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« WA: Gregoire Up Big? | Blog Home Page | Strategy Memo: Bucking Trends »

Strategy Memo: Obama's Bad Week

Good Thursday morning. Just a day before the Olympics begin in Beijing, and we can't wait. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- President Bush is in Thailand, where he participated this morning in a briefing on relief efforts in cyclone-flattened Burma before departing for China, where he meets with IOC chief Jacques Rogge before the opening ceremonies. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao keynotes the Young America's Foundation conference for conservative students at The George Washington University, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice commemorates the tenth anniversary of embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Finally, Congress may be out of session, but House Republicans are on day five of their protest on the House floor.

-- On the campaign trail, all is not well for Barack Obama, he of the celebrity status and an accompanying, albeit small, lead in the polls. In need of a vacation, and just two and a half weeks away from his convention kickoff, Obama is facing a slew of tough decisions sure to infuriate many backers, a rival who has found a weak spot and a former rival who, despite their best efforts at unity, just isn't happy with her fellow Democrat. Every candidate has their bad weeks, and it's better to get them out of the way now than in the waning days of the election, but Obama's been riding so high for so long that any fading lead could become a story.

-- Most intriguingly, Obama has to deal with a new round of stories questioning whether Hillary Clinton is really fine with the way her candidacy ended. Clinton told a gathering of supporters she thinks her delegates should be heard at the Denver convention, ABC News reported first yesterday, and while her backers plan a parade in her honor, Clinton wonders if Obama can win in the Fall and retains a frosty relationship, Time's Karen Tumulty writes. Clinton probably won't let her name be placed in nomination at the convention, and few aren't going to vote for Obama because of their fondness for Clinton, but an unhappy former First Couple is grist for an insatiable media.

-- Meanwhile, former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, one of Obama's first major backers, blames his candidate's recent dip in the polls on rival John McCain's recent advertisements touting Obama's celebrity status. Daschle called the McCain bump a "short-term blip" in an interview with the Financial Times, but he's got a point: Having returned from his trip overseas, Obama had as much as a nine-point lead in some polls. Now, it's a 3.5-point lead in the latest RCP Average. It may be that the advertisement was widely panned even by former McCain advisers, but it looks like it worked.

-- Other Democrats are worried that Obama is falling into the same trap earlier nominees have by failing to hit back as hard as possible, the Washington Post's Weisman and Bacon write today. Only now, after McCain's own ratcheted-up rhetoric began early last month, is Obama hitting back, questioning whether the Republican is a maverick in a recently released response ad. But the delayed timing reminds some of late responses from John Kerry and Al Gore to prominent and biting attack ads, and that scares Democrats desperate to avoid a repeat. No matter what the campaign does, look for intense pressure from the rail birds to get ahead of the curve.

-- All that, as well as a poll showing nearly half of Americans have seen too much of Obama, lends itself to the perfect time for the Democrat to sneak stealthily to Hawaii for some much-needed vacation and return tanned, ready and rested. Surrogates can hit the trail, negative ads can fly without being associated with the candidate himself and voters can get a break. Don't think Republicans won't ease up, though; while Obama is in the Aloha State, his press corps will have followed him, and at least one RNC strategist is advocating, tongue not so much in cheek, for a high-profile surrogate to be at the same hotel too.

-- Meanwhile, just because Obama's having a bad week doesn't mean McCain has had the best of his race either. McCain is in Wilmington, Ohio today, where he will be confronted with the closing of a DHL shipping hub and the accompanying loss of 8,000 jobs in the small town hit hard by an economic slowdown. McCain didn't do anything about the closing, but manager Rick Davis did lobby Congress to allow a combination of operations between DHL and UPS, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Wall Street Journal reported. McCain's campaign advisers who happen to be lobbyists, among them Davis and Charlie Black, won him the Republican nomination. But with them comes baggage, and McCain's going to be toting it around for the rest of the campaign.

-- Ruined Opportunity Of The Day: It almost doesn't matter whether reports from a tabloid newspaper are true, former presidential contender John Edwards is not only off the vice presidential list, his status as the third-place finisher, guaranteed a convention slot, is in jeopardy as well, McClatchy's Mark Johnson writes. The mainstream media, including this space, hasn't touched the story with a ten-foot pole, but if Edwards speaks at the convention, he won't be able to avoid answering questions.

-- Today On The Trail: It's a quiet day on the trail as McCain holds a town hall meeting in southeast Ohio before heading to Liberty Township for another event. Obama, who hits the road for vacation tomorrow, is in Minneapolis today before returning to Chicago with no public events. An interview with Michelle Obama plays this morning on ABC's Good Morning America and tonight on Nightline.