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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.