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War Games?

The last couple of days have been notable as the first real engagement between Barack Obama and John McCain. It might be spring training, but these guys are at least playing baseball:

The conventional wisdom on Hardball right now is that this is great news for Barack Obama. And I thought his remarks were effective today. But this could also be a case where Obama is on the right side of the wrong argument. For one thing, I think there is a bigger gap between the knowledge base of the pundit class and the public on non-Iraq foreign policy than there is on any other issue. We’ve seen that the public can handle fairly sophisticated debates on the gas tax and a health care mandate, but the intricacies of Hamas and Neville Chamberlain may test their patience. For another, Rasmussen polling indicates that national security is one area where McCain starts out with a big credibility/trust advantage against Barack Obama.

I’ll say this: I think this is one time when it’s going to be worth looking at the national tracking polls over the course of the next week or so. If Obama gets some kind of bounce out of this — on what should be McCain’s firmest ground — then McCain could be in a great deal of trouble. If, on the other hand, the polling shows a shift toward McCain, we know that the Republicans will be pressing this issue from now until November, and Obama might need to think more seriously about a VP selection like Sam Nunn or Wesley Clark.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.