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Strategy Memo: Olympic Green

Good Wednesday morning. With the U.S. Women's soccer team kicking off against Norway this morning, we're reminded how much we love the Olympics, and apologize well in advance for late posts over the next few weeks. Here's what Washington is watching today:

-- Two days before the opening ceremony, President Bush is in nearby South Korea, touring Asia for a final time as commander in chief. Bush will speak to a U.S. Army garrison in Yongsan before taking off for Bangkok, Thailand. There, Bush will hold a working dinner with Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. Defense Secretary Robert Gates makes remarks today on the 60th anniversary of two executive orders integrating the armed forces. And the House and Senate remain on holiday through the week of Labor Day.

-- The Commission on Presidential Debates, the last organization that is scheduled to have a direct impact on the presidential contest, made news yesterday by tapping four top television hosts to moderate each of the four debates between Barack Obama, John McCain and anyone else who gets 15% in the polls. Jim Lehrer will kick off debate season at the University of Mississippi on September 26, followed by Gwen Ifill moderating the vice presidential contest on October 2 from Washington University in St. Louis. Tom Brokaw has the stage October 7 at Belmont University in Nashville, and Bob Schieffer runs the show October 15 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

-- The four debates will all take place east of the Rockies (And would have all been east of the Mississippi had founders built Washington University just a few miles east), but the Commission had no intention of snubbing the West Coast. Commissioner Frank Fahrenkopf told Politics Nation that the first choice to hold the vice presidential debate, Washington State University in Pullman, turned down the opportunity to do so after lobbying for one of the three presidential meetings.

-- But before we get to the debates, foundations must be laid, and both candidates are spending significantly over the next sixteen days of Olympic competition to do so. News that Barack Obama would purchase a $5 million ad buy during the Games was overshadowed only at the last minute by John McCain's $6 million ad buy, putting both on the level of top corporate sponsors, the Washington Post writes today. The massive ad buys will run across all of NBC's channels.

-- Both candidates will get prime time slots as part of their packages, and it's the first time any candidate has made a big effort to advertise nationally since 1996, when Bob Dole did so, Advertising Age's Teinowitz reports. It's also the first move both candidates have made toward really becoming 50-state candidates, as opposed to sticking to the traditional map of battleground states plus whichever borderline states they're targeting today.

-- Why is McCain, who is expected to be underfunded compared with Obama, spending so much? Because the guy has to get rid of his money before he accepts his party's nomination in early September. McCain had $35 million in the bank on July 1, the latest date for which FEC reports are filed, and many had pointed out that he was spending far more than he was taking in in recent months. When McCain's balance hits zero near convention time, he'll get a nice $84.1 million infusion of general election matching funds. So to get creative, why not spend money on national ad buys? Next stop for both candidates: Prominent college football games featuring two battleground states. Michigan plays Penn State on October 18.

-- Irresponsible Speculation Of The Day: It wouldn't be an August day without vice presidential speculation swirling around some contender. And with Obama in Indiana joining Senator Evan Bayh at town hall meetings, tongues are wagging over the two-term governor, two-term senator and former Secretary of State. Bayh's brief and abortive presidential bid lasted all of two weeks back in December 2006, and he's been on the short list enough times to begin meriting comparisons to Bob Graham. Could 2008 be the year Bayh makes it to the head of the pack? His expected sit-down meeting with Obama today could answer that question, at least in Obama's mind.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama and Bayh stop by Elkhart, Indiana for an energy town hall meeting today, while wife Michelle has a town hall meeting of her own with military families in Norfolk, Virginia, a part of the state Obama will have to compete with military man McCain if he hopes to win. McCain is in West Virginia this morning, where he stops by Marshall football practice, before heading to Ohio for a visit to a factory in Jackson.