The Note: The Flames Go Higher

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23

Review our three political rings:

Ring 1: Iraq.

Ring 2: other legislative business.

Ring 3: 2008.

As we do every Friday, then, let's prep you for the Friday cocktail hour by going over how the rings are interacting.

Ring 1 is largely determining the contours of Ring 3.

Ring 1 is bringing Ring 2 to a grinding halt.

Ring 3 is also limiting progress in Ring 2.

To be more specific:

Ring 1 (Iraq): See ABC News' Jon Karl's second consecutive worldwide exclusive interview with Vice President Cheney, in which he continues to question Speaker Pelosi's judgment (but never ever her patriotism) on Iraq. LINK See the Democrats in Congress not falling into the Republicans' trap (yet) and avoiding a stop-the-war strategy that will (fully) open them up to charges of abandoning the troops. As they tinker with various legislative efforts to achieve their goal of bringing American troops home, Democrats have three main goals: (1) appease their base; (2) keep their coalition together; and (3) most of all, pressure enough Republicans to demand that the President change course. Oh: and: as a political matter, is the surge working?

Ring 2 (other legislative business): If you think that the Bush-Cheney posture on the war is putting Pelosi and Leader/boxer Reid in the mood to bipartisanly strategize about how to pull off tough victories on health care, entitlements, energy, education, and/or immigration, we have a Presidio we would like to sell you. And if you think that the weakened Bush White House can deliver, say, the 70 Republican House votes on possible deals that the Democrats will demand, we have a mountain in Wyoming we want to sell you. Watch the Pelosi body language on the Leno couch. The longer Ring 1 produces distrust and animous between the Democratic leaders and the White House-Hill Republicans, the less likely there will be progress in Ring 2. And the closer that hatred (yes, "hatred") pushes potential action to January, 2008, the more likely it is that congressional Democrats (and, also, congressional Republicans) will say that they are going to wait for their presidential nominee's plans on all these things before moving forward.

Ring 3 (2008): Both frontrunners this past week tried to deal with the reality that Iraq is ruining their campaigns. Hillary Clinton pulled her "vote for someone else if you don't like my record" act out on the issue, and also tried to turn the focus to the future. (She had some success, but then was Geffened.) John McCain tried to have a high-profile event that wouldn't be dominated by Iraq by appearing with Arnold Schwarzenegger on global warming. (He had some success, but then he was Cheneyed.)

Beneath the Geffen cloud, watch closely these 2008 developments:

1. The Clinton campaign is the first (of the Big 6) to go for a high-profile Howard Dean-style Internet baseball bat-type fundraising drive. Launched on Geffen Day by a Bill Clinton mass e-mail, the goal is to raise $1 million on the web in one week. Three days in, they are nearing $400,000. If you don't know why this is key, you aren't paying enough attention. LINK

2. Watch closely the nearly-below-the-radar efforts of McCain to eliminate Mitt Romney, and wonder when either McCain or Romney will decide it is time to start to eliminate Rudy Giuliani.

3. Wait to see just how big a crowd Barack Obama draws in Austin, Texas today. Note prediction: very big. LINK

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