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Post Politics Hour
washingtonpost.com's Daily Politics Discussion

Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Congressional Reporter
Monday, June 23, 2008 11:00 AM

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Jonathan Weisman: Hello all,

Surprise guest today. My colleague, Shailagh, is on a plane, winging it to New Mexico with Obama-land, so you get silly old me today.

Lots to talk about thoug, so let's get started.

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Avon Park, Fla.: Much has been made about the Democrats being divided because of the primary season, but aren't the Republicans divided also? I mean, are conservative Republicans that excited about John McCain? I don't sense that they are.

Jonathan Weisman: Ah yes, the untold story. Obama's people see it. That's why they're contesting places like Georgia, where they hope a combination of black voter turnout and depressed Christian conservatives can pull off an upset. And don't forget the Paulites. Ron Paul is holding hus counterconvention in Minneapolis wile John McCain is corronated in St. Paul.

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Alexandria, Va.: Obama's new ad (which plays a lot in Alexandria) shows pictures of his mother and grandparents, playing up his white family. Until now he's been "African American"; now suddenly he's a white Midwesterner? During the primary Hillary was criticized for changing her image too many times. Won't Obama be criticized for doing the same thing?

Jonathan Weisman: I haven't heard that criticism, but it is striking. Not a single picture of his father. Now, that really is consistent with his upbringing. He really did not become immersed in black American culture until he left college and went to Chicago. The great irony is that he is much more white than black, beyond skin color.

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jhtlag1: Reintroducing oneself can't be good. His appeal as a "grassroots" insurgency that's going to bring "change" to Washington. How are all those small donors going to feel now when Obama has to follow the (gulp) more traditional campaign rhetoric? By the way guys, thanks a lot but I'm moving on now? In the past couple of weeks we've seen him show obaisance to AIPAC, change his mind on funding ("hello fatcats") and now the pros are going to come in and shape his image. Barack, we hardly knew ye.

washingtonpost.com: Obama Moves To Reintroduce Himself to Voters (Post, June 23)

Jonathan Weisman: You are David Axelrod's nightmare. But what they are doing does not surprise me. He obviously has work to do with white working class voters, and that ad was all about erasing the image of the exalted one and starting from scratch.

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Winnipeg, Canada: Sorry to be picky, but isn't a person crowned, not "coronated"?

Jonathan Weisman: I knew there was a reason why my spell-checker wouldn't pick up that word. But dictionary.com says I'm right.

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Arugula: I recently discovered that at my local waterhole -- a mostly working-class place in a gritty Buffalo-area neighborhood, frequented by "Big Russ" types -- puts arugula on some of its sandwiches. I'm not making any of this up. Am I an elitist if I eat these sandwiches? And what impact might this have on the future political aspirations of the bar's patrons? Should we all just go somewhere else? I'm counting on you to answer this one -- people's futures could be at stake.

Jonathan Weisman: I was i Altoona, Pa., the other day and happened upon a lovely water cress and goat cheese sandwich on whole wheat focaccia.

Yes, the arugula thing is silly. But so is a shot of Crown Royal.

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Tuckahoe, N.Y.: Didn't the current White House press flack, Ms. Perino, admit that she didn't know what the Cuban Missile Crisis was? If so, did anyone send her a copy of your colleague Michael Dobbs's recent book on it?

washingtonpost.com: Book World Review of Dobbs's "One Minute to Midnight" (Post, June 22)

Jonathan Weisman: I will alert the FactChecker, and yes, young Dana admitted she did not know squat about our moment of world peril.

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Chicago: From a political standpoint, should Obama run on the specter of possible war crime indictments, or would that help generate Republican enthusiasm for McCain?

Jonathan Weisman: If I were Obama's campaign advisers, I would run as far away from you as possible. Raising the war crimes issue would kick up all those old stereotypes of Democrats blaming America first. Not the positive campaign Obama wants.

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Chicago: Hey Jon, If Obama picks Biden, how will he finesse Biden's initial support for the war? Knowing Biden, I am sure there are all sorts of bloviating comments he made about war detractors. A quick Google search produced this gem from Sept. 4, 2002: "If we wait for the danger to become clear, it could be too late." Sounds like something Condi would say. Wouldn't picking Biden strongly undermine one of Obama's top selling points?

Jonathan Weisman: My guess, and I'd put money on it, he will not pick Biden. No way, no how. It's bad enough having two senators on the ticket. He wants a strong, silent military type, not a foreign policy wonk (unless he's still having Hillary troubles. Then he'll want a woman. Don't give up, Kathleen Sebelius.)

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New York: Just so we are clear about this, the latest whinge from the "fiscally conservative" McCain supporters is that Obama won't use public tax money to finance his campaign. And they are serious about pushing this hypocritical line of attack? Am I understanding this correctly? Crazy world, huh?

Jonathan Weisman: Sounds like an earmark to me! But seriously folks, McCain has made a career of campaign finance reform, trying to limit the impact of what he used to call (and I stress "used to" to all those ready to attack me) the iron triangle of money, lobbyists and politicians. His stand against Obama's opt-out is perfectly consistent -- even if he may be a bit jealous.

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Wokingham, U.K.: Does the fact that oil prices are already so frighteningly high, even when there is no military action in the Gulf, take the wheels off the bus that was taking us toward war with Iran?

Jonathan Weisman: I don't think economic rationales had anything to do with the drumbeat for military intervention against Iran. The Bush White House isn't necessarily thinking of the whole picture.

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Helena, Mont.: I know there's conventional wisdom that to get to really big numbers fundraisingwise you need to go to fat cats, but look at the liberal blogs, almost all of them have ActBlue fundraising gauges with a goal (mostly in number of contributions) to meet. When that goal is met, they just put another fundraising gauge for another number of contributors. This has to be generating cash for Obama in addition to the fundraising his campaign is doing -- not to mention when he gets his hands on Clinton's list and starts asking them for their $100. A million and a half people giving him $100 each is a lot of money. Some give him the max.

Jonathan Weisman: That's the thinking, but obviously, there are limits. Obama's fundraising fell off sharply in May, almost completely because the flow of small donations from the Internet fell to a trickle. Now he's off on a traditional fundraising tour, and that ain't looking for $100 checks.

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Thank You:... for being the first to note Obama is more white than black from a heritage and upbringing perspective. It seems that we base so much on sight and not facts. I long for the day when someone can just be called a candidate, and not the first black, latino, woman, etc., for anything. It will be a gread day when the labels have passed from our lexicon.

Jonathan Weisman: But we are a long way from that. I think the imagery of Obama with his white grandparents is so striking because we are not race blind. The color of skin still matters in America.

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La Vale, Md.: Okay so you wouldn't put money on Biden. Who would you put money on vis-a-vis Obama's vice president?

Jonathan Weisman: It will depend on the politics of July. Does he need a woman to win over Clinton voters? Does he need a military man? Does he want to use his pick to win a red state? Does he need a Hispanic pick-me-up? My top three picks are Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia, Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas. But the dark horses are Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Bill Richardson, who gets you executive experience, a swing state -- though not a big one -- and loads of Latino votes.

And here's my really left field pick: Colin Powell.

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Re-branding: I admit that I read the fluff piece about Michelle Obama in US magazine. Amid the talk about shopping at Target, watching "Sex and the City" with her BFF, eating ribs at the local barbecue place and growing up in a one-bedroom apartment, they did happen to mention her degree from Harvard Law School and the fact that she had a $270,000 job that she left when the campaign was under way. I regretted the loss of Elizabeth Edwards as a possible first lady, but Mrs. Obama is an intriguing mix of experience and interests.

Jonathan Weisman: As wonkette.com asked, can Michelle be our first lady, no matter who wins?

Republicans want to use her to further their image of Obama as some strange "other" -- a radical, an intellectual, or whomever you don't like. But I think Michelle Obama is likely to be a net positive.

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Edinburg, N.Y.: Which president would you most not mind listening to your cell phone conversations?

Jonathan Weisman: Depends who I'm talking to. Anyone can listen in on my incessant calls from my mother. (Just kidding, ma!)

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New York: Re: The primaries, how did John McCain get to opt out of the campaign finance system that he so adores without paying a political price? I guess ignoring campaign finance laws he thinks should apply to everyone else is "change he can believe in," but shouldn't he at least get some bad press out of it?

Jonathan Weisman: Because that taboo was broken long ago, in 2000, by one George W. Bush. John Kerry did it too. The general election campaign was the last bulwark, and now it too is gone.

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Fairfax, Va.: Who fits the mold of "a strong, silent military type, not a foreign policy wonk"? Wes Clark comes to mind, but hasn't exactly been a strong surrogate or candidate in the past, and you've got the whole "only been a Democrat for about five years" thing.

Jonathan Weisman: I was thinking Jim Webb (and Colin Powell and Chuck Hagel)

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Richmond, Va.: I agree with "jhtlag1" -- as Obama tries to appeal to a broader group, he already is alienating the people who "brung" him. We are very devoted to doing what's right. Let's add Obama's vote on FISA to the growing list of "Obama, we hardly know ye" moments. Obama's fundraising in May was only $22 million, the lowest he's gotten; if we "jhtlag1" types stop giving ... that will matter.

Jonathan Weisman: Alright, another data point. I'm writing about the FISA issue for tomorrow's paper.

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Reston, Va.: I'm almost certain you've ruled out Jim Webb as vice president before. What gives with the flip-floppery, Jon?

Jonathan Weisman: So I contradict myself. I am multitudes. (And I eat arugula)

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Potential First Ladies: Cindy McCain runs a beer distributorship. She's not exactly chopped liver.

Jonathan Weisman: I agree. She's a tough woman. But she did inherit the business from a rather rich daddy.

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Seattle: About the public/private funding debate, I've heard a bunch of reports say that Barack Obama is the first candidate to go with private financing since 1976, but didn't George W. Bush and John Kerry go private in 2004? I remember it was a big thing when Kerry announced it in November 2003, when everyone else but Howard Dean and Bush were going with public funding.

Jonathan Weisman: As noted above, Bush and Kerry opted out in the primary season, but not for the general election campaign.

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Anchorage, Alaska: So will St. Paul actually hold his anti-convention in St. Paul? If so, down the street? At the Fitzgerald Theater (Prairie Home Companion)? Sam and Ella's Eatery? And will you be there? Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: No, he's in Minneapolis. I don't think it's the Metrodome, but it'll be respectable.

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"Meet The Press"/Brokaw: So the guy who made the crack about everybody thinking they deserved to be Russert's successor becomes Russert's successor. Isn't that kinda like Cheney and his vice presidential search ?

washingtonpost.com: Brokaw Steps In for Russert; Former Anchor to Host 'Meet the Press' Through Election (Post, June 23)

Jonathan Weisman: Hey, it worked for Dick.

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Woonsocket, R.I.: Is there any chance that telecom amnesty will be dropped in the Senate, or was Sen. Obama's statement that he'd vote for the bill even with amnesty the end of the matter? Can Dodd sustain a filibuster? And is Obama likely to sustain any political damage for this flip-flop?

Jonathan Weisman: Not a chance. There are a lot of Senate Democrats already on record in favor of an even broader amnesty provision, and they have already overcome a filibuster on the more Republican version, written by Rockefeller and Bond. This thing is over. Stick a fork in it.

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Richmond, Va.: Jonathan, what is your opinion about the wisdom of Obama's widening-the-playing-field strategy? Part of me feels he would be better off focusing his resources on crushing McCain in places he knows he can win, like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Jonathan Weisman: The wisdom is based on an assumption -- that he'll have more than enough resources to broaden the field AND crush him in the swing states. But May's fundraising totals must be giving them pause. If they need to refocus, they will do so. But only after spending money on states they will regret.

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Mount Vernon, N.Y.: The negatives for Webb is that he's not really all that liberal --he's for off-shore drilling for natural gas only, left to the states, but accidents hurt your neighbors too -- and a lackluster campaigner; he's got a track record of sexist remarks too. The positives are obvious, and Virginia is a great prize. And didn't Gov Kaine kind of take himself out of the running?

Jonathan Weisman: You're never out of the running til you're actually asked. Yes, the Webb sexism thing is a very serious knock. If Obama is still having women problems, he won't pick Webb -- but then he may have no choice but to pick Clinton or Sebelius.

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Baltimore: Sen. Obama was raised by his white relatives, but he had no choice over that decision. When presented with the choice as an adult, he consciously decided to embrace his blackness: "Dreams From My Father," Rev. Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ, community organizing, etc. I don't care what racial identity a biracial (or any other person) willingly adopts, but it's a little late in the game -- and inconsistent with the past quarter-century -- for Obama to be selling his whiteness.

Jonathan Weisman: Fair enough. He himself said he conciously went out to find an African American identity. His half-sister (who is half white, half Indonesian) chooses to think of herself as more white than Asian.

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Columbus, Ohio: Regarding Obama's ethnic background, I would caution against making statements such as "he's more white than black" (from memory, so not exactly correct). The problem is that this is a discussion the media (and perhaps society) is not familiar with, and consequently generalizes in a rather simplistic fashion. Think of Tiger Woods and the whole "calibasian" flap. Those of us of mixed ethnicity are "either," "both" and "neither" -- often all at the same time. You can not reduce it to simply one or the other, or more one than the other.

Jonathan Weisman: I expected this response, and I defer to you.

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Central Massachusetts: I can't believe Obama would pick a Republican as vice president. What would the Democratic National Committee say about that? Why would you give the tiebreaker vote in the Senate to a Republican? This makes no sense to me. Can you explain your thinking and help clarify? Thanks!

Jonathan Weisman: Obviously, he wouldn't do it without iron-clad guarantees that said Republican (Hagel, Powell) was thoroughly ready to ditch his party -- and certainly ready to cast the vote Obama wants him to cast in the Senate.

And by the Democratic convention, the DNC will be Obama's. I think a Hagel or Powell choice would be electric -- and would put some meat on the bones of Obama's claim to post-partisanship. (But yes, there would be some ticked off Dems.)

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Princeton, N.J.: Does the FISA compromise still contain the provision that lets the attorney general or director of national intelligence declare any communication to be foreign with no possible review? Also, I thought the Eichmann Defense (my government told me to do it) pretty much had been discredited.

Jonathan Weisman: I think that was taken out in one of the first offers that Republicans made, but I will check.

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Indianapolis: What is Paul holding a convention to do? Is he running as a third-party candidate? What about Barr? What about the possible influence on the election of a right-wing candidacy? Is it too early to drool in anticipation?

Jonathan Weisman: Paul swears he will not run an independent campaign. The counter-convention is to make the point that the libertarian, anti-war wing of the party is real. I don't think you will see any anti-war speeches in St. Paul.

As for Bob Barr, count me as a skeptic.

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Barr-ing disaster?: Any credence to the claims that Republicans are worried about Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr siphoning votes from Sen. McCain?

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, I just answered this but I'll go into more detail. As a congressman from suburban Atlanta, Barr never had much of a base. When the state was redistricted by a Democratic governor, Barr couldn't even beat Rep. John Linder to stay in the House.

I just don't think the guy has the name recognition and depth of support that a Ralph Nader had when he played spoiler in 2000.

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Rockville, Md.: Were Biden the vice presidential candidatge, I would run his comments to our ambassador to Iraq in the Senate as my political advertisement. He mocks with no remorse. A bright person, but not always 100 percent right.

Jonathan Weisman: I just don't think of Biden as a big campaigner. He talks a lot, but can he play the role of attack dog on the stump?

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Rockville, Md.: I expect Hagel would be in the same position as Andrew Johnson -- everyone would hate him. He's all Republican except on the war.

Jonathan Weisman: He does vote Republican on economic issues. That could be very awkward.

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Iowa: I realize the nation's trembling infrastructure is not a sexy political topic, but those of us awash in the Midwest are going to have a deep-seated interest in who is willing to invest some federal dollars in infrastructure repair and rebuilding. Is either candidate talking about this issue? And yes, it would help if we weren't still spending $100,000 per minute in Iraq.

Jonathan Weisman: Obama is glomming on to the issue, and a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing it hard. It also puts McCain in a tough spot, since he tends to declare any infrastructure spending as unwarranted pork.

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Philadelphia:"He obviously has work to do with white working-class voters." Not one Democratic president since Johnson has won a majority of white voters -- not one, not even Carter. This should be mentioned every time. Why isn't it?

Jonathan Weisman: I agree with you and we have mentioned it. See the lead story in the Sunday Washington Post. But currently, Obama is winning the black vote by massive margins, the Hispanic vote by margins far bigger than Bush got, and he's doing well with women and Catholics.

So unless you think he should fold his tent, he needs to work on something. And the white working class is where the votes are that he's not getting.

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Fairfax, Va.: Is the Tom Davis retirement a permanent thing, or is he just going to bide his time in the private sector, make some money, and then challenge Jim Webb in 2012?

Jonathan Weisman: Could bem but Davis is a very smart politician. If Webb is ensconsed, and if a Democratic president is popular and running for re-election that year, why would Davis go back for that? Besides, he may still have the same problems with downstate Republicans that he has now.

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Philadelphia: Jonathan...the previous question about McCain opting out of public financing for the primaries was asking about the criminal aspect of that decision. The Republican head of the FEC has said that McCain can't opt out. He used public funds to secure a $5 million loan last summer. Don't you know the laws? McCain's reversal isn't legal. Check it out.

Jonathan Weisman: The Democratic National Committee filed suit on the issue, and it was thrown out in court. I guess the judge didn't know the laws either.

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Convention in St. Paul: Will McCain be for or against fixing the interstate bridges into Minneapolis/St. Paul with federal, tax-payer funded monies?

Jonathan Weisman: You can bet that question will be asked a lot this summer.

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Shrewsbury, Mass.: Will both Clintons get separate air time at the convention in Denver, or will there just be one Billary night? I'm rooting for the latter or I'm turning on ESPN. Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: I would bet Hillary gets a prime time slot, and Bill doesn't, but I could be wrong. One question: Will you be tuning in to ESPN during McCain's acceptance speech? The Redskins will be squaring off with the Giants that night in the NFL opener. Ouch.

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Albany, N.Y.: Well, that takes George Carlin out of the running.

Jonathan Weisman: And I was just asking my 5-year-old daughter where the blue food is.

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Re: Bob Barr: I agree that Barr won't make much of an impact at the national level, but he's polling at 5 percent to 6 percent in Georgia, which the Obama people are targeting because of its young population and high proportion of African Americans. Just thought you'd like to know.

Jonathan Weisman: I agree that Georgia has a whole brew of issues. Black voters, downtrodden social conservatives and Bob Barr. By the way, I am a Georgian.

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Depth of support that a Ralph Nader had when he played spoiler in 2000: Was Ross Perot a spoiler in 1992? He finished 2nd in Alaska just behind Poppy Bush. Thanks.

Jonathan Weisman: Republicans will say Perot gave us President Clinton. I'm not convinced, since the anger at George H.W. Bush was so great, I'm not sure Perot voters would have flocked to Bush.

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Rockville, Md.: Who so much resistance to off shore drilling? Does the Gulf look like a mess? How about Padre Island? Seems good to me. They have had offshore drilling for many years. This opposition must have some other reason than the environment -- otherwise it makes no sense at all.

Jonathan Weisman: You make a good argument, but Floridians are petrified, not just of oil spills but of the view of oil derricks that blight parts of the California coast south of Santa Barbara. The oil industry contends any exploration would be over the horizon from the beach front. But opposition runs deep.

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"It's bad enough having two senators on the ticket": Would that rule out a possible Obama/Chuck Hagel ticket?

Jonathan Weisman: No, it's just a strike against it.

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San Diego:"jhtlag1" and Richmond, Va., are exactly the reasons why the Democrats may, despite everything going their way, find a way to bungle this election. For just once, I'd like the Democrats to be the party that can suck it up and realize that in order to win the presidency, candidates have to run to the middle. After Obama wins, put all the pressure you want on him to meet the far left's concerns. Yay. Until then? Shut up and let him fight McCain unhindered by his own base.

Jonathan Weisman: Touche, jhtlag1. Hey's what's up with that anyway, doesn't sound like any place I've visited.

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Arlington, Va.: What is the appeal of Tim Kaine as vice president? That seems to be more of the old conventional wisdom about choosing someone who could bring a state, which I'm not sure Kaine even could deliver.

Jonathan Weisman: Beyond his state, Kaine has two other things going for him: executive experience to counter a senator's more limited views of government, and Catholicism.

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Florissant Valley, Mo.: Not only does he not want another senator because two on the same ticket is unappealing, a special election also could erode what looks to be a terrific Democratic majority in the Senate after November. Ex-seantor like Nunn looks good, and I continue to like Dick Gephardt -- good labor support, red swing state.

Jonathan Weisman: I don't think the special election thing would be a big deal. First, most states have their governors appoint the senator for quite awhile, so he'd definitely have to pick a senator from a state with a Democratic governor. Second, I think Democrats will have a very strong majority but not 60 votes. The loss of one wouldn't be that big a deal.

As for Nunn, I just don't see him as a great campaigner or political force. Gephardt is an idea, especially since Obama's inner political circle all came from Gephardt's team, especially campaign manager David Plouffe.

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Sacramento, Calif.: Hi Jonathan. Wes Clark would be another strong leader with military experience. And is it true there has not been much 527 momentum favoring McCain? If not, why not?

Jonathan Weisman: Re: Clark, yes, but he ran a lousy campaign in 2004, wasn't very adept politically.

Re: 527s. yes, the Republican 527 world is pretty pathetic at the moment, but remember, the Swift Boats Vets hardly spent any money and they had a big impact. You never know what's coming.

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Chicago: Hey Jon, no to Joe Biden but yes to Colin Powell? Did Biden go before the U.N. Security Council and destroy his credibility? Powell undermines the main thrust of Obama's argument on Iraq. How can he attack McCain for supporting the war if he picks Powell?

Jonathan Weisman: I was wondering how long it would take for this to come up. Powell's role in taking us to war would be a big deal for the anti-war left, but they'll vote for Obama anyway, given McCain's position on Iraq. With most Americans, he's been forgiven. He remains hugely popular.

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Fairfax County, Va.: I'm an Obama donor of the "small" variety, although I must say I always have felt 5-foot-4 was fairly average for a woman of my age (mid-40s). Just as a data point, I didn't donate in May, but have been donating again in June. No reason except that I was getting primary fatigue. It was like (bad) theater, as we already knew the primary was over but someone had failed to copy the Clinton campaign on that.

I respect the people who wrote earlier about feeling that this was not the Barack they knew, but I don't agree with them a bit. I don't know when they decided he was purer than air, but I knew he was one of the best politicians ever, and that isn't quite the same thing. This is exactly the Barack I thought I knew, and it's sure the one I'm going to be donating to (and volunteering for) up through November.

Jonathan Weisman: OK, Fairfax County gets the last word.

See you all later!

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