Between the Lines by Mark Halperin

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Evan Vucci/AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during a speech to the NAACP annual convention, Wednesday, July 11, 2012, in Houston, Texas.

In a race that consistently shows Barack Obama holding an ever-so-slight polling lead over Mitt Romney, neither man has been able to generate much momentum ... Why not? Strategists on both sides say there are very few truly undecided voters remaining, and those who might be up for grabs are precisely the sort more likely to spend July sucking down snow cones than reading economic-policy plans and watching C-SPAN ... Working well for Obama right now: he is outspending Romney on television commercials in the swing states; his fellow Democrats are unified in opposing new tax cuts for the wealthy and highlighting the financial assets Romney once parked in a Swiss bank account and on the Cayman Islands. Obama also boasts a more robust grassroots operation ... Playing to Romney's advantage at the moment: a bulging Excel spreadsheet of more engaged and excited donors; the motivational mojo of the Supreme Court health care decision; the near consensus GOP narrative that when voters go to the polls, Obama will be seen as a failure regarding the economy ... In its typical disciplined fashion, Team Romney has so far kept the search for a running mate leak-free, but the smart money thinks the choice will be unveiled at the beginning of August, a few weeks before the Republican National Convention in Tampa ... There's Beltway buzz about Condoleezza Rice as a contender, although the selection of a ticketmate who supports abortion rights seems far-fetched to many in the party ... What does stand out in the no-mercy, no-sentiment business of big-time politics: Romneyland's universal admiration for vice-presidential prospect Senator Rob Portman of Ohio.

"I Lift My Lamp ... Beside the Golden Gate"

The high-tech economy of Silicon Valley may be thriving, but it is short on one thing: highly skilled programmers. Visa restrictions have long kept some foreign-born techies from working on U.S. soil, but now one company has floated a new solution to the skilled-manpower shortage: house them (just slightly) offshore in the Pacific. Blueseed, which bills itself as "Silicon Valley's visa-free offshore start-up community," plans to anchor a converted cruise ship in international waters 12 nautical miles off Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco, providing a home and work site for more than 1,000 foreign entrepreneurs. No visa would be required, just a passport. The venture faces a number of challenges, not least raising the tens of millions of dollars needed to acquire and retrofit a suitable ship.

This Land Is Dry Land

Nearly half the U.S. now suffers from exceptional to moderate drought--the highest level in the U.S. Drought Monitor's 12-year history. Corn and soybeans reached their lowest crop-quality ratings for the early July marking period since the drought crisis of 1988, according to the Department of Agriculture, and dry conditions are endangering wheat production. Without rain soon, food prices will likely spike.

Widening Drought Conditions

[The following text appears within 2 maps. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual maps.]

JULY 2011

EXTREME, SEVERE OR MODERATE DROUGHT

PARTIAL DROUGHT/PARTIAL MIDRANGE

MIDRANGE

JULY 2012

PARTIAL MOIST/PARTIAL MIDRANGE

MOIST

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