THE EARLY WORD: McCAIN TACKLES EDUCATION REFORM

By MICHAEL FALCONE From Nytimes.com/politics Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.) The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well ...

By MICHAEL FALCONE From Nytimes.com/politics Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate.)

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the economy have dominated the discussion on the campaign trail, often eclipsing other issues. Today John McCain will use a speech to the NAACP convention in Cincinnati to focus on a challenge that has received less air time: education.

In his remarks, McCain will lay out the broad outlines of his education policy:

``For all the best efforts of teachers and administrators, the worst problems of our public school system are often found in black communities. Black and Latino students are among the most likely to drop out of high school. African Americans are also among the least likely to go on to college ...

‘`Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of ’tired rhetoric’ about education. We’ve heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children. We’ve heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools. Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity.

“When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.”

As McCain prepares to speak to the civil rights group (Obama spoke to the organization on Monday) a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds that deep divisions still exist throughout the country on race relations. The Times’s Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee report that blacks and whites hold “vastly different views of Barack Obama, the state of race relations and how black Americans are treated by society.” The poll also showed that among all registered voters, Obama leads McCain 45 percent to 39 percent.

McCain’s Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, will be in West Lafayette, Ind., to hold a “Summit on Confronting 21st Century Threats” at Purdue University. He plans to discuss his strategy for confronting key national security challenges, including nuclear nonproliferation, bio-terrorism, cyber security and emerging national security threats, according to the Obama campaign.

Obama’s remarks today will build on speech in Washington on Tuesday in which he outlined his approach to Iraq and Afghanistan, The Times’s John M. Broder and Larry Rohter report: “In an address in Washington that was the most detailed outline yet of his national security strategy, Obama said it was time to rapidly end the war in Iraq, which he opposed from the start, and to begin to address the resurgent Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he said posed a far greater danger to American security than did the chaos in Iraq. Obama’s likely Republican opponent for the presidency, John McCain, drew the opposite conclusion from events in Iraq. He said the success of the so-called surge, which he supported from the start, pointed the way toward victory in both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As Obama prepares for a trip to Middle East, Time Magazine’s Massimo Calabresi reports that the Illinois senator will be including Dennis Ross, an experienced Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiator who served in prior presidential administrations, in his entourage. Calabresi notes that Ross may be a “reassuring presence” to Jewish voters in the United States, some of whom question Obama’s commitment to Israel.

The Los Angeles Times’s Geraldine Baum reports from Paris about the excitement among Europeans about Obama’s foreign trip and the prospect of an Obama presidency. Many, however, are cautious since “anything that looks or smells like elitist Old Europe could hurt the Democratic contender with voters back home.”

After saying that he opposed allowing gay couples to adopt children, McCain adjusted his position on Tuesday. The Times’s Michael Cooper reports that the McCain campaign said that adoptions by same-sex couples should be an issue decided by states and not subject to a federal ban.

The Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel sees hints that McCain is once again adopting the posture of a reformer – once a “central part of McCain’s political identity.” Vogel writes that “the McCain campaign believes that by carrying the reform mantle in the general election, he will appeal to independent voters.”

Campaign Finance: The McCain campaign released an updated list of its top fund-raisers, or bundlers, on Tuesday. The Times’s Michael Luo and Kitty Bennett report that McCain added nearly 400 names to the existing list of about 100 bundlers and note that “nearly a fifth of those who have brought in the largest amounts for him, more than $500,000 each, are lobbyists or work for firms that engage in lobbying.”

Vice President Watch Congressional Quarterly reports that Rep. Chet Edwards was pretty mum when asked about whether he was being vetted as a potential Democratic running mate: “I wish I could say more,” he said.

Down Ballot From The Times’s Shalia Dewan, the Georgia results, and how Obama’s presence as a presidential candidate is affecting congressional races in the Peach State. The Washington Post reports on a substantial fund-raising gap between Virginia Senate candidates Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner, both of whom are former governors of that state. Gilmore, a Republican, has $117,000 in the bank compared to the Democrat, Warners $5.1 million.

Campaign Trail Roundup:

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Barack Obama holds a national security summit at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

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John McCain is in Cincinnati, Ohio to speak at the NAACP convention.

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July 16, 8:53 a.m. ET
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