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John McCain started the week by courting AIPAC, and "wielding the key differences between his Middle East policy" and Barack Obama's.

In his remarks to AIPAC's annual conference in DC this a.m., McCain "offered a hearty condemnation" of Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Meanwhile, the "receptive audience" offered him "the chance to take a series of juicy swipes" at Obama, who has suggested that he would participate in diplomatic meetings with Iranian leaders. McCain called Obama's proposal a "serious misreading of history" that would bear little fruit, except for "an earful of anti-Semitic rants" and a dangerous "spectacle."


McCain's comments "were received with loud enthusiasm from the conference-goers, who rewarded him with a standing ovation when he thumped Obama for his vote" against a '07 amendment that classified Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. McCain: "Holding Iran's influence in check, and holding a terrorist organization accountable, sends exactly the right message -- to Iran, to the region and to the world."

Instead, McCain "proposed stringent financial squeezes as a way to diffuse the volatile tensions" involving Iran. He "suggested tough sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran, coupled with a campaign for global divestment from the nation and strict limitations on oil imports, which he hopes will be enacted by an increasingly participatory UN Security Council."

"Towards the end of his remarks, McCain also needled Obama for his opposition to the Iraq troop surge and painted a grim future for Israel" should an Obama admin. withdraw troops before the war's successful conclusion. McCain: "Allowing a potential terrorist sanctuary would profoundly affect the security of the United States, Israel, and our other friends, and would invite further intervention from Iraq's neighbors, including an emboldened Iran" (Dann, NBC/National Journal, 6/2).


Obama spokesperson Hari Sevugan responded to McCain's speech by saying: "Instead of recognizing reality, John McCain continues to run on a platform of doubling down on George Bush's failed policies, while carrying on his divisive brand of politics. The United States and Israel cannot afford four more years of an unwillingness to change course" (6/2).

McCain was the first speaker at the three-day conference. Obama, as well as Hillary Clinton, will address the group on 6/4 (NBC/National Journal, 6/2).

And I Get The Surge For Going

McCain spent 5/30 "on the defensive" from Obama "after mistakenly saying" the U.S. had drawn down its troops in Iraq to pre-surge levels.

In comments to reporters on 5/29, McCain said: "I can tell you that [the troop surge] is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr City are quiet and it's long and it's hard and it's tough and there will be setbacks." In fact, as the Obama camp "was quick to point out," the troop level in Iraq is at about 155K -- well above the 130K that would mark a return to levels preceding the "surge."


Dems "seized on McCain's comment," saying in a statement from the DNC that it shows he either "doesn't know the facts on the ground in Iraq or he is continuing the Bush Administration's pattern of intentionally misleading the public."

McCain, speaking to reporters in Milwaukee, "refused to acknowledge a mistake," saying: "I said we have drawn down. And we have drawn down." Meanwhile, his advisers said the flap amounted to nothing more than "nitpicking" about "verb tenses." And the RNC also joined in, saying in a statement that "this all goes to show that Obama would sooner go on the attack than go to Iraq."

In MT later in the day, Obama "refused to back off, saying that 'anyone running for commander in chief should know better.'" Obama: "His campaign said it amounts to 'nitpicking.' Well I don't think tens of thousands of American troops amounts to nitpicking. ... It's time for a debate that's based on the truth, and I can't think of anything more important than how many Americans are in harm's way" (Shear, Washington Post, 5/31).

But For Generals, Things Were Not So Grand

McCain "will no longer use pictures of himself" and Gen. David Petraeus in fundraising materials.

McCain was criticized by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and WI Gov. Jim Doyle (D) for emailing supporters a picture showing him shaking hands with Petraeus that included the phrase "Leadership Demonstrated" above a link to "Show Your Support." McCain, at a 5/30 presser: "It won't happen again" (Fly, AP, 6/1).

Twin McPeaks

Ret. Air Force Gen. Merrill McPeak, the "most senior retired military officer" to back Obama, said that Obama will not give McCain "a pass on the issue of national security in the fall."

McPeak: "It doesn't take very long to uncover national security issues that McCain is weak on. ... For McCain to think he has a monopoly on virtue in the national security issue is going to be shown a pretty flimsy idea very quickly" (Scarborough, Washington Times, 6/2).

Do You Have To Let It Linger, Do You Have To?

AP's Sidoti notes, McCain "is evolving into a more message-driven and deliberate candidate as he prepares for the contest" with Obama.

"He gives more speeches, lingers less among the people at events and spends more time raising money in private." Meanwhile, "gone are the days" when he would "spend a day holding several of his hallmark ask-anything events and making surprise visits to local establishments. Constraints of time, logistics and priorities are taking over." His "daily interaction with the reporters who travel with him also has tapered off; more formal news conferences every few days are becoming the norm, partly out of a desire to project a precise message -- and picture."

McCain "acknowledges the changes," but told the AP that "he would continue to press his advisers to make sure he has time in his schedule for the media and give-and-take with voters in town hall style settings." McCain, on town halls: "We'll have more of those. I love those. They're the most important thing" (6/1).

An Ear To The Battleground

McCain's new TV ad campaign "says a lot about how he sees the general-election battle ahead. The message is economics and the state that has seen the most spending on ads so far" is OH.

McCain is also on the air in MI, PA, IA, and WV -- "all battleground states in recent campaigns." Of those states, Bush in '04 carried OH, IA, and WV, and lost MI and PA.

McCain has spent $1.5M in the past 60 days, "most of it in the last month, according to data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group." He also "appears to be ramping up his spending." On 5/28, his camp aired $170K worth of ads; at that rate, he would spend $1.2M in a single week (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 6/2).

Catch A Wave And You're Sitting On Top Of The World

A "seemingly worried" McCain warned 5/30 that GOPers could get swept away by a record-breaking Dem fundraising machine this fall.

McCain, in a fundraising appeal on behalf of the RNC Victory '08 fund: "The Democrats and their liberal allies are building the most massive political fund-raising machine ever seen" (Campanile, New York Post, 5/31).

Nashville Star

McCain will be in Nashville, TN, today "for a public town hall meeting and a round of private fundraisers" (Nashville Tennessean, 6/1).

Meanwhile, McCain will be in LA this week for two public events -- a rally on 6/3 in Kenner, and a town hall meeting in Baton Rouge on 6/4 (Alpert, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 6/1).

Because Kevin Sheekey Needed A New Rumor To Deal With

NYC dep. mayor Kevin Sheekey -- NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg's (I) "principal political adviser" -- "is being seriously considered" by the McCain camp to manage the GOP convo (Novak, New York Post, 5/31).

King Ralph

Ex-Christian Coalition exec. dir. Ralph Reed said McCain should stop seeking endorsements from evangelical pastors and instead appeal directly to their church members. Reed, in an interview with Bloomberg's Hunt: "John McCain doesn't need to be standing at a bank of microphones next to a particular leader. ... My advice would be stay away from endorsements and stick to the issues."

Reed, who recently published a novel, "Dark Horse," in which Christian conservatives revolt against the GOP WH nominee, "said he didn't expect a similar reaction to McCain." Reed: "There will be tremors, but not a full-blown revolt" (Salant, Bloomberg, 5/30).

What A Load Of UBS

Newsweek's Hosenball reports, "financial giant" UBS, which is vice chaired by McCain adviser/ex-Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX), is currently the focus of cong. and DoJ investigations "into schemes that allegedly enabled wealthy Americans to evade income taxes by stashing their money in overseas havens," according to several law-enforcement and banking officials in both the U.S. and Europe.

In Apr., UBS withdrew Gramm's lobbying registration, but one of his ex-cong. aides, John Savercool, "is still registered to lobby legislators for UBS on numerous issues, including a bill cosponsored" by Obama "that would crack down on foreign tax havens." A UBS spokesperson: "UBS is treating these investigations with the utmost seriousness and has committed substantial resources to cooperate." The spokesperson added that Gramm was deregistered as a lobbyist because he spends less than 20% of his time on such activity. Meanwhile, McCain spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker said the camp "will not comment on the details ... of ongoing investigations and legal charges not yet proved in court" (5/31).

The Great Escape

Meanwhile, there was continued talk about links between Bush and McCain:

• New York Times' Rich writes, Dems portray McCain "as offering a third Bush term, but it's a third term of the war that's his bigger problem. Even if he locks the president away in a private home, the war will keep seeping under the door, like the blood in 'Sweeney Todd'" (6/1).

• Ex-Rep. David Bowen (D-MS) writes in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, if McCain "continues to tie himself" to Bush "on foreign policy, he may be drawn into the hard-line neoconservative position, which is that unending warfare will, in addition to its benefits for the petroleum and defense industries, ensure that the federal government will not have sufficient resources for roads, waterways, energy development, health care, environmental protection and education" (6/1).

• Ex-WH/Pentagon official Douglas MacKinnon writes in the Baltimore Sun, as Obama and his camp "continue the transition into general-election mode, they will utilize their expanded stage to continue to loudly, predictably, and breathlessly warn of a 'third Bush term' under a President McCain. As they do this, they may find themselves in a blind panic as they try to bridge what may be a fatal schism in their own party" (6/2).

Boy, It Must Have Been A Thrilling Convention

Mitt Romney "was the star" of the CO GOP convo on 5/31, where he touted McCain as the only candidate who can keep Americans safe from radical Islamic jihadists. Romney: "I want John McCain as president because the best ally peace has ever known is a strong America."

In an interview, Romney "acknowledged that some social conservatives aren't 100 percent behind McCain," but said that the enthusiasm for McCain would grow. Romney: "Republicans are on the same page, even if they aren't on the same line. Barack Obama is in a different universe" (Crummy, Denver Post, 6/1).

Meanwhile, McCain's supporters "got what they wanted" at the WA GOP convo on 5/31, with a "unity" slate of delegates to the nat'l convo supporting him. Supporters of Ron Paul "mounted a sizeable presence" at the convo, "but in the end an agreement was reached" with Paul supporters and those of other GOP WH hopefuls -- leading to a slate of 33 delegates for McCain, four for Paul and three for Mike Huckabee (AP, 6/1).

It's Like I Don't Even Know You Anymore

McCain "is a beloved politician" in NH. But as he "finds himself in the unfamiliar role" of GOP standard-bearer, "some supporters said they're adjusting to a new candidate with more mainstream views."

In interviews, a half-dozen indie primary voters "who picked McCain in this year's primary said they're still likely to support him in the general election. But several said that watching McCain campaign" since Jan. "has added some caveats to their endorsement." Kensington, NH, resident Stephen Erickson: "I'm still unhappy with his initial support of the war in Iraq. I still don't think that extending the Bush tax cuts is necessarily a good thing to do. I don't think the summertime gas tax holiday is a particularly good thing to do" (Sanger-Katz, Concord Monitor, 6/2).

On The Downside Is A Very Big Thing For You

Wall Street Journal's Meckler/Mathews report, McCain's plan for "a health-care system built around consumers shopping for their own insurance comes with a significant downside: for people with a history of illness, it can be impossible to find coverage on their own."

McCain's "main answer is to bolster the role of high-risk pools, which sell insurance to people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, cancer and AIDS." These pools, typically created by state gov'ts, "require significant government subsidies, charge high premiums and sometimes sharply restrict benefits or enrollment." Commonwealth Fund assis. VP Sara Collins: "They tend not to work particularly well. ... States have really struggled to finance these adequately" (6/2).

Help Wanted

"For weeks," McCain had been hammered for supporting the Air Force's Feb. decision to award a $40B contract for refueling tankers to Northrop Grumman and its European partner. McCain's advisers "wanted to strike back" against key Dem critics. But they didn't mount an expensive ad campaign to defend his position -- "they called a tax-exempt nonprofit closely aligned" with McCain, "seeking information and help."

Citizens Against Gov't Waste (CAGW) "partnered with Northrop and one of its consultants to produce a vitriolic advertising campaign defending the tanker deal." Although the camp and the group "deny any cooperation, CAGW's willingness to jump into the tanker controversy illustrates what some experts describe as potentially improper political activity by nonprofits, an issue that is gaining attention" as the WH contest "heats up" (O'Harrow, Washington Post, 5/31).

This article appears in the June 2, 2008 edition of Latest Edition.

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