(CNN) - Barack Obama responds to charges he is flip-flopping on his Iraq policy, in Thursday's edition of CNN=Politics Daily.
Also, CNN's Dana Bash reports John McCain's presidential campaign is undergoing a makeover amid GOP concerns the Arizona senator isn't keeping pace with Obama.
Bill Schneider has the latest CNN poll results showing voters like both McCain and Obama, even though both are considered flip-floppers.
Finally, Ed Henry reports President Bush decides to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
Click here to subscribe to CNN=Politics Daily.
(CNN) - Call it take two.
Barack Obama held a second news conference with reporters in North Dakota Thursday, to deny any suggestions that he's changing his position on withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee opened his second go-around with reporters by saying, "We're going to try this again. Apparently I wasn't clear enough this morning on my position with respect to the war in Iraq. I have said throughout this campaign that this war was ill-conceived, that it was a strategic blunder and that it needs to come to an end."
The Illinois senator added, "I have also said that I would be deliberate and careful in how we got out, that we would bring our troops home at a pace of one to two brigades per month and that at that pace we would have our combat troops out in 16 months. That position has not changed."
(CNN) – John McCain often brags about gambling with his political career by reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats or by voting against his party. But it turns out risking his political ambition is only part of a larger affinity for the thrill of putting it on the line.
An article published Thursday by Time Magazine takes a look at both McCain and Barack Obama’s love for the tables.
McCain is a heavy-betting high-energy craps man, while Obama prefers the slow pace and strategy of poker, reporters Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf write.
“Enjoying craps opens up a window on a central thread constant in John's life,” the article quotes former McCain strategist John Weaver as saying. “Taking a chance, playing against the odds.”
You won’t find McCain at the low-stakes tables, but rolling the dice with thousands of dollars at stake. He draws the line at taking markers, or loans, from the casinos to play.
He’s not in it for the money, the article says, but the camaraderie at the table and the thrill of winning.
Aides have recently curbed McCain’s casino visits, and Obama’s gambling days have waned since arriving in the U.S. Senate. But back in Springfield, Obama and three other state senators made up the core of a weekly bi-partisan poker game that often included lobbyists and bank, insurance and utilities agents.
Tight play and an unwavering desire to win kept Obama raking in the $3 top raise pots, and led a Republican rival to exclaim, “Doggone it, Barack, if you were more liberal in your card-playing and more conservative in your politics, you and I would get along much better.”
MEXICO CITY (CNN) – News conferences, like baseball games, can sometimes be plagued by rain delays. Just ask John McCain.
The Republican presidential candidate had to stop a session with reporters in Mexico City Thursday afternoon as heavy rain fell at the Ixtapalapa police station. McCain made faces as joked about the weather during the interruption. Reporters then had to gather at the edge of the podium at McCain's feet to hear as his words competed with rain echoing off the metal roof.
Asked if this was the oddest news conference he ever held, McCain said "Certainly the most unusual." He joked that the rain was a result of his visit to the Basilica of the Our Lady of Guadalupe earlier on the day, and he had noted earlier rain is good luck in his home state of Arizona.
Rain issues resolved, McCain discussed the shake-up at the top of his presidential campaign. He called the moves "a natural evolution of our campaign as we become more and more of a nationwide campaign, with increased staff and increased responsibilities."
The Arizona senator called his three-day Latin American swing an excellent visit, saying he is encouraged by U.S. relations with Colombia and Mexico as he was relations with Canada during his visit to that nation last month.
McCain returns to the United States Thursday night, and spends the holiday weekend with his family at their ranch in Sedona, Arizona.
FARGO, North Dakota (CNN) – Democrat Barack Obama denied Thursday any suggestion he's shying away from his proposed 16-month phased withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq, calling it "pure speculation" and adding that his "position has not changed" - shortly before telling reporters questioning his stance that he will "continue to refine" his policies as warranted.
"We're planning to visit Iraq," the presumptive Democratic nominee said, referring to his recently-announced trip scheduled for later this summer. "I'm going to do a thorough assessment when I'm there."
Asked if that means he is, in fact, open to options that would not include the removal of all combat troops within 16 months, the Illinois senator did not respond directly, but only said he will continue to "gather information."
"I mean we can chase this around, you know, for a long time," he continued in a press conference in Fargo, North Dakota.
(CNN) – How do voters feel about the two major-party presidential candidates this year?
As the marathon 2008 campaign for the White House enters its final four months, a solid majority views both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain favorably. At the same time, a majority of voters also believes both men are flip-floppers who will change their opinions for political reasons. Voters are also skeptical that either man will be able to end the partisan gridlock in Washington.
According to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey, 63 percent of registered voters have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 59 percent have a favorable opinion of McCain. Roughly one-third of voters hold a negative view of both candidates.
Compared to President Bush, whose approval ratings continue to hover around 30 percent, both candidates are seen in a remarkably positive light. Judged against the favorable ratings of past presidential nominees at this stage of the campaign, however, Obama and McCain are registering typical favorability numbers.
"In previous elections we have often seen both candidates get favorable ratings over 50 percent at this stage," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "In mid-summer, both parties tend to be unified behind their candidates but the negative ads have generally not yet started."
The poll also shows both candidates improving on their perceived weak points.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Bush will attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8, the White House announced Thursday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin will be leaving his job this month, according to White House spokesperson Dana Perino.
Perino says Hagin's last day will be July 20th.
"The President said that he thanks Joe for his service to the White House, that Joe's been a loyal friend, and that he is excited about the next chapter in Joe's life," said Perino.
Hagin sent an email to friends this morning, announcing he is leaving to take a private sector job.
Hagin, an Ohio native, has been with President Bush since the 2000 campaign.
Combined with experience during the first Bush presidency, Hagin has served 14 years in the White House.
Hagin was a behind-the-scenes player, who had a huge role in the post 9/11 reorganization of the U-S government and how terrorist responses would be reformed.
(CNN) – California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed an executive order to speed up the recovery process for victims of the wildfires that have scorched a large part of the state.
At a news conference in Big Sur on Wednesday, Schwarzenegger commended both the work of the firefighting crews and the 40 states providing support, but said relief efforts will need to continue long after the blazes are contained.
"Putting out the fires is only part of the battle - helping people put their lives back together is just as important," he said. "The cooperation has been fantastic and I am glad to see federal support because we are likely to face many more challenges in the months ahead."
Under the executive order, replacement fees for birth certificates, driver's licenses and other critical documents will be waived. In addition, the governor will ask the Franchise Tax Board and the State Board of Equalization to assist fire victims with filing tax extensions and obtaining relief from
late penalties and assessments.
(CNN) – In a Thursday campaign memo to the McCain campaign’s 11 regional campaign managers, the man newly named to steer the presumptive Republican nominee’s presidential effort announced some changes that seemed designed to make this year’s campaign bear a slightly greater resemblance to the successful, more-centralized Bush-Cheney re-election team.
McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt, a Bush campaign veteran, signaled Thursday he is boosting the power of the campaign’s central headquarters in Arlington, with plans to hire a field director and political director in the coming weeks who will both work with Deputy Campaign Manager Christian Ferry.
But he also said that – despite speculation — the McCain campaign won’t be scrapping the de-centralized system that’s drawn skeptical reactions from many GOP observers this cycle. Schmidt wrote Thursday that the regional campaign managers were key to McCain’s success, even as he appeared to suggest that strategy would be set by national leadership. “We will be enhancing our headquarters political capacity to provide additional resources to you and your regions,” he wrote.