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« NJ Sen: Lautenberg +8 | Blog Home Page | Laying Odds On McCain's Veep »

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.