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« Reid Says McCain 'In The Way' | Blog Home Page | NH: Shaheen +9 »

Strategy Memo: The Overshadowed

OXFORD, Mississippi -- Good Friday morning. OSU, our hearts go out to you. We've never liked USC anyway. Here's what Washington, Ole Miss and everywhere in between is watching this morning:

-- The House and Senate are back in session today, waiting as negotiators head back behind closed doors to deal with what looks like a sagging compromise over the market bailout. President Bush is in Washington, where he will meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown before attending the opening of the National Book Festival at the Library of Congress. Vice President Dick Cheney is in New Mexico, where he will raise money for Ed Tinsley, the GOP candidate in the open Second District.

-- In Washington, an extraordinary collapse of the bailout plan Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson had proposed seems to be underway. A meeting between Congressional leaders and President Bush, and featuring both presidential candidates, may have sealed the plan's fate, as House Minority Leader John Boehner told stunned participants that his caucus couldn't get behind the federal plan, the New York Times reports today.

-- The meeting broke up on such an ugly note that Paulson had to go after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and plead, on one knee, not to let the deal slip away. Pelosi told Paulson it wasn't her party blocking the deal, but rather the GOP. House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank, who has taken a lead role in crafting the bailout plan, agreed, citing Boehner's and others' actions as a "revolt" against their own president, AP's Charles Babington writes. Negotiators were back at the table until 10:30 p.m. last night before giving up in favor of more talks today.

-- Meanwhile, House Republicans think they actually have a political advantage on the new bailout proposal. Reps. Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, seen as up and coming members of the GOP conference, are circulating their own statement of principles to their own caucus as well as conservative Democrats, seeking enough votes to win a significant seat at the table, The Hill's Jackie Kucinich writes today. Boehner told his conference yesterday there was no bipartisan agreement, and with new Republicans taking the initiative, the once-unifying crisis could become once again political.

-- But even as negotiations continue, signs that the economy is dragging keep popping up. The federal government seized Washington Mutual last night before selling off part of the bank's assets to JPMorgan Chase. Once the largest mortgage lender in the country, Washington Mutual is now the largest bank to fail in the nation's history, per the Seattle Times. "This is the big one that everybody was worried about," Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chair Sheila Bair told reporters on a conference call last night.

-- Meanwhile, aren't we supposed to be talking about something else? The University of Mississippi is abuzz for the first of four meetings between members of the Republican and Democratic ticket, and twelve hours before the debate is supposed to begin, we still don't know if it's going to happen. John McCain refused to commit to a debate as he "suspended" his campaign in order to address the economic crisis, and as of this morning the campaign still says there's no deal, AP's Liz Sidoti writes. Debate organizers continue to prepare as if the session would happen, but tensions are running high.

-- Why would McCain balk at an opportunity to debate? Signs seem to point toward a small but significant lead for Barack Obama, the sinking approval ratings for McCain's ace in the hole, Sarah Palin, and the shift of the fundamental landscape from foreign policy, McCain's forte, to the economy, which benefits the Democrats. With just 39 days to go until Election Day, McCain doesn't have many more chances to act, and the debates are one of the few chances he gets to seriously shake up the race. Then again, by keeping everyone off guard -- Will he? Won't he? -- McCain is also asserting what little control he has over the contest.

-- Bust Of The Year: Sarah Palin's addition to the ticket was a boon to the GOP, exciting the Republican base like no other move could have. But it's little wonder she's being hidden from the media, given her performance over the last two nights with CBS anchor Katie Couric. Palin was "rambling, marginally responsive" and "adrift," per LA Times media watcher James Rainey, or "surprisingly wobbly," according to NYT media watcher Alessandra Stanley. Weak performances now are like chum to media sharks, and Palin needs a strong performance sooner rather than later.

-- Today On The Trail: Members of Congress head back to the negotiating table today to work on a deal. Joe and Jill Biden head to Cudahy, Wisconsin for a fish fry. And Barack Obama and John McCain, supposedly, are heading down to Oxford, Mississippi to debate, coverage of which we'll bring you live from the debate site at Ole Miss.