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Strategy Memo: Melting

Good Monday morning. It's already clear, the J.T. O'Sullivan era has begun in San Francisco. The journeyman quarterback entered the season with 152 total passing yards; yesterday, he threw for 321 in an overtime win against Seattle. With seven heartbreaking weeks (for Seattle fans) to go until Election Day, here's what else Washington is watching:

-- The Senate meets today to resume consideration of the defense authorization bill, the sole appropriations bill likely to make it through Congress this year. The House meets for business later this afternoon. President Bush meets with Ghana President John Kufuor and has a state dinner planned.

-- Wall Streeters got no break over the last two days. Investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch reached a deal to sell itself to Bank of America for $44 billion and AIG is working on deals to raise new money to save itself from a credit downgrade that would seriously threaten the company's future. With so much turmoil, European markets opened sharply lower, and the same can be expected for U.S. markets today. Watch for polls in coming weeks to show renewed concern for the economy, and keep an eye on RealClearMarkets.com for the latest in what looks like a rocky ride at the exchanges.

-- The crisis could be the final nail in the coffin that ensures that no matter how hard both candidates try, the economy will be issue number one heading in to Election Day. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have avoided discussing the impact of instability in the banking industry and their plans to deal with it, writes Politico's Mike Allen. Serious instability is akin to Russia invading Georgia, one financial analyst told Allen -- both candidates will have to adjust to and address a major event that takes the issue of the day out of their hands.

-- Both candidates can benefit, or get slammed, by exploiting the crisis for their own political aims. Voters could agree with Obama, who can use Wall Street fumbles to argue that four more years of President Bush's policies would mean only increased instability, and that a radical change in economic policy is warranted. Or they will seek shelter with McCain, who, in troubled financial times, may seem the safer choice as he edges toward incremental change. Obama was first out with a statement this morning, followed closely by McCain, and events featuring all four of the principles today will get big cable coverage as they speak off the cuff about economic woes.

-- But for now, both parties are engaged in a pitched battle over television advertisements. Democrats crowed when former Bush strategist Karl Rove told Fox News that some McCain ads went "one step too far," though Rove later told reporters he had also said Democrats were more misleading. In fact, Rove and other top Republicans said both campaigns are erring by focusing too much on negative attacks, the Associated Press writes this morning.

-- Over the last several days, Obama's team has focused more on outside groups that evaluate campaign ads, be they newspapers, FactCheck.org or others. Many have said McCain's ads misstate some facts and interpret others incorrectly. And the press has picked up on McCain's overstatements or misstatements of running mate Sarah Palin's record, meaning scrutiny of issues that actually matter -- earmarks and other spending, experience and what McCain is claiming as her key national security experience, knowledge of the energy sector -- will continue in the coming weeks.

-- But Obama faces political dangers in appealing to the mainstream media, once McCain's base. Assumptions that Republicans in McCain's campaign care about what a newspaper says about an ad, or that voters routinely check their candidates on fact-checking websites, are critical misreadings. McCain gets his message out unfiltered when he runs ads, legitimate or not, and Obama gets a nice talking point he can use at a stump speech to people who are already supporting him.

-- That's not to say Obama should come out with his own made-up ads. But he needs a response, and a hard-hitting one. Or a combination, as he has up now. Obama's campaign is running one spot showing McCain as out of touch and unable to use a computer, and another questioning McCain's "disgraceful, dishonorable campaign." Obama has worried some Democrats with his failure to get in the trenches with McCain, but by this time next week, those worries could be alleviated.

-- Money Trouble Of The Day: Obama shattered all previous fundraising records in August, revealing over the weekend that his campaign pulled in an incredible $66 million from half a million new donors last month. Some Democratic worries that Obama had made a critical error in skipping out on public financing have eased, the Times' Zeleny and Luo write. But for a hungry campaign, Obama will have to raise more in the next two months, Politico's Jeanne Cummings adds. Obama's team has $77 million in the bank, meaning the campaign spent about $55 million last month as well.

-- Today On The Trail: Obama started his day with a hit on Good Morning America, and from there he's off to Grand Junction and Pueblo, Colorado for campaign rallies. McCain has a morning rally in Jacksonville, followed by a town hall meeting in Orlando. Joe Biden will be in St. Claire Shores, Michigan for a morning speech slamming McCain, before heading to Flat Rock, Michigan for a campaign event later today. Palin will be in Golden, Colorado for her own rally today.