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« RNC Announces Speaker Lineup | Blog Home Page | NC Gov: Perdue +2 »

Strategy Memo: Two Reasons

Good Thursday morning. With Politics Nation back in his native West Coast, pardon the abbreviated -- and finally veep-free -- morning briefing. Here's what Washington (The Beltway, not the Evergreens) is watching today:

-- Forget what the media tells you. Forget who gets the most coverage. Forget all you think you know about the presidential election, save one salient fact: The race is essentially tied. Barack Obama leads John McCain by the slimmest of margins, by just 1.2 points in the latest RCP Average. Going into the conventions, that means one candidate will need a big bounce following the conventions or the three presidential debates to actually establish himself as a front-runner.

-- Why is there no significant lead for either candidate? Two main reasons: First, even though Democrats should be running away with the White House race this year, Obama is a new, young and fresh candidate. All positives, right? Not so fast. Americans like to know their presidential contenders, and not enough people know Barack Obama yet. That's not to say that won't change when heavy advertising starts after the conventions, when more people start paying attention to the race. But at the moment, Obama's slim lead is more a generic ballot lead than it is thanks to his own political persona.

-- Second, John McCain is that known quantity that Obama is not. And, given his close relationship with independent voters, he is not easily pigeon-holed as just another Republican or just another President Bush. McCain is the only Republican who could possibly win the White House, and he's showing that by sticking close to Obama in recent polls. In fact, two new polls from CBS/New York Times and NBC/Wall Street Journal each have the Republican closing on his Democratic rival after a stellar week on the Russo-Georgian conflict. Republicans may love to hate McCain and trash his campaign, but the party's nominee is doing just fine for now.

-- Both candidates should be worried, too: Obama should be ahead by a wider margin, but he hasn't broken 50% since a late July CNN poll. That doesn't speak well for the guy who's supposed to be running away with a win. McCain, the known quantity, should be polling better than the low 40s, but only one well-respected poll has him above 45% in the last few weeks. Both candidates appear to have a ceiling, and the winner could be the candidate least likely to offend the sensibilities, rather than the most post-partisan, a mantle both Obama and McCain have sought in recent months.

-- Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is back in the spotlight, and from all accounts she's actually doing her part to help Obama, rather than cause him ulcers. Clinton will address sheet metal workers on Obama's behalf in the key swing state of Florida today, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports this morning, followed by rallies at Florida Atlantic University and in Taramac, before hosting a fundraiser in Miami.

-- Perhaps most importantly, Clinton's staff has started a team to whip votes for Obama over the New York Senator, Politico's Glenn Thrush reports, designed to stomp out any pro-Clinton protests or rallies that could undermine the Democratic nominee's big week. Sure, Clinton's done her part in raising money and early campaigning for the Democratic ticket, but Obama -- gracious himself when he approved a roll call vote that would acknowledge the close primary contest -- is getting a boost from Clintonites who want to make sure their nominee has a successful convention.

-- Tragedy Of The Day: One of Clinton's biggest backers in the primary, Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, passed away yesterday at the tender age of 58. Tubbs Jones, an ardent surrogate and the first black woman elected to represent the Buckeye State, suffered a brain hemorrhage late Tuesday and was taken off life support around midday Wednesday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Tubbs Jones was one of the most colorful members of Congress, and one of the most tenacious fighters for the causes she loved. She was a true partisan, but statements from every side of the aisle came pouring out today in a fitting tribute to a well-liked member of Congress.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama is spending his second straight day in Virginia, with a discussion on the economy slated for Chester in the morning and a town hall meeting in Chesapeake in the afternoon. McCain is in Phoenix with no public events planned.