Today's Papers

All Over the Map

The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how the two presidential campaigns are approaching the final stretch of the contest in markedly different ways. While Barack Obama is devoting lots of time and resources to traditionally Republican states, John McCain is sticking to the more obvious battlegrounds from past elections. The Washington Postleads with a new national poll that shows Americans are pretty much evenly split on who they want sitting in the Oval Office next year. As yesterday’s USAT poll noted, McCain seems to have gained a sizable post-convention bump not only in the number of people who are excited about his candidacy but also in the percentage of voters who think he’s better suited to handle economic issues. The WP points out that much of McCain’s gains come from white women, who tilted slightly toward Obama before the Republican Convention but now favor McCain by 12 points.

The New York Timesleads news that a British jury convicted three men of conspiracy to commit murder but couldn’t decide whether any of the defendants were guilty of plotting to blow up trans-Atlantic flights with liquid explosives in 2006. The failure to convict was an embarrassing blow to counterterrorism officials on both sides of the Atlantic, who had used plenty of superlatives to describe the plot as potentially the deadliest act of terrorism since Sept. 11. Prosecutors said they might call for a retrial. USA Todayleads with a look at how many states’ unemployment insurance trust funds are running low at a time of rising joblessness. Several states will probably need federal help in the near future to cover weekly unemployment payments, which would likely lead to higher unemployment insurance taxes for businesses. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox leads with news that President Bush will announce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will increase by approximately 4,500 troops while about 8,000 military personnel will be withdrawn from Iraq by February. The move amounts to an endorsement of a compromise plan that was presented by top Pentagon leaders last week.

The LAT rightly points out national polls are basically meaningless at this stage of the presidential race since the candidates need to worry about getting enough states in their column to reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes in order to win the White House. On that end, the Obama campaign clearly has a more ambitious strategy as the Democratic nominee is devoting significant resources to 18 states, 14 of which voted for President Bush in 2004. The Democrat is so ambitious that his campaign insists it’s still holding hope for Alaska (though it has pointedly stopped running ads there), saying that it just wants to maximize Obama’s chances as much as possible. The McCain camp basically scoffs at this plan. “Eighteen states is 10 states too many,” one McCain strategist said. Some Democrats are getting worried that Obama is devoting too much money to pie-in-the-sky dreams, instead of just focusing on places where he has a better chance of actually winning, particularly since some states—Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Michigan—that voted Democratic four years ago are far from a sure thing.

Although it doesn’t say it outright, a Page One NYT story suggests the Obama campaign might not keep up this ambitious strategy for much longer. Fundraisers for Obama are getting nervous that the gamble to refuse public money for the general election campaign might not actually pay off. This concern is hardly new as many have written about how Hillary Clinton’s fundraisers have so far failed to come through as much as was initially predicted. Of course, all the handwringing could be for nothing if Obama reports surprising August fundraising numbers, but it’s not looking good for the Democrat. In what could very well be an attempt to play the expectations game, a fundraiser estimates the Obama campaign raised $17 million last month, and has a mere $13 million in the bank. For its part, the McCain campaign had its best month ever in August as it raised $47 million for itself and $22 million for the party.

The WP’s new poll makes clear that both candidates were able to solidify their party’s base at the convention, although nearly one-quarter of voters who backed Clinton still say they plan to vote for McCain. Inevitably this means the real fight is now for the independents, who, for the first time, prefer McCain by a narrow margin. Whatever happens in the next few weeks, it seems the voters will notice. Approximately nine of every 10 voters said they’re following the race, and a slight majority say they are following it “very closely.”

The WP took a look at Gov. Sarah Palin’s travel documents and reports that Alaska taxpayers paid for 312 nights that she spent in her own home. The “per diem” charge that’s supposed to cover expenses while traveling on state businesses is apparently permitted because she is officially based in Juneau but spends most of her time in her home town of Wasilla. The state has also paid for trips that she took with her children, and her husband also charged taxpayers for trips that he took on official business. In total, Palin received almost $17,000 as her allowance, while her husband and children charged almost $45,000 for travel expenses. Regardless, the $93,000 Palin spent on airfare in 2007 pales in comparison to the $463,000 that her predecessor spent the previous year.

The NYT takes an amusing look at how McCain has taken to hugging Palin when they appear together on stage. This might seem unremarkable, but the paper notes that when Walter Mondale ran with Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, the two almost never touched each other. If he had gotten closer, “people were afraid that it would look like, ‘Oh, my God, they’re dating,” Ferraro said. Etiquette experts mostly say the hugs are perfectly appropriate, particularly since they’re more stiff than loving, and Palin seems to keep a distance. “As the nuns used to say before school dance, ‘Leave room for the Holy Ghost,’ ” quips Washington satirist Christopher Buckley.

The WP fronts, and everyone carries, a look at how a six-year-old news story that reported the bankruptcy filing of United Airlines was posted as new information over Bloomberg News. The story “triggered a massive sell-off that nearly obliterated the company’s stock in a matter of minutes,” says the WP. The drama began when a reporter for Income Securities Advisors, a research firm, was doing an online search and came across the newspaper article, which apparently looked like it had been posted over the weekend. Everyone was busy pointing fingers yesterday (the paper blamed Google, and vice-versa) except for the president of Income Securities Advisors, who wasn’t eager to really blame his reporter’s actions. “It would have been nice if the reporter had been more grounded in what’s going on out there in the world.”

In an amazing feat, the NYT fronts a story about Salvia divinorum that is short on hysteria and even seems to chastise those who make too much of the hallucinogenic herb. TP even dares say that Slate’s Jack Shafer would approve (earlier this year, Shafer documented how the press has been covering the herb). Today the NYT notes that state lawmakers are using some of the thousands of videos posted on YouTube of people trying salvia as evidence that it should be regulated. But the paper goes on to note there’s no evidence it’s addictive or that people abuse the herb and points out that “even devotees use it sparingly.” The paper’s reporters apparently were present when someone smoked a bit of salvia and the description hardly makes it sound like something to fear—”a beatific smile spread lightly across his face.” Finally, even though the NYT does say there have been “rare claims” of deaths related to salvia, “the links are speculative.” Impressive!

In the NYT’s op-ed page, Mark Everson says there’s a simple way to deal with all the promises from the presidential candidates that they’ll change Washington: “Decentralize the executive branch of the government.” Although it might make sense for certain Cabinet departments to be close to the White House, many more offices and federal employees could move out of Washington and scatter across different areas of the country. “Running government operations outside the Beltway would more equitably distribute government jobs and at the same time help limit the undue influence of Washington.”

The WP’s Eugene Robinson notes that while McCain is busy making fun of Obama for being a celebrity, the Republican “is campaigning on a platform that can be summed up in three words: me, me, me.” Even though McCain has eagerly pointed out the GOP’s shortcomings over the past few years, he “is arguing that he should be elected in spite of his party’s many failures because, well, he’s John McCain,” Robinson writes. “He’s special.”