way, Schmidt and Wallace are veterans of Karl Rove's political team, the Swamp's Frank James writes, putting McCain's campaign in the hands of the next generation of GOP strategists.

-- Meanwhile, the good news for the Republican nominee: He's started buying advertising time, and so has the Republican National Committee. But even that is a mixed blessing. McCain will run minute-long advertisements in what's described as a moderate buy in four Virginia markets -- Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke and three cities in the state's southeast corner, as TPM's Greg Sargent writes. McCain realizes, the ad buyer tells Sargent, that Barack Obama's moves toward Virginia are not a gimmick, and that the Commonwealth's electoral votes need to be defended.

-- The Republican National Committee, on the other hand, will not be spending its time running the happy, feel-good ads that McCain's campaign will. In fact, the RNC is plotting their first assault against Obama, ads which will run this weekend in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, MSNBC's First Read reported yesterday. The topic will be energy security, but not much is known beyond that. The funding for the spot comes out of the RNC's independent expenditure arm, giving McCain some distance in that no one at his campaign or at the RNC is technically able to talk with the ad-maker about his work. And a boost for McCain in three Democratic-leaning states and one crucial swing state couldn't come at a better time.

-- In fact, McCain got other good news this week, as a group of 100 top Christian conservative leaders gathering in Denver agreed to do all they could to get McCain elected, even though they haven't always trusted or agreed with him on a host of topics, as Time's Michael Scherer writes. The agreement, spearheaded by Ohio social conservative leader Phil Burress comes after McCain has spent weeks appealing to conservative voters, and as Obama himself makes the pitch that evangelicals can vote Democratic. McCain will need Bush-like numbers among social conservatives (Bush won them by about a three-to-one margin in 2004) if he's going to have a chance of winning in November.

-- He'll also need money, something his Democratic opponent has by the dump truck. Obama, who has raised almost $300 million so far this campaign cycle, is actually pushing to raise more money at a faster pace, now that he made the decision to skip public financing. The campaign has more than a dozen big-donor events planned for the next two weeks, the New York Times' Michael Luo and Christopher Drew write. That's going to benefit the Democratic National Committee, which will get the overflow from the big chunks of cash Obama can raise from top donors, so look for a big month for the DNC when the July reports come out. How much should we read into it, though, if June is an anemic month for national Democrats, as previous months have been?

-- Bright Idea Of The Day: Remember when the Democratic primary was coming to an end and the Strategy Memo was nothing but Obama versus Clinton? We feel like today balances some of that out. But, Obama is pondering a new scheme, the Los Angeles Times reports, to give his campaign an added bounce, and that's worth a mention. Instead of holding the Democratic National Convention from Monday through Thursday, August 28, why not end the gathering on Wednesday in order to get an extra day to bounce before Republicans gather in Minnesota? It could help if McCain is planning to announce his running mate right after the convention to step all over the Obama bounce, but it would certainly make Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and the 4,000-some delegates a little irritated.

-- Today On The Trail: Forget Virginia, maybe Obama's taking this Dakota thing seriously. Having run two advertisements in red states including North Dakota, Barack Obama is backing that up with a visit to a children's museum, to focus on veterans' issues, in Fargo today. John McCain, meanwhile, has a media availability in Mexico City this afternoon after meeting with President Felipe Calderon to discuss immigration and other issues. Obama will spend tomorrow in Butte, Montana, while McCain has yet to release a public schedule.

Lewis Faces Primary Bout

Georgia Rep. John Lewis is being criticized by both of his Democratic challengers for not attending a debate scheduled for tonight in Atlanta. However, the bigger news is that Lewis has Democratic challengers.

Officially the senior chief deputy majority whip, unofficially one of the most respected members of Congress, Lewis is heavily favored to win the July 15 primary and represent the Atlanta-based Fifth District for a twelfth term. However, his initial endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president over Barack Obama won criticism and attracted at least a few challengers from his own party.

Lewis was a leader in many facets of the Civil Rights Movement and has consistently been one of the most liberal members of Congress -- both reasons for the dearth of credible challengers Lewis has faced since entering the House in 1986 in such a Democratic district. This year, though, two community activists, Markel Hutchins and state Rep. "Able" Mabel Thomas, are hoping to use Lewis's endorsement of Clinton as ammo to prove that the 68-year-old lawmaker is out of touch with his constituents, who an overwhelming majority of voted for Obama in the February 5 primary.

Lewis was not the only high profile member of the Atlanta black community to support Clinton. Baseball great Hank Aaron and Andrew Young, the former U.N. Ambassador, Atlanta mayor and Civil Rights leader also endorsed her, while New York Rep. Charlie Rangel served as one of Clinton's top cheerleaders. By the end of February, though, Lewis officially switched his endorsement to Obama, saying: "Something's happening in America, something some of us did not see coming."

Thomas, who entered the race May 1, suggested Lewis should "just get out of the race and let a new generation come forth," and that his support for Clinton showed "that he is out of touch, and did not see the movement -- and he is a movement man," according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lewis's response was terse: "People talk about change. I am change."

The Journal-Constitution is backing Lewis, issuing their endorsement last week: "Few did more than Lewis to help Obama -- and America -- arrive at this moment. And few have done more to move the nation forward on its journey toward 'a more perfect union.' Lewis still has more work to do, and he needs to be in Congress to get it done."

If successful in getting through the primary, Lewis will run unopposed in the general election for a fourth straight time.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Boehner Hits West Coast

House Minority Leader John Boehner is spending his holiday recess on the West Coast, stumping for two safe incumbents and one top Democratic target, as well as for an open seat candidate in a heavily Republican area.

Boehner made stops in Washington State earlier this week, holding fundraisers for Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert, and he will hold an event later in the week for Duncan Hunter Jr., son of the retiring congressman who is running to succeed his father.

McMorris Rodgers and Hastings, who represent districts east of the Cascade Mountains, are seen as safe incumbents. Democrats have not held either seat since 1994, and even with solid recruits in McMorris' Fifth District, Democrats still lost by twelve points in 2006 (Hastings won re-election that year by twenty points).

Reichert, though, is in trouble. His suburban Eighth District, just east of Seattle, has increasingly voted Democratic for Senate and President, but Reichert has managed to cling to the seat since 2004, when he won by just five points. In 2006, Reichert beat former Microsoft employee Darcy Burner by just two points, and this year he will face Burner again.

Those close to Reichert's campaign brag that he made more voter contacts in 2006 than any other campaign in the country, but in a presidential year he will have to do so again just to hold off Burner.

Boehner, Cole and Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel are all on the trail this week (For Cole's and Emanuel's itineraries through the Midwest, click here) while others are taking the Fourth of July recess as their last break before November.

Lieberman Favs Shellacked

Running as an independent after losing the Democratic primary in 2006, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman did his best to avoid irritating the Democratic base in order to win at least some of their votes in November. Now, having so publicly backed John McCain, those who didn't abandon Lieberman that year are moving away from him, a Quinnipiac University poll shows.

The survey, conducted 6/26-29, polled 2,515 registered voters in the Nutmeg State for a margin of error of +/- 2%. And according to those respondents, the state's junior Senator has just a 45% approval rating, while 43% disapprove. That includes just 26% of Democrats saying they like the way Lieberman is handling his job, while 62% disapprove.

That's the lowest job approval rating Lieberman has ever had in the Quinnipiac poll, down from a high of 80% who said they approved of his job performance in September, 2000, as he was running for Vice President on Al Gore's ticket. His rating has dropped seven points since the last survey, in late March, while his disapproval ratings have gone up eight points.

Connecticut gave John Kerry a ten-point win in 2004, though neither of the campaigns put any significant effort into the state. And while John McCain's campaign has hinted that the state might be in play come November, few strategists actually think the state will deliver anything but a big win for Barack Obama.

So, will Lieberman continue running as an independent when he's next up, in 2012? If the Connecticut Senator continues to back McCain and goes so far as to speak at the Republican National Convention, a la Georgia Senator Zell Miller in 2004, Democrats may be less interested in his service as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, especially if the party picks up seats in November.

One thing is sure: A bigger Democratic majority that devalues Lieberman's vote as a quasi-Republican would mean left-leaning bloggers, who spearheaded the move to oust Lieberman in 2006, will put significant pressure on Senate Democrats to elevate someone new to the post of chairman.

Strategy Memo: The Bad News Boys

Good Wednesday morning. Barry Bonds' 756th home run ball, branded with an asterisk and all, will be displayed at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, the museum reported yesterday, after owner Marc Ecko donated it unconditionally. Debate the legitimacy of the record, but the asterisk is great. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- The House and Senate remain on July Fourth recess. Still, if you live in a smattering of towns across the country, you can sit in on a committee hearing. Residents of Bismarck, North Dakota can sit in on a Budget Committee hearing, while folks in Albuquerque, New Mexico can take a listen to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. And if you're concerned with northern border security in Havre, Montana, fear not: The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will assuage your fears on the topic.

-- Day Four of Clark-gate, after retired General Wesley Clark said on CBS that John McCain's time as a prisoner of war does not qualify the Republican to be commander-in-chief, and the McCain campaign is keeping the story alive. Yesterday was all back-and-forth, the LA Times recaps, in which the McCain campaign shifted their target from Clark to Barack Obama and even, for a moment, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, and today the scandal shows no signs of going away. That's fine with McCain, who gets to remind everyone that he's a war hero.

-- Playing the victim, which is not the sole domain of the McCain campaign (Obama owns his own piece of the sometimes undeserving victim), seems to be the only consistent message coming out of McCain's Arlington headquarters, and that's seriously starting to worry some Republican strategists, as Politico's David Paul Kuhn writes today. McCain lags far behind Obama in organizational and fundraising structure, and the message of the day seems to come more from McCain's press conferences than from any strategy one might perceive. If McCain is going to win, or even come close, that's all going to have to change, and Republicans are going to have to build one mighty machine.

-- Digging at more Republicans, though, is McCain's lack of fundraising efforts on behalf of down-ballot candidates, The Hill's Aaron Blake writes. Though he has traveled with dozens of candidates in previous cycles, McCain hasn't so much as appealed to his email lists on behalf of the financially struggling NRCC and NRSC, something Obama did early for the DCCC and the DSCC. NRSC flack Rebecca Fisher says the committee "look[s] forward" to an email from McCain, but that no plans are yet in the works. McCain has appeared at fundraisers for candidates, including unsuccessful Illinois House candidate Jim Oberweis, but his appearances for GOP candidates have been rare, with some incumbents preferring to stay in Washington rather than join him in their districts.

-- Not all is rosy in Chicago, either. The Democratic nominee is the latest public figure to be caught up amid questions about favorable rates on his mortgage, the Washington Post reports today. Obama's $1.32 million mortgage loan, on his $1.65 million house (20% down, a wise financial move) came at a 5.625% rate, lower at the time than the Chicago average, though an Obama spokesman insists the lower rate came as a result of a competing offer. That's not unusual, say some experts, but as two other senators and the one-time head of Obama's vice presidential search committee have found out, it's more about the appearance than anything actually wrong.

-- Meanwhile, those three embattled politicos who have been swept into the mess all got their loans through Countrywide, making the company's name something akin to mud in political circles. Countrywide's political action committee is closing soon, the Washington Times reported today, after handing out half a million dollars over the past three years. Some endangered incumbents have accepted money from the company this year, including Reps. Paul Kanjorski, Melissa Bean, Tom Feeney and Shelley Moore Capito, as well as Senator John Sununu. Sit back and watch their opponents call for a return of that money.

-- Finally, Barack Obama will issue a call to service during a speech today in the heart of conservative Christian country, in which he will propose expanding programs like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. The events will be held in Colorado Springs, The Gazette reports, the home of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Dobson slammed Obama last week for what he said were incorrect interpretations of scripture, and we think it's safe to assume that the two will not be sitting down for coffee any time soon. But service is another part of Obama's religious outreach, coming after a speech yesterday in Ohio in which Obama called for an expanded faith-based programs initiative.

-- How Not To Win Friends Of The Day: Wesley Clark's chances of serving in an Obama Administration, in any capacity, took a downward tumble with his comments over McCain's service. But if you're really trying to kill your career in government, here's an even better idea: Tell your interviewer that you're actually better than your party's nominee. That's what Rudy Giuliani did on CNN, the New York Daily News reports, telling the network, "I thought I was best qualified, but I thought John was number two." That sound you hear is Giuliani's name being dropped out of consideration for a Cabinet slot.

-- Today On The Trail: Not only is most of Washington seemingly gone, even the candidates have a slow day planned. Obama will give a speech on public service in Colorado Springs, while McCain's only event is a media availability in Colombia, after having met with President Alvaro Uribe after arriving last night. This is day two of McCain's three-day swing through Colombia and Mexico. President Bush's only public event of the day is a statement on this year's G-8 meetings, from the White House.

Neuhardt's Wishful Thinking

Democrat Sharen Neuhardt is running for the open seat in Ohio's Seventh District, but subconsciously, she may wish she were somewhere else. Notice anything funny about results of a Google search of Neuhardt's name?

Sharen_Neuhardt_Google_Results.jpg

That's right, Neuhardt, running in the Buckeye State, may prefer to be running in more Democratic-friendly territory in the neighboring Hoosier State. Although the Indianapolis-based Seventh District in Indiana isn't necessarily a safe Democratic district, Rep. Andre Carson, who won the March special election to fill his late grandmother's seat, is in a district Barack Obama is likely to win in November, unlike the south suburban Columbus-based Ohio Seventh.

"That is just a silly mistake," Neuhardt campaign manager Jim Alexee said, laughing when asked about the typo. "That's never happened. It must be a problem with the code."

Republican Rep. David Hobson, who has represented the district Neuhardt is actually running in since 1990, never won with less than 61% of the vote, and President Bush won with 57% in 2004. This year, Republican Steve Austria is vying to keep the seat in GOP hands, and is seen as one of Republicans' top recruits. And despite the good environment for national Democrats, Austria would surely be a shoe-in if Neuhardt took off for Indianapolis.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Dems Optimistic In PA

Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach knows something about tough competition. The exurban Philadelphia congressman, who represents Pennsylvania's Sixth District, has won his two re-election battles by two points each -- in fact, he's scored 51% of the vote in all three of his races. But this year, his campaign hoped for an easier ride, and a recent poll showed he ran well ahead of his Democratic opponent. Now, a new Democratic poll seems to show the same thing.

The survey, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for businessman and activist Bob Roggio, polled 500 likely voters between 6/21-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Gerlach and Roggio were tested.

General Election Matchup
Gerlach........49
Roggio..........32

The problem, writes Roggio pollster Pete Brodnitz, is one of name recognition. Roggio is known by just 10% of district voters, and once respondents hear a positive message about the Democrat, he shoots to a seven-point lead. Of course, campaigns aren't run in a vacuum, and if Gerlach is able to fill Roggio's name identification with negative associations, the Republican could put the campaign away early.

Still, Gerlach isn't in the best shape either. 39% of voters say he's doing an excellent or good job, while 47% say his job performance is only fair or poor. And if President Bush is an issue, Gerlach will be in even worse shape, as only 16% of voters have a favorable view of Bush's job performance, compared with 84% who mark him in the fair or poor categories.

Gerlach has a significant leg up over Roggio, as this poll and a poll released last week for the incumbent's campaign showed. In fact, Republicans are as optimistic about their chances of taking back seats in the Keystone State as they are in any other state, seeing opportunities in the Fourth, Eighth, Tenth and Eleventh seats (Represented by Democrats Jason Altmire, Patrick Murphy, Chris Carney and Paul Kanjorski, respectively).

If Republicans have money to spend, it could well be in Pennsylvania, and though he remains under the crucial 50% mark, that would benefit Gerlach and finally get him over the 51% mark.

Leaders Make Midwest Swing

National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole has had a rough few months, his party having lost three straight special elections and lagging seriously behind in fundraising. But the Oklahoman is back on his proverbial horse, using the Fourth of July recess to hit the campaign trail on behalf of endangered Republican incumbents and promising challengers in the upper Midwest.

Cole was in Ohio yesterday, stumping in two suburban Columbus-based districts being left open by retiring Republicans. The NRCC chair stumped in the state's Seventh District, where State Senate Majority Whip Steve Austria is vying to replace Rep. David Hobson, and in the neighboring Fifteenth, where State Senator Steve Stivers wants to succeed Rep. Deborah Pryce.

Austria is considered the favorite in the race, while Stivers has a much steeper hill to climb. His Democratic foe, Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy, came just more than 1,000 votes from beating Pryce in 2006, and Kilroy is raising good money again this year after hauling in $2.7 million last time around. Still, there are few candidates national Republicans are more excited about than Stivers, giving them reason to hope they can keep a seat that gave President Bush just a 2,200-vote majority in 2004.

Today, Cole is in Michigan to stump with endangered Rep. Tim Walberg in a district that encompasses Battle Creek and the Ann Arbor suburbs. Walberg's Seventh District is a top target for national Democrats, who have high hopes for State Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer (For more on the race, see Greg Bobrinskoy's write-up from last week).

Cole is headed to Minnesota on Wednesday and Thursday, where he will help Rep. Michele Bachmann keep her St. Cloud-based Sixth District seat. Bachmann beat an underwhelming Democratic challenger by eight points in 2006, but this year she will likely face former state Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg, about whom Democrats feel much better.

Too, Cole is headed to the state's First District, along the southern border with Iowa and anchored in Rochester, to campaign on behalf of Mayo Clinic physician Brian Davis. Davis is not the party's nominee just yet, but he beat State Senator Dick Day at the party convention last month, and Cole will stump for him in his bid to replace Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat. Walz won a surprising six-point victory in 2006 over Rep. Gil Gutknecht, and this year he's got a bank account that might scare off all but the richest contributors.

Republicans aren't the only ones hitting the trail this week. House Democratic Conference Chairman Rahm Emanuel, who engineered the party's takeover of Congress last cycle, is also stumping in Ohio, making stops in the First, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Districts there, all pickup opportunities for his party.

The Cincinnati-based First District will pit Republican incumbent Steve Chabot against State House Minority Whip Steve Driehaus in a district that re-elected Chabot by just four points in 2006. More than a quarter of the district's residents are black, meaning a big turnout in November for Barack Obama could help Driehaus come closer than 2006 candidate John Cranley did.

In the Fifteenth, Emanuel will stump for Kilroy just a day after Cole hit the district, bolstering Kilroy's case. Later, Emanuel will travel to the Canton-based Sixteenth, in the northern part of the state, to help out State Senator John Boccieri, who is running to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ralph Regula. Democrats have spent a lot of time bragging about Boccieri, who will face fellow State Senator Kirk Schuring in a district that gave President Bush 54% in 2006. In his final run for re-election, Regula won just 58% of the vote, his lowest total since 1972, against an opponent who did not spend enough money to qualify to file with the Federal Election Commission.

As Emanuel and Cole hit the trail, other House and Senate leaders will bounce around the country stumping for their candidates. Politics Nation will keep updates of who's on the trail and who's slacking off for the Fourth of July as the week goes on.

LA Race Tightens

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana faces a stronger challenge this year than any Democrat seeking re-election. Republicans got one of their top recruiting choices, and that candidate, State Treasurer John Kennedy, has already shown fundraising prowess to rival Landrieu's. Now, a new survey shows, the race is getting close.

The poll, conducted by Southern Media & Opinion Research, a Louisiana-based independent firm, surveyed 600 likely voters from 6/26-28 for a margin of error of +/- 4%. Landrieu and Kennedy were tested among a sample made up of 56% Democratic voters, 30% Republican voters and 14% independents and others (Actual registration is 53% Democratic, 25% Republican and 23% independent and other -- numbers were rounded).

General Election Matchup
Landrieu.........46 (-4 from last, 4/9)
Kennedy.........40 (+2)

McCain............52
Obama............,36

While the state was once home to a huge African American population -- 32.3% of the population at large, according to the 2000 Census -- that number has dropped dramatically. Just 25% of survey respondents were African American, according to the survey, a reflection that Hurricane Katrina dramatically reduced the number of black voters in the state.

Those black voters have been a key to Landrieu's two narrow wins. In 2002, Landrieu took 52% of the vote in the December runoff against a Republican she outspent nearly three-to-one. In 1996, Landrieu beat Republican Woody Jenkins (Remember that name?) by just 5,000 votes. This year, Landrieu, whose father was the last white mayor of New Orleans and remains a widely-respected member of the city's political establishment, needs a big African American turnout to keep her seat.

While Barack Obama might boost turnout among some black voters, he is not going to pull Landrieu along on lofty coattails. The poll showed just 43% of voters had a favorable opinion of Obama, while a whopping 53% saw him in an unfavorable light. Kennedy could benefit from a strong showing by McCain; the Arizona Senator's ratings are a healthy 57% favorable to 38% unfavorable, much better than President Bush's 46% favorable to 51% unfavorable.

Landrieu, in the end, will have to win back her seat on her own, though she's still in strong position to do so. 61% of Louisiana voters view her favorably, while just 34% see her unfavorably. The incumbent will need to drive up Kennedy's negatives, though; the same 61% view Kennedy favorably, but only 11% see him unfavorably.

Two other politicians of note, included in the survey, also show strong popularity ratings. That shouldn't be a surprise when it comes to Governor Bobby Jindal, who, seven months into his first term, still hasn't lost the honeymoon feeling with state voters (Though this poll was conducted before a flap over pay raises for the state legislature broke out earlier this week). 59% of voters see Jindal favorably, while 36% see him unfavorably; 57% of voters say he is doing an excellent or good job, while just 38% say he's not so good or poor.

A high favorable rating might be a surprise, though, when it comes to Landrieu's Senate colleague, Republican David Vitter. Vitter admitted his name was on a list of clients who paid for services from the so-called D.C. Madam, Debra Jean Palfrey, who ran an escort service in Washington. Too, Vitter had been hit with allegations of involvement with a prostitute in New Orleans, allegations that he has denied but that the woman has never backed away from.

Given Vitter's recent troubles, one might expect a low favorable rating. Instead, the junior senator is seen positively by 55% of voters in Louisiana, compared with just 38% who view him unfavorably. Expect Democrats to offer a strong challenge to the freshman Senator when his seat comes up in 2010, but with numbers like this, the race is going to have to be very negative for the party to have so much as a shot at the race.

Candidates Plan Foreign Travel

After events in Indianapolis today, John McCain will make his latest excursion overseas, when he lands this evening in Colombia for meetings with the country's top political leaders. He also has stops planned in Mexico, where he will defend his free trade stance and certainly garner his share of Hispanic media attention here in the United States.

Barack Obama has a major foreign trip planned as well, with stops set in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Israel and Jordan, though exact dates have not been announced for security reasons. Obama will be in the Middle East before the convention, fueling speculation that he might make unannounced stops in Iraq, Afghanistan or both.

Both trips will drive a message: For McCain, it's about free trade and solidarity with two of the country's most important allies to the south (Colombia President Alvaro Uribe is seen as perhaps the most U.S.-friendly leader in an increasingly anti-U.S. South America, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez). For Obama, it's about focusing on turmoil in the Middle East he will argue has been made worse by President Bush's policies.

There are political components, too. Obama needs to shore up questions about his foreign policy experience, thanks to shots from McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee, which have hit him for not visiting Iraq in more than two years. With little experience in foreign affairs, Obama needs to show he can be the diplomat as well as the strong commander-in-chief.

McCain, who has always favored a more comprehensive approach to immigration matters than his fellow Republicans, has the opportunity to dominate Hispanic and Spanish-language media and to appeal to a growing minority that will play an important role not only this year, but in the future. If McCain can win the same number of Hispanic voters that President Bush did in 2000 -- around 44%, according to exit polls -- he could easily take the White House.

But time grows short. With a mere eighteen weeks to go before November 4, candidates are shifting into a general election mode during which they will have to hit a certain number of markets with a certain frequency in order to stay in local battleground news media. And, to paraphrase a joke McCain used in a recent speech in Ottawa, there aren't a lot of electoral votes in Colombia or the Middle East.

Still, foreign travel means something, and it almost guarantees stories close to the top of the political news section when candidates tour countries outside U.S. borders. In both cases, whether to bolster support among key Hispanic voters or to shore up foreign policy credentials that are, so far, lacking, foreign excursions can play an important role in a presidential campaign.

Plus, one of these guys has to lose, and the post-election vacation only gets better when Obama or McCain uses frequent flier miles to pay for it.

Strategy Memo: Clark Barred

Good Tuesday morning. Nearly halfway through a short week and everyone's left Washington already. Recess is a busy time for campaigning, but up here it's a ghost town. Here's what the stragglers inside the Beltway, and those smart enough to have already left, are watching today:

-- Congress is still on Independence Day recess, and will be until next Tuesday. And while candidates hit the trail, President Bush is doing more to help out Republicans. The president will host a luncheon for the Mississippi Victory Committee and on behalf of appointed Senator Roger Wicker, who already had a tremendous First Quarter, before heading to North Little Rock for a roundtable on consumer credit counseling. Tonight, Bush will attend a reception benefiting that state's Victory Committee in Little Rock proper. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, meanwhile, is visiting a small business recovery center in Cedar Rapids, as the community seeks to bounce back after major flooding.

-- On the campaign trail, retired General Wes Clark dominates the headlines and the blogosphere for a second day after comments Sunday that John McCain's time as a prisoner of war does not make him qualified to be president. Barack Obama's campaign disavowed the comments in a statement yesterday, but Clark isn't giving up, per a statement released last night. McCain's "experience shows courage and commitment to our country -- but it doesn't include executive experience wrestling with national policy or go-to-war decisions," Clark said. "[A]s an American and former military officer I will not back down if I believe someone doesn't have sound judgment when it comes to our nation's most critical issues." (Read the whole statement here and here)

-- Let's break down the comments from the angles of all three involved, beginning with McCain: At the very root, Clark is right that one part of McCain's service does not necessarily qualify him to be president. But McCain has never argued that it does; instead, it's his wealth of experience, from service to country in Vietnam to service as a Navy liaison to Congress to service in Congress, especially on key committees dealing with foreign policy and veterans' issues. Clark's comments have the McCain campaign up in arms, so to speak -- on Sunday and Monday, they sent out eight statements from retired military figures slamming Clark -- and, if they think they can still score points off righteous indignation, more will follow.

-- But maybe they shouldn't get so angry. It was not McCain's being shot down that gives him the experience necessary, it's the whole body of work, he will argue. That point will be a major contrast between Obama and McCain heading into November, and the fact that a Democrat brought it up just gives McCain more incentive. A round of cable and broadcast interviews now, in which McCain politely reminded viewers that it's not the one piece of the pie but the whole thing that makes him more qualified than Obama, could help McCain capitalize on a minor gaffe that might otherwise turn into another melodrama of victimhood that both candidates seem to be playing right now.

-- From Obama's perspective, Clark's comments are an extremely unpleasant detour from the message the Illinois Senator wanted to spread during the week of the Fourth of July. "As he's said many times before, Senator Obama honors and respects Senator McCain's service, and of course he rejects yesterday's statement by General Clark," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement last night. But in a speech yesterday in Independence, Missouri, Obama once again had to express his admiration for McCain and his patriotism, valor and service. For weeks more, Obama is going to have to talk up his rival in a hugely positive light to escape Clark's shadow. That's not exactly where one would like to be as a candidate in a general election.

-- As for Clark, the one-time presidential candidate who heavily supported Hillary Clinton's presidential bid, the fallout is clear: Once a vice presidential hopeful who had it all (Former Clinton supporter for unity, military background to shore up an Obama weakness, relative youth but years of experience and at least a footprint in a state, Arkansas, which Obama lost in the primaries), Clark is now likely to sit on the sidelines throughout the general election. What little chance he had of being vice president is now all but gone. And if Obama wins, good luck, General Clark, in getting an appointment past a Senate in which John McCain is looking to reassert his power.

-- One thing for certain, given Clark's comments, Obama's speech yesterday and the impending holiday: Patriotism, once an undercurrent used to spread mistrust of Obama, is now an overt issue in the campaign. Both candidates penned essays for Time Magazine on the meaning of patriotism and love of country, and what was once designed as a way to question Obama's love of country and religion is now, Time almost asserts, a way for both candidates to advance a positive message. And notice the photo they use: Obama sports a flag pin. McCain does not.

-- Ad Of The Day: We don't usually spotlight advertisements, but this early in a general election national ad campaigns are still news. Obama's second general election spot, seen here, focuses not on patriotism but on driving the discussion back to the economy. That's going to be key to Obama's hopes of winning come November; voters favor the Democratic message on the economy by a wide margin, and while they may trust McCain more on the war in Iraq, they will pick neighborhood-building, welfare-cutting, tax-cutting Obama on the economy. The ad, too, is running in the same 18 states as the campaign's first ad ran in, 14 of which President Bush won in 2004.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain begins the day in Indianapolis, where he will address the National Sheriffs' Association's annual conference in Indianapolis, followed by a fundraiser and a media availability. Afterwards, McCain flies to Cartagena, Colombia for meetings with U.S. Ambassador Bill Brownfield, President Alvaro Uribe and a number of Uribe's ministers, the first stop on a multi-day trip south of the U.S. border. He hosts another media availability this evening. Obama will give a major speech today on the role of religion in politics at a community ministry in Zanesville, Ohio.