Obama's Mile-High DNC challenges

DENVER - August 24, 2008 . . . now that Sen. Barack Obama claimed the first Obama-Biden slip for himself (but just barely) . . .

. . . now that Sen. Joe Biden has proven that this attack dog remembers how to bite (and brings along clips that bite back) . . .

. . . what confronts the newly minted Obama-Biden ticket hasn't really changed that much.

Democrats are arriving in a gorgeous and welcoming (except for the police-state atmosphere) Denver with Obama's challenges fairly well defined, if not particularly easier to navigate.

Among the many measuring tools: Obama will be sized up against himself (with four days of themes to be shoe-horned into a unique resume). He'll be compared to (and contrasted with) with his new running mate. He'll be contrasting himself with Sen. John McCain (defined, for Democrats' purposes this week, as Bush the Third.) And always, always, there are the Clintons.

It's Obama 49, McCain 43 among registered voters in the new ABC News/Washington Post poll, and just four points -- 49-45 -- among likelies. (By now, Obamaland knows the drill.)

"Nearly half of registered voters, 47 percent, continue to think Obama lacks the experience it takes to serve effectively as president, a lot to lose on this basic qualification," ABC Polling Director Gary Langer writes. "McCain leads him by 2-1 margins as more knowledgeable on world affairs and as better suited to be commander-in-chief, and has moved ahead in trust to handle international relations."

And the factoid that may matter most in the Mile High City: 30 percent of former Clinton supporters aren't on board yet for Obama. On the other side: "McCain faces his own challenges: Fifty-seven percent think he'd lead in the same direction as the heavily unpopular George W. Bush," Langer writes.

What will Denver mean when we've been locked in the same race all summer? "The results show little movement from the last Post-ABC survey, conducted in mid-July, before Obama embarked on a highly publicized trip overseas and prior to a series of fierce exchanges between the campaigns," Dan Balz and John Cohen write in The Washington Post.

Obama's "two overriding priorities," per National Journal's Ron Brownstein: "One is to resolve doubts about his qualifications and agenda that McCain has seeded this summer with ads portraying the Democrat as a vapid celebrity and a soft-on-defense, tax-and-spend liberal. Even more important, many argue, Obama must reframe the fundamental choice in the election from whether he is ready to be president to whether the country wants to continue in the direction set by Bush, particularly on economic policy."

The choice of Biden may heighten the import of national security in this race -- but listen carefully and you'll hear pocketbooks picking up the pace. "My main goal at this convention and through my speech is to convey a sense of urgency that so many families are feeling across the country," Obama, D-Ill., tells The Denver Post's Karen Crummy. "And to present a clear choice between continuing the same economic policies that have caused record foreclosures, rising unemployment, rising inflation, flat and declining incomes and wages, and a new approach to economic policies that I believe will create prosperity, growth and fairness."

Writes Crummy: "Going on the attack when running a campaign for change is risky, Obama acknowledges." Said Obama: "It's something I worry about and wrestle with all the time. I really prefer having a debate about issues."

Friendly advice: "While Obama can continue to try to reassure resistant Clinton loyalists in Appalachia that he's not a bogeyman from Madrassaland, he must also move on to the bigger picture for everyone else," Frank Rich writes in his New York Times column. "He must rekindle the 'fierce urgency of now' -- but not, as he did in the primaries, merely to evoke uplifting echoes of the civil-rights struggle or the need for withdrawal from Iraq."

Rich continues: "R.I.P., 'Change We Can Believe In.' The fierce urgency of the 21st century demands Change Before It's Too Late." What Denver will mean is a week to answer the critics -- those who say he can't/shouldn't/won't win.

And could any of those critics matter more than those associated with an ex-candidate named Clinton?

McCain has already been using Biden's words to undermine Obama -- now come Clinton's (hitting the sorest of sore spots). "She won millions of votes. But isn't on his ticket," says the announcer in the new McCain spot. "Why? For speaking the truth." (And Rezko is back.) "Erasing any doubt that McCain has his sights set on Clinton voters, the new ad uses Clinton's own words to suggest that Obama passed her over because of the tough campaign she waged," Michael Shear writes for The Washington Post.

(We look forward to the ad Democrats will cut a week from now -- whether or not former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is on McCain's ticket.)

Not that anyone is giving up on mining Biden's. The quote GOPers will circulate Sunday (might they roll out one a day?): "It is not enough to surround yourself with smart people," Biden told the Concord Monitor in March 2007. "You better be as smart and as informed as the smart people you gather around you. It can't be on-the-job training."

Setting up shop in Denver: The RNC's "Not Ready '08 Response Center." We're told you can count eight HD TVs, a full kitchen, a press briefing room -- and headliners who will include Romney, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y. Walk-throughs available Sunday afternoon . . .

These folks are waiting in Denver, too: "It's a total diss to Sen. Clinton, in my opinion," Diane Mantouvalos, co-founder of the Just Say No Deal Coalition, tells the AP's Stephen Ohlemacher. "It just speaks volumes about how Barack Obama doesn't stand for anything."

"Many Democrats say the success of the convention, and of Obama's fall campaign, depends heavily on how well the party handles the complaints of Clinton's loyalists, some of whom are still smarting from the long and bitter fight, are disappointed that she is not Obama's running mate, and are insulted by reports that she was not vetted as a possible pick or consulted about his choice," Lisa Wangsness reports in The Boston Globe. "This is a voter's revolt," Darragh Murphy, a founder of Puma PAC, a pro-Clinton political action committee whose acronym stands for People United Means Action (is that what they want it to stand for now?).

How much will depend on those whom Obama (and, basically, no one) can control? "Particularly after his off-putting performance in the primary campaign, [Bill] Clinton needs to park his outsized ego at the door and deliver a powerful argument for this year's candidate," Scot Lehigh writes in his Boston Globe column.

"Clinton's performance in a speech Tuesday will be crucial. But so will signals she and her husband, the former president, send the rest of the week," Mike Dorning writes in the Chicago Tribune.

Do we detect some pushback (subtle, for now)? "A senior Obama adviser confirmed that Clinton was not asked for paperwork but said it was because she had asked Obama not to vet her unless he was seriously considering her," Anne Korblut writes in The Washington Post.

And track the frustration's growth: "In keeping with its secretive approach to the vice presidential rollout, Obama's campaign said it will release no details on how he made his decision. Obama also did not take questions; he has not done so for at least two weeks," Kornblut writes. ABC's Jake Tapper writes. "He and his new running mate are currently giving an exclusive post-announcement interview to 'People' magazine."

As for the message in the mile-high air, the stage fits the man -- on several glitzy levels: "Like the presidential candidate, it is hip --dressed with giant plasma HDTVs -- and larger than life -- about 8,000 square feet of projection space," Lynn Sweet writes in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The bold design could be a metaphor for the Obama campaign -- the stunning rise of the 47-year-old charismatic, iPoded junior senator from Illinois who defeated Hillary Clinton and others, assisted by cool applications of social networking tools, wealthy donors and a relentless message of change and hope."

"But since Obama clinched the nomination -- it's official Thursday after the roll call -- his campaign has become more conventional," Sweet continues. "Obama's team also allowed to fester resentment remaining from die-hard Clinton supporters. And just as the convention is about to start, there are stories about whether Clinton herself is showing the proper amount of enthusiasm for Obama."

A storyline to watch: "He made a set of compromises all in a row that freaked people out on the progressive side of the party," said Robert Borosage, a veteran liberal activist who is co-director of the Campaign For America's Future.

A taste of signs to come: "Hoisting signs such as 'Iraq: Get Out, Iran: Stay Out, Bush/Cheney: Drive Out' and 'The world can't wait, drive out the Bush regime,' the protesters didn't all match in point of view, but they all seem to agree that they plan to stand united in their protesting efforts during the convention," Ashleigh Oldland reports in the Rocky Mountain News.

The New Team:

The Biden rollout stumbled a bit out of the gate (scooped on the text message, did the campaign really want to wake supporters at 3 am with news they already knew?), and provided a few gaffes at the start, but far more good than bad in unveiling the new ticket.

The story thus far has been largely the one the Obama campaign has wanted told.

"Whether you see Biden's strengths as augmenting Obama or highlighting the Illinois senator's weaknesses, there's no doubt the two fit like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle," Time's Jay Newton-Small writes. Dan Balz writes in The Washington Post. "Biden's opening speech at a joint appearance with Obama on Saturday in Springfield, Ill., not only included tough words about McCain but also underscored his potential to sharpen the campaign's message on the middle-class economic issues that are paramount with the electorate."

"To many voters, Biden is likely to be seen as someone who could step in and run the country as president if anything were to happen to Obama," Jill Zuckman writes in the Chicago Tribune.

"Experienced, intelligent and savvy, Obama's choice, in retrospect, could not have been anyone else," Reid Wilson writes for Real Clear Politics.

"Over the course of two months, as the dynamics of the presidential campaign and world events shifted quickly, Mr. Biden's stock rose through one of the most rigorous vice-presidential vetting processes that Democrats could recall," Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg write in a fascinating New York Times tick-tock. "But people involved in the process said it was not just foreign policy that tilted the balance. They said Mr. Obama's decision had as much to do with Mr. Biden's appeal among white working-class voters and compelling personal story, and his conclusion that the Delaware senator was 'a worker.' "

The first joint event showed him working it hard -- this is what Obama signed him up to do. "He'll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at," Biden said, per ABC's Jake Tapper, Brian Wheeler, and Jennifer Parker (a quicker joining of the fray than we can remember from previous running mates). "A long foreign policy resume isn't the only thing Sen. Barack Obama gets by picking Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his running mate. He also gets a scrappy, political pit bull to fend off Republican attacks, perhaps allowing Obama to spend more time on the high ground where he has long been more comfortable," M.E. Sprengelmeyer writes in the Rocky Mountain News.

And yet, this lingers: "It suggested a concern by Mr. Obama's advisers that his overseas trip this summer may not have done enough to deal with persistent voter concerns about his level of experience, especially on national security," Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "He announced his decision in a period in which his race against Mr. McCain is proving more difficult than many Democrats had assumed it would be."

"The candidate of change went with the status quo," the AP's Ron Fournier writes. No. 3 on the top-five lesson list, from Politico's Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen: "He's insecure about security."

Maybe it was a 3 am moment, after all: "Picking Biden, D-Del., also sends a stark signal that the Obama campaign is worried that the presidential nominee is in danger of flunking the commander-in-chief test," per ABC News. "Rather than helping with the electoral map -- as Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., or Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine might have -- or reinforcing his message of a new brand of leadership, as Kaine or Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius would have, Biden fills a hole on Obama's resume."

The stumble didn't help (but maybe it was good to get the first out of the way): "So let me introduce to you the next president -- the next vice president of the US of America, Joe Biden," said Obama.

"Barack America," said Biden (new superhero tag?).

Howard Wolfson says that "Vladimir Putin vetoed" Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and sees Biden as the best choice who isn't named Hillary. "Senator Obama also needs to improve his performance with lunch bucket and working class Democrats," Wolfson writes for The New Republic. "Biden has spent his career appealing to those voters--he literally commutes on the train every day to work--and is very good at rhetorically delivering the old-time Democratic religion."

Biden Pushback:

Republicans are circulating: "The Senator from MBNA," by Byron York, from 1998. (The flipside of a low-net-worth lawmaker?)

The next piece of a complicated puzzle: "Barack Obama's speech announcing his running mate Joe Biden singled out the Delaware senator's son who is headed for Iraq. Obama didn't mention the profession of Biden's other son, who lobbied for two drug companies and five universities," Bloomberg's Timothy J. Burger writes. "Hunter Biden, 38, described as a lawyer in the biography of his father distributed yesterday by the Obama campaign, lobbied for clients that paid his firm at least $380,000 in the first six months of this year, federal records show."

The sound of oppo landing: "A son and a brother of Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) are accused in two lawsuits of defrauding a former business partner and an investor of millions of dollars in a hedge fund deal that went sour, court records show," Kimberly Kindy and Joe Stephens write in The Washington Post. "The Democratic vice presidential candidate's son Hunter, 38, and brother James, 59, assert instead that their former partner defrauded them by misrepresenting his experience in the hedge fund industry and recommending that they hire a lawyer with felony convictions."

The split the GOP wants to matter: "Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama has made a pledge not to accept money from lobbyists, but his running mate - Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. -- has collected over $200,000 from registered lobbyists in this year alone," Jennifer Haberkorn and Jerry Seper write in the Washington Times. "The lobbying industry has given Mr. Biden at least $344,400 since 1997, according to the group's calculation, making lobbyists his 10th largest contributing industry. Lawyers and law firms are his No. 1 donors."

Also making news:

Since we're in Denver: It's McCain 47, Obama 46 in the new Quinnipiac University poll of Colorado voters. From the release: "This latest survey might have more good news for McCain than might appear at first glance. Despite the closeness of the horse race numbers, he is viewed favorably 53-34 percent compared to Obama's 48-39 percent." Politico's Mike Allen has the beat on why Thursday will be fun -- if you're into this sort of thing: "In a departure from the usual nonstop celebratory tone of political conventions, Team Obama plans to devote an hour of Thursday's program at Invesco Field at Mile High to an instant clinic on grassroots organizing techniques like finding potential voters to register."

What will really be going through Obama's mind Thursday night? "Probably not muffing my lines," he tells Tom Abrahams of Houston's ABC-13.

Is he getting greedy? "When you listen to the tough-talking senior aides running his campaign, you realize that Obama wants something more than just a victory. That could be his undoing," Mark Halperin writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed. "If McCain pulls off a victory in November, there will be a lot of postmortem scrutiny about the prudence of playing it safe versus the dream of shooting the moon."

Never too soon for 2012 (or 2016)? Among those dining with the Iowa delegation this week: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Dining with the New Hampshire delegation this week: Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas.

No McCain decision yet: "I'd love to tell you that I've made the decision," McCain told Katie Couric on CBS. "But we're still in the process... I am looking for someone who shares my values, my principles and my priorities. And we have a lot of very excellent people to choose from."

The Sked: Obama campaigns Sunday in Eau Claire, Wis. -- solo.

Biden is back in Delaware until he goes to Denver, and the new team won't be together again until Thursday night. (Which means the RNC's Biden gaffe clock will be stuck for a while.)

Your Sunday schedule: Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., are George Stephanopoulos' guests on ABC's "This Week," live from Denver. CBS' "Face the Nation": Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, D-Kan., Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.

NBC's "Meet the Press": Caroline Kennedy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

"Fox News Sunday": Gov. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Gov. Bill Ritter, D-Colo., and Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs. CNN's "Late Edition:" Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa.; Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz.; Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.; and Terry McAuliffe, Clinton campaign chairman.

The Kicker:

"Keep talking Joe, please keep talking." -- E-mail message circulating among aides to Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., after Joe Biden made a joke about his "successful dump" last week, per The New York Times.

"I'm going to tell you something: lighten up folks. We have a planet to save." -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dismissing Joe Biden's joke about his wife's education. (Asked about the late buzz around Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, Pelosi said: "First of all, I don't need any validation . . . said she immodestly.")

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