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When we last left our heroes -- well, they’re at odds again

Barack Obama made an effort to defuse the flap surrounding a canceled visit to a U.S. military hospital during his overseas trip. But John McCain’s campaign isn’t about to let the matter rest.

Indeed, the Republican elevated the contretemps to what passes for the height of political discourse these days: It’s a key element in a new television ad. The 30-second spot zings Obama for making time for a gym workout while in Germany last week, but removing from his itinerary a stop at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The ad continues:

“Seems the Pentagon wouldn’t allow him to bring cameras.

“John McCain is always there for our troops.

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“McCain. Country first.”

(The last line recently was unveiled on McCain’s website as his campaign’s latest stab at settling on a simple slogan it will stick with.)

To take Obama to task more extensively over the canceled visit, McCain media aides also issued a release from retired Lt. Col. Joe Repya, a veteran of three wars, that scolds the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for stiffing the troops while “flitting from one European capital to the next.”

Obama gave his version of the confusing chain of events that led to the cancellation in an interview that aired Saturday with Fox News Channel’s Bill Hemmer.

Asked by Hemmer about “taking heat” for the nixed visit and whether it was a mistake not to make the stop, Obama replied:

“Well no, not at all. It was scheduled, we intended to go, and we got wind that there was some concern that this might be perceived as political because we were using campaign resources. And at that point, the last thing I wanted to do is to in any way distract the terrific work that’s being done in terms of treating our troops, by getting it fouled up by a bunch of politics. . . . I didn’t want it to be a distraction.”

But that’s exactly what it’s become for Obama, and it may linger.

Here they come to save the day

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There is now officially nowhere to hide from this endless presidential race that’s probably already cost $1 billion and still has 15 weeks to go.

You’ve got presidential stuff pretty much everywhere, even on “Access Hollywood,” which used to be a refuge for the politically oblivious until some Obama people persuaded the couple to let their little girls be interviewed on TV, which they now regret.

Anyway, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama are going to both be getting their very own comic books. You could call them graphic novels if they were longer. But they aren’t.

So we won’t.

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They’ll both have heroic covers, hands on hips, eyes cast on the distant horizon. And the stories of their lives inside -- and in case all of this political stuff seems too complex for anyone out there, it’ll all be in drawings. IDW Publishing plans to release the comics in October.

Obama on the value of taking time off

One thing decidedly absent from Barack Obama’s packed agenda overseas was a good night’s sleep. As he wrapped up his travels Saturday, a fellow politician on the other side of the pond advised Obama to kick back sometime soon.

“You should be on the beach,” David Cameron, the head of the British Conservative Party, told Obama in London a few hours before the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee headed home to Chicago. “You need a break. Well, you need to be able to keep your head together.”

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Obama told Cameron he would take a week off in August.

The pair also compared notes on the need for political leaders to make sure they keep themselves focused on the forest, not the trees -- efforts by aides notwithstanding.

Obama shared advice he said he got from an official in the Clinton White House: “The most important thing you need to do is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking.”

Secret Service asks for more money

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As has virtually every White House contender since the Republic began, this year’s major-party presidential candidates vow to cut “wasteful” government spending and in general impose fiscal discipline in Washington.

Yet here comes news that their very pursuit of the office is adding to taxpayers’ burden.

The Associated Press reported that the Secret Service has asked for an extra $9.5 million to cover unexpected costs of protecting the presidential candidates during what has turned into a historic year for the agency’s campaign security job.

According to the AP story, the service already had anticipated a strain on its pocketbook, budgeting $106.65 million for the 2008 campaign cycle, up from $73.3 million in 2004 (at the time, a record).

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What the service didn’t expect was an unusual amount of campaign-related travel by Barack Obama and John McCain outside U.S. boundaries.

Obama, of course, is wrapping up an extensive overseas trek, much of which he deemed campaign-related (his initial stops -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- were as part of an official congressional delegation). And McCain made political trips to Canada, Colombia and Mexico.

The main reason for the significant jump in protective expenses -- even before the new request -- stems from the fight for the Democratic nod.

Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the race in early 2007 already guarded because of her status as a former first lady. Obama, largely because of racially motivated threats against him, had agents assigned to him in May 2007. And then the two proceeded to battle until this June, with hardly any breaks from the campaign trail.

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Although McCain emerged as the obvious Republican nominee in early February, he initially resisted protection, saying it would impinge on personal contact with voters. A security detail was assigned in early spring.

Poll: Obama still leads; McCain ‘safer’

Neither major-party candidate has actually received his party’s nomination. That doesn’t come for another month.

So the new NBC-Wall Street Journal Poll is out. And even in this alleged year of the Democrat, with the Obama campaign already running general-election ads in Republican strongholds, the new July results show the Illinois Democrat’s six-point lead from June has remained exactly the same as in June: six points.

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According to the results, Americans (46%-41%) feel McCain is the “safer choice” for the White House. McCain leads by a larger margin (58%-46%) as the candidate with the background and set of values they most identify with. A majority (51%-27%) find themselves thinking more about what an Obama administration would be like.

Among Obama staffers, that percentage is probably even larger.

Clinton backers get behind Obama

Several of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s large-sum donors have now hopped onto Barack Obama’s armored truck, not just by giving merely the $2,300 individual maximum to the Illinois senator’s presidential campaign.

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Instead, they’re shelling out far more to a special Democratic account that’ll be able to spend unlimited sums to help Obama in the fall, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis by Dan Morain. That’s in addition to the $1.6 million The Times identified in June donations from Clinton donors to Obama.

But it wasn’t a two-way street last month. Obama’s donors gave Clinton a mere $105,000 in June, despite a plea from Obama that his high-roller donors help retire her $22 million in campaign debts.

In June, Clinton donors gave $1.53 million to the Obama Victory Fund, established by Obama and the Democratic Party to raise money far in excess of the $2,300 that individuals can give to a presidential candidate. By law, the fund can receive high five-figure checks and divvy them up among various other Obama-related committees.

In fact, 64 high-end donors gave almost $1.4 million in chunks of $5,000 or more, and 36 gave $28,500 or more.

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The $28,500-plus donors include several Clinton loyalists such as Los Angeles investor Marc Nathanson; his wife, Jane; Lynda Resnick; and John Emerson, a former Clinton White House official. Emerson helped arrange the big Obama fundraiser last month at the Music Center.

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Excerpted from The Times’ political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www.latimes.com/topoftheticket.


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