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12 Weeks to Go

In June 1978, California Attorney General Evelle Younger jetted off to a well-earned Hawaii vacation, a few days after claiming the Republican nomination to run for governor. His Democratic opponent, incumbent Jerry Brown (yes, the same one) decided to stick around Sacramento to deal with a somewhat more pressing political matter - Proposition 13, the historic tax cut that won overwhelming approval in the primary election.

While Younger sipped mai tais at surfside, Brown dominated the news for weeks with his high-profile actions on Prop 13; worse for the Republican, the Democrats' campaign released a devastating radio ad filled with aloha music, recounting how each man had spent the early summer. Brown cracked the election open with that ad, and never looked back on his way to re-election.

In 2008, Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama defied Younger's First Law of Politics - stay the hell out of Hawaii during a campaign - to take a vacation with his family and to revisit his youthful home. Will the move come back to haunt him? CL's political intelligence memo has the answer.

1-Why not Myrtle Beach? Obama's Hawaiian odyssey earned trash talk from some pundits, most notably the caterwauling has-been Cokie Roberts, who said on ABC that the Democrat made a big misstep by vacationing in a "foreign, exotic destination" (though she did concede that Hawaii is a state) and would have been better off playing golf in Myrtle Beach, Fla. The Republican National Committee piled on, push mailing a daily update of Obama's "Hawaii Travel Guide." All of which led to some hurt feelings in the Aloha State, as reported by the Honolulu Advertiser here.

Bottom Line: Obama took a risk leaving the campaign field to John McCain but chillin' for a week of family time shows he's got his priorities straight.

2-Who's in charge here? McCain at times seemed to channel Alexander Haig, who famously declared himself in charge of the government after President Reagan was wounded in an assassination try, when Johnny Mac pounced on Russia's invasion of Georgia to start making authoritative foreign policy declarations: "Americans are all Georgians today," he said at one point, before someone hosed him down. McCain's belligerent tone cheered some GOP hawks, including former U.N. bad boy John Bolton, who was critical of President Bush for continuing his cheerleader act at the Olympics while Russian tanks rolled over the U.S. ally's territory.

Bottom Line: McCain will gain national security cred, and maybe even poll points, for his hardline reaction to the invasion while Obama was more measured in his comments (in between watching "Dark Knights" in an Oahu metroplex) a contrast that captures a clear difference in how each would handle foreign policy.

3-White House or Animal House? A must-read, behind-the-scenes piece about McCain's campaign organization reports on cliques, backbiting, confusion and a candidate who's hard to keep on message. The New York Times article is here.

Bottom Line: A McCain Administration would more resemble the freewheeling and sometimes chaotic Clinton White House than the tightly controlled George Bush model, which seems to find its managerial match in Obama's well-disciplined camp.

4-Who will be the veeps? Beltway wizards, led by the font of all conventional wisdom - Time Magazine's "The Page," annointed Indiana Senator Evan Bayh and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty the "assumed vice presidential front-runners" for the Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

Bottom Line: Bayh and Pawlenty are play-it-safe picks, but McCain could use a bigger splash play (former HP CEO Carly Fiorina would give him some excitement to match his rival, plus badly needed economic bona fides) while Obama still needs national security reinforcement (Republican Chuck Nagel of Nebraska would give him that and underscore his call for a new bipartisan politics).

5-Who does Edwards hurt the most? The widening sex scandal involving former Democrat wannabe John Edwards has generated considerable commentary recalling McCain's shabby treatment of his medical ailing first wife. At the same, it brings back memories of hound dog Clinton and sullies the squeaky clean image Obama is striving for going into the Democratic convention. Best take on the scandal, no surprise, came from Jon Stewart on the Aug. 11 Daily Show.

Bottom Line: The Reille Hunter matter will be a distant memory by November and, if anything, helps Obama by contrasting his rectitude with Edwards' parsing and dissembling.

6-Who's nailed down their base? Less than two weeks before the Democratic convention, Obama's camp is still working to placate Hillary Clinton dead-enders and prevent them from putting on an embarassing demonstration in Denver. McCain meanwhile faced criticism of his tough talk on Russia from some prominent members of his own party who endorsed Obama, including foreign policy whiz Jim Leachman, former House representative from Iowa.

Bottom Line: McCain's failure to gin up the GOP right wing may be matched by disenchancement among far lefty Democrats with Obama, who still comes out ahead as his rock star appeal registers more new voters for his party.

7-Whose side is God on? Focus on the Family, a fundamentalist Christian group, posted a video on their web site in which a leader of the group called on all right-thinking people to pray for a torrential downpour to ruin Obama's planned outdoors acceptance speech to 75,000 in Denver.While the group pulled the video after becoming a national laughingstock, Jason Linkins has it up on Huffpost here.

Bottom Line: If raindrops start falling on his head shortly after he starts to speak, Obama should save everyone the trouble and pack it right then.

8-How DID Hillary lose it, anyway? Another must-read of the week is The Atlantic's terrific autopsy on Hillary Clinton's implosion in the Democratic primaries, chock full of leaked memos and emails from operatives trying to cover their own butts. The Joshua Green piece is here.

Bottom Line: Meet Mark Penn, Mr. Congeniality.

9-When does offshore drilling start? Bob Herbert does a splendid job of making the case against oil exploration and development off the nation's coast in this trenchant column.

Bottom Line: Just as Speaker Nancy Pelosi was settling in for a few rounds of rope-a-dope with Republicans over the offshore issue, the price of gas started going down, causing gasps and gulps among the GOP.

10-Who's winning anyway? The alpha site for political polling aficionados is Real Clear Politics, found here. The smartest, most comprehensive and up-to-date collection of polling data on the web, the site currently shows Obama with a 4.8 percent lead in authoritative national surveys and leading in Michigan, Ohio and Colorado, while trailing McCain in the battlegrounds of Missouri and Florida, with Virginia still a toss-up.

Bottom Line: It's still Obama's race to lose.

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