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Week in Preview: Staying on Message

"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

-- Robert Burns, "To a Mouse"

Each week of the presidential race, the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain have a message (or messages) they want to communicate to voters in battleground states.

Events are scheduled in key states -- Obama will be in Ohio today, McCain in New Mexico tomorrow -- conference calls are organized (and organized), speeches are written.

And yet, the most crucial part of every week is often how the two campaigns react to the unexpected. If a surrogate says something impolitic (Phil Gramm, we are looking at you), the campaign and the candidate must decide how and when to react -- a decision that often can make or break a week. If an issue -- no matter how minor or seemingly insignificant -- starts to generate media buzz, the two campaigns have to address it while not going too far afield from their preferred focus for the week.

In other words, it's a delicate dance between the campaign you want to run and the campaign you have to run. The candidate -- and operation -- that adjusts most adroitly (and the quickest) to the ever-changing circumstances is the one who will be best positioned to win in the fall.

The last two weeks have provided ample evidence that the modern campaign more closely resembles whack-a-mole than chess. We've had Gen. Wesley Clark questioning (or not) McCain's military credentials, Rev. Jesse Jackson threatening Obama's manhood, Gramm telling voters the recession is all in their heads and, over the weekend, the hubbub over the cover in this week's New Yorker. (Once you get past the cover, make sure to read Fix friend -- and doppelganger -- Ryan Lizza's piece on Obama's roots in Chicago and how they impact who he is today.)

Each campaign would have preferred not to spend the last 14 days bouncing between these mini-crises but the modern political campaign leaves each side no choice but to run this gauntlet.

Can either campaign get back on message this week? Or will it be another week of hot mics, silly surrogates and the sort of freak show politics that both sides decry?

We don't know the answer. But, one thing we do know is who won official Fix t-shirts in our "Who Won the Week?" competition.

Two picks emerged at the head of the class. If your submission was picked, make sure to send your mailing address and preferred size to chris DOT cillizza AT washingtonpost DOT com.

Without further adieu, here are your winners:

* Jake: "Obama definitely won the week. If Phil Gramm's comments weren't good enough for him, a condemnation from Jesse Jackson is worth some incredible bonus points among voters who may have been concerned about Obama and his race (not overtly but quietly). Obama having the opportunity to separate himself from the likes of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson is a terrific win for him. Finish that off with a national poll showing him 8 points up and the economy tumbling, and its looking positive for Obama...and for the Fix T-Shirt industry."

* Tyson: "I think the winner this week was fans of the 1987 classic movie Predator, as we all got to see clips as Sonny Landham runs for the Senate in Kentucky and Jesse Ventura considers a run in Minnesota. I need Carl Weathers to get his act together and find a viable political career."

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 14, 2008; 9:10 AM ET
Categories:  FixCam  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Sunday Reading: Broder on the Enigmatic Obama
Next: The Surprising Closeness of the Contest

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get_REAL -
you're playing a bit fast 'n loose with the facts. For instance, former president Teddy Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919 - long before his cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevent, signed into law the Social Security Act of 1935.

Your post starts with a plausible premise - pointing out that the NYT missed an opportunity to correct the record when McCain called TR a conservative - but deteriorates rapidly.

For the record, TR was known for his anti-trust record - which flies in the face of both modern political parties' apparent views towards corporate malfeasance. His record is generally one of a progressive, not a conservative. Sadly, neither Senator McCain, his audience nor the New York Times appear to be aware of that.

Posted by: bsimon | July 14, 2008 2:48 PM | Report abuse

McCain told the NY Times that he's from the same MOLD as Teddy Roosevelt. McCain is DELUSIONAL. Their differences on MAJOR issues are HUGE!

*Theodore Roosevelt was the first President to call for Universal Health Care & National Health Insurance
- McCain opposes Universal Health Care & National Health Insurance.

* T.Roosevelt was FIRST to propose, draft, sign into law government Social Security Act 1935.
- McCain wants to PRIVATIZE Social Security (vulnerable to stock market.)

* T.Roosevelt supported labor unions.
- John McCain eliminates union jobs with massive pro-Free Trade agreements with China, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Oman, Singapore, Chile and Morocco.

* T.Roosevelt helped create jobs.
- McCain has helped jobs move overseas with his MANY Free Trade agreement votes.
- McCain calls people who want jobs to stay in USA, "Protectionists" as if it is a BAD THING to "Protect" American jobs.
- McCain would label Teddy Roosevelt a "Protectionist."

* T.Roosevelt was critic & watchdog of Corporate America.
- McCain bows down to Corporate America.

*T.Roosevelt was a conservationist who didn't even want Christmas Trees in the White House because he didn't want trees cut down.
- McCain would rather drill for oil in the ANWAR (cutting down trees) than the 68 million acres oil companies already have.

*T.Roosevelt QUIT the Republican Party BEFORE he ran for President.
- McCain became rightwinged Republican SINCE his current run for President.

*T.Roosevelt was 42 years old, youngest person to be elected President.
- McCain is 71, oldest person to run for President.

Posted by: Get_REAL | July 14, 2008 2:40 PM | Report abuse

The Fix should know, in the event that Drudge hasn't picked it up, Senator Obama published an op-ed in the NYT today, outlining how his plan for Iraq is consistent with the Iraqi government's calls for a timetable for withdrawl of our troops - as well as with President Bush's past promises to respect the Iraqi gov'ts wishes.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/opinion/14obama.html?em&ex=1216180800&en=1e19335be0e1e1c9&ei=5087%0A

Has Senator McCain's team responded to this piece today? Or is there something trivial we should all be paying attention to instead?

Posted by: bsimon | July 14, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press, Carly Fiorina, surrogate for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), defended McCain's record on Iraq. She insisted he had stood up to President Bush and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly, and declared those who say McCain was "aligned" with Bush on Iraq are trying to "change history":

'John McCain stood up against George Bush and Don Rumsfeld in the prosecution of the Iraq war for many years. ... To say that John McCain was aligned with President Bush on the prosecution of the war in Iraq is to change history.'


But It is Fiorina who is trying to change history. From the very start, McCain has enthusiastically embraced Bush's Iraq war policy:

"I think that Blix's report will be fairly definitive. But Mr. Blix has made a lot of reports over the years, and I think the judgment made by the United States of America will -- and the president of the United States -- will prevail here." [NBC, 2/12/03]

"I believe as strongly today as ever, the mission [in Iraq] was necessary, achievable and noble. For his determination to undertake it, and for his unflagging resolve to see it through to a just end, President Bush deserves not only our support, but our admiration." [GOP Convention, 8/30/04]

"The fact is that I have agreed with President Bush far more than I have disagreed. And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I've been totally in agreement and support of President Bush." [Meet the Press, 6/19/05]

MR. GREGORY: Do you, do you have confidence in the president and his national security team to lead the war at this stage?
SEN. McCAIN: I do. I do. I have confidence in the president and I believe that he is well aware of the severity of the situation. [Meet the Press, 8/20/06]

"I'm sticking with the president in this respect [on Iraq]. This is our last chance. The consequences of failure are catastrophic." [CNN, 2/13/07]

"I am proud of this president's strategy in Iraq." [Receiving Bush's endorsement, 2/13/08]


In fact, just four months ago, McCain declared unequivocally, "No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have."

Posted by: Carly's Fiorina's repeated lies | July 14, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"Without further adieu, here are your winners"


Nice selections. Poor editing.

adieu - loosly translated as 'goodbye'
ado - busy activity / fuss

Posted by: bsimon | July 14, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Better trolls, please.

Posted by: FlownOver | July 14, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

"The last two weeks have provided ample evidence that the modern campaign more closely resembles whack-a-mole than chess."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Posted by: DDAWD | July 14, 2008 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Don't worry about McCain 'flipflopping' on leaving Iraq. He has no intention, no matter what the Iraiqis want. Here's what Mark Sandford had to say. Sorry it's 'partisan' is tone but it's the only source I found for the quote. Sanford says, in essence, that we don't care what the Iraqis think, the decision is up to the US:

"Yesterday on CNN's Late Edition, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) admitted to "drawing a blank" when asked whether there are any "significant differences between" Bush and McCain on economic policy. (Sanford may want to take his cues from another McCain surrogate Roy Blunt, who said previously that McCain is offering a third Bush term on the economy and "that's a good thing.")

In the same interview, Sanford -- rumored to be a leading vice presidential contender for McCain -- was asked by host Wolf Blitzer how he responds to Iraqi government officials who are calling for a timetable for withdrawal. Sanford implied the U.S. president shouldn't listen to Iraqi opinion:

"The decision will ultimately be made by the next president of the United States. And as a consequence, you know, people's view on that particular subject, I think, will drive a good part of the decision-making that's ultimately going to be done in Washington, D.C. In short, the decision, I think, will be made in Washington, D.C., rather than as a consequence of a particular person's opinion in Baghdad."

And here's what McCain himself said in response to Maliki's insistence on a timetable for withdrawal:

"Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, supports the administration position. He has said he hopes to bring U.S. combat troops home by 2013 but has insisted that any timeline or lessening of U.S. control over its own operations would undercut recent military gains and aid U.S. enemies."

He apparently plans on staying 5 more years.

The negotiations for a status-of-forces agreements have broken down, btw...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/12/AR2008071201915.html?hpid=topnews

Posted by: drindl | July 14, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Cal Gal:

Please take off the rose-colored glasses.

The "sophisticates" at the New Yorker knew exactly what they were doing...

Putting another "arrow" in Hillary's quiver for the upcoming coup (see post, supra).


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Posted by: scrivener | July 14, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

The Burns quotation, in the original Scottish, reads, "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."

In the scheme of the verses (for example, since the line "Gang aft agley" is only four syllables), the best translation might be "go oft awry."

Perhaps the final verse of the Burns poem is also fitting, however:

Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Posted by: John in Mpls | July 14, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Re the New Yorker cover, the trouble with "lampooning" these right-wing crazy misconceptions about Obama is that the idiots who hold them won't read the New Yorker. They'll just walk by the magazine rack and see the cover and have their racist beliefs reinforced.

But the sophisticates at the New Yorker either didn't realize this or didn't care. Shame on them. I really expected more from what I had heretofore thought of as a good magazine.

Posted by: Cal Gal | July 14, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/14/opinion/14obama.html?ex=1216699200&en=7d2a02f357f82fcd&ei=5070&emc=eta1

appears to be on message, to open the week.

Carly Fiorina and Claire McCaskill seemed to me to be surrogates "on message" on MTP Sunday. Perhaps male surrogates should be quiet for a week.

How many days out of seven must the candidates remain on message? Does every minor change of direction, regardless of how rational or how dictated by changed events, signify to the press a loss of message?

For example, if McC says he welcomes the new found will of the Iraqi regime to stand up for itself and suggested he could accommodate them as President would the media say he "flip-flopped"?

What are the WaPo's criteria for staying "on message"?

Posted by: MarkInAustin | July 14, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Oh come on here Chris the Frizzle it's an
Election Year so both these pathetic lying
phony empty suits are going to prove that
they,Panderer Barack Hussein Obama and the
GOP Amnesty John McCain,will say whatever
they think will keep whoever or whatever
group,such as their Hispanic Voter Pandering Deal,just to get their votes so
what or which message were you referring
to here you egotistical loser?

Posted by: Ralphinphnx | July 14, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Well, Mr. Cilizza, since you are actually a perpetrator of this 'freak show politics' because of your's, and fellow 'journalists' adulation of gutter gossips like Drudge, I'd say, physician, heal thyself.

Why don't you try writing some substantive stories about candidates' positions and policies, rather than whether they wear flag pins or eat arugula?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

The candidates may get back on message but somehow I doubt that the voters are really listening. Its a long hot summer of rising gas prices, curtailed vacations, housing blues, banking crisis. Maybe the Olympics will clear the air and make voters more capable of absorbing what is going on around them. A good example of the lack of interest is that finally the WP writes an editorial on how McCains plans to cut taxes and balance the budget are just the stuff dreams are made of. Still, it has been obvious for weeks at least that none of what he said adds up - nor could add up even in the best of scenarios. Its pitiful that the man prides himself on "straight talk" when it is so clear he is selling smoke and mirrors. Fear is all he has, and creating fear I hope will not be enough to bamboozle voters.
Americans seem to want to to continue to believe that they can have it all, even as the pillars of the economy tremble around them. Until the candidates appreciate that there is a crisis and start telling the voters how we are going to set on a new path the campaigns will still muddle around in messages that are more suitable for a time when only a slight correction in policy is needed. The Bush administration has wrecked far more than people realize; the depth of these problems seems to becoming clearer with each week. When summer is over hopefully the candidates messages will be much more realistic and much sharper, as voters need to realize how much is at stake this election

Posted by: nclwtk | July 14, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

McCain will stay on message as long as no one notices that he is flip flopping on his earlier flip flop on immigration.

Posted by: Evil | July 14, 2008 10:38 AM | Report abuse

"Can either campaign get back on message this week? Or will it be another week of hot mics, silly surrogates and the sort of freak show politics that both sides decry?"

I vote for the latter.

Posted by: bondjedi | July 14, 2008 10:27 AM | Report abuse

THIS WEEK, COVERT OPERATIVES IN HILLARYLAND
SHIFT INTO HIGH GEAR FOR THE COMING COUP

This week will belong to the Clintons, Hill and Bill, but you may not hear about it in the mainstream media.

This is the week they revivify the Hillary for President campaign. This is the week they canvass all of the superdelegates to gauge their reaction to Obama's shifting positions on key issues such as FIA/wiretapping, the death penalty, gun control and church-state matters.

This is the week the Clintons warn the supers about Obama's precipitious drop in the polls;

...the hubris he has exhibited in blaming his core supporters for "not listening" to his "real" stand on key issues;

...and the gut reaction that comes from even a short glance at the cover of this week's New Yorker.

Satire only sticks when it strikes a chord; and this biting commentary, whatever the intent, plays a foreboding symphony.

And who's to say that the same brilliant minds that engineeered the Jackson castration bit didn't plant the seeds for the New Yorker cover? The New Yorker... Hillary... hmmmm.

Hillary operatives will even bring up how Obama turned a positively charming family appearance on "Access Hollywood" into a telling show of pique because Obama got teased by his wife and kids on TV.

Also, watch and listen to Jesse Jackson and other old-school black leaders to see if they continue to back away from Barack. Prediction: They already have privately, and this could be the week some of them go public with their disappointment with Obama's vacillations.

And watch Colin Powell; if Hillary decides to disavow her support for Obama and challenge him for the nomination at the convention, Powell would be a strategically brilliant "unity ticket" choice for vice president... calculated on its face, for sure, but politically sagacious.

Jesse the Knife's stage-whispered castrato song was as unintended as President Jeb Bartlet's open mic moment a couple of years back on TV's "The West Wing." But the Obama apologists, the people wearing the Fix T-shirt this week, still see a hurtful defection by a revered black leader as somehow beneficial to Obama's appeal to white voters. That such wishful thinking gets then an award says much about liberal/progresive naivete (I know Chris, it was your assistant; you would have thought twice about that one; wouldn't you have?)

Bulletin: Enlightened blacks are just as disillusioned with Obama's recent tap dances on the issues as newly-questioning Daily Kos and MoveOn types. Obama's embrace of an expansion of the death penalty, for example, flies in the face of concerns among his base about wrongful convictions -- and the disproportionate number of young black males who are convicted for capital crimes.

These are the phone and email arguments being made by Hill, Bill, Lanny, Howard, James, Mandy, and the rest of the newly reconstituted and re-energized Clinton war machine. This nomination battle has not been won; just a wee bit more self-destruction on Obama's part and it all will break out, if not this week, maybe next.

Those speculating about whether Hillary will get the nod as the vice presidential pick are one rank short of what really may be happening: the long-sought success of a Hillary Clinton coup de parte.

And don't count on black ire to save Obama; the very notion reeks of reverse racism. They know when they're getting the "O-kee Doke," to borrow a phrase.

Posted by: scrivener | July 14, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

The Candidates should be focused on getting a good Vice President. See what America thinks at http://www.votenic.com , the one and only 2008 Presidential Election Weekly Poll. New "Undecided" Option!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 14, 2008 9:32 AM | Report abuse

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