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« Strategy Memo: Obama's Bad Week | Blog Home Page | Cohen Beats Tinker, Racial Tension »

Strategy Memo: Bucking Trends

Good Friday morning. It's the day Beijing residents have been waiting for since July 2001, when the International Olympic Committee awarded the city the twenty-ninth modern Olympiad. It's also the day we start learning more about badminton (Bet on the Danes and the Chinese) and fencing (USA! USA!) than we ever thought possible. Here's what Washington is watching on the last day before we all sink slowly into Olympic fever:

-- The Senate holds today its biweekly (almost) pro forma session to prevent President Bush from making any recess appointments, ironically staying in session even as House Republicans kick off day six of their protest to force Democrats in the lower chamber to return to office. President Bush and other world leaders attended a social lunch with Chinese President Hu Jintao today, and attended the opening ceremonies, which continue as this is published. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is hard at work raising money for Republicans in separate events in Oregon, California, Nevada and New Mexico.

-- Before we get to the presidential trail, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen yesterday fended off a challenge from former Congressional aide Nikki Tinker by a surprisingly large four-to-one margin, as Josh reported on The Scorecard. In a contest marked by a surprising turn toward racism and borderline anti-Semitism, Cohen, who is white and Jewish, retained the Democratic nomination in a majority-African American district based around Memphis. More on this race later, but suffice it to say apparently invoking the Ku Klux Klan doesn't always work as a negative ad.

-- Meanwhile, the notion of what roles Hillary and Bill Clinton will play at the convention is starting to clear up, writes the New York Times' Katharine Seelye, as both the Clintons and Barack Obama's campaign rush to throw water on any rumors of a continued rift between the nominee and the runner-up. A public draft of the Democratic National Committee platform released yesterday cited Clinton's historic run for the presidency, and Clinton will be speaking in what has often been the keynote slot.

-- Now the former president is being invited in, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported last night, handed a speaking slot on the convention's Wednesday evening, a day after his wife and right before the vice presidential nominee hits the stage. Clinton will speak, according to sources who talked to Mitchell, giving Democrats two chances to see the former First Couple and Obama two chances to placate the two who could be a thorn in his side or a benefit to his campaign, depending on how they act.

-- A story in yesterday's Washington Post suggesting some Democrats think Obama needs to hit back hard got party strategists all over the country in nothing short of a full-blown tizzy, as elders fear a repeat of close but losing elections in 2000 and 2004. Particularly insistent in a loud response is Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer, who offered advice in an interview with Politico's Ben Smith. Praising McCain's ad hitting Obama as a celebrity, Schumer would take McCain to task: "What do you mean he's not one of us? It's John McCain who wears $500 shoes, has six houses, and comes from one of the richest families in his state," the New York Senator said.

-- Speaking of John McCain's advertisement and the close contest for president, we've seen two big examples of when the conventional wisdom has been wrong in recent weeks. Thanks to the blanket media coverage, most thought Obama's trip to Europe and the Middle East couldn't help but be a success; he never made a misstep, he hit the photo opportunities perfectly, and he got help from as high up as French President Nicolas Sarkozy. But polls never reflected any serious bounce that lasted more than two days or so, and national numbers remain tight.

-- The speech in front of a crowd of 200,000 in Berlin led McCain to mock Obama as the country's biggest celebrity in an advertisement that has gotten more air time than virtually any other ad of the campaign. But the ad was panned by Republican strategists and McCain's own former advisers, and widely seen as a misfired shot. Two weeks later, former Senator Tom Daschle and Schumer both say the ad was effective, bucking conventional wisdom once again and establishing what has proven the first line of attack on Obama that has actually worked.

-- Intimidation Of The Day: A group of liberal activists once associated with MoveOn.org are collecting money to hit the Republican Party where it seriously hurts: In the wallet. The new organization, led by ex-MoveOn strategist Tom Matzzie and former Center for American Progress publicist Judd Legum, will send a letter to top GOP donors warning them of the consequences of handing cash to right-leaning groups, including increased scrutiny and possibly even legal jeopardy, the New York Times' Michael Luo writes. Intimidation? Or an effort set to backfire and fire up GOP donors?

-- Today On The Trail: McCain is heading back to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines today, where we can only hope he enjoys as many fried things on a stick as possible. Later, McCain will head to Rogers, Arkansas for a media availability. Hillary Clinton hits the campaign trail for Obama in Henderson, Nevada this afternoon, while the soon-to-be nominee and his family arrive for a bit of vacation in Hawaii.