Is this the moment that Mitt, The Mayor, and other Republican '08ers have been waiting for?
Is this their chance to endorse a troop drawdown without having to break with President Bush?
Or will President Bush's Labor Day talk of "fewer American forces" be undermined by events on the ground in Iraq?
While on his way to Australia after leaving Iraq, President Bush told reporters on board Air Force One that no decision has yet been made about a troop drawdown.
He added, however, that he could now "speculate on the hypothetical" because of improvements in security. "Isn't that remarkable?" he asked.
Remarkable or not, the President's willingness to "speculate on the hypothetical" is critical to his party's chances of holding the White House.
While Republican '08ers cannot afford to be closely identified with a protracted war from the standpoint of the general election, they also cannot afford to alienate the sizable bloc of GOP primary voters who still support President Bush. By raising the prospect of "fewer American forces" in Iraq, President Bush makes it possible for Republican '08ers to associate themselves more closely with change.
Campaigning in New Hampshire on Monday, Romney occupied the new space given to him by the president by indicating for the first time that he thinks the U.S. can shift to a support role in Iraq at some point in 2008, reports ABC News' Matt Stuart.
"I think you're going to find sometime in '08 that by virtue of success of the surge militarily, we'll be able to move to the support role," said Romney. "I certainly hope so."
While noting that the former governor's time specification is "not a certainty, but instead a goal to look at should we reach certain metrics of success with the troop surge," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden confirmed for ABC News that Monday was the first time that Romney has specified that he thinks the U.S. shift to a support role in Iraq can happen in 2008. During the "support phase," Romney envisions the United States providing Iraq with "air support, intelligence support, and logistical support but with far fewer troops."
Romney also grew more confident in predicting what Gen. Petraeus will report to Congress.
"My view," said Romney, "is you're going see us begin bringing our troops down and moving into that support role. That's what I think you're going to hear from Gen. Petraeus as well, that the surge is working from a military standpoint and therefore, from a military standpoint, we're able to start pulling back. . ."
War critics are not satisfied with the President merely hinting at a troop drawdown of unspecified size.
"President Bush is trying to do a bit of a snow job here," Moira Mack, spokeswoman for the liberal coalition known as Americans Against Escalation in Iraq told ABC News. "This is the deadliest summer that our troops have seen in Iraq."
Referring to the Republican '08ers, she added, "I don't think any of those guys are getting cover until they disassociate themselves with President Bush. The public's mind is made up that the President's policy has failed in Iraq."
President Bush did not specify how many American forces might be able to come home nor did he indicate whether he envisioned any forces being withdrawn sooner than next spring, when the first of the 30,000 troops which made up the "surge" are already scheduled to leave Iraq.
"Still, his remarks were the clearest indication yet that a reduction would begin sometime in the months ahead," per the New York Times' David Cloud and Steven Lee Myers.
Looking ahead to what Democrats will try to do in next year's general election, Romney adviser Tom Rath told ABC News, "They are going to run the race against George Bush. But George Bush is not going to be on the ballot."
Rudy Giuliani, who took Labor Day off, will get his bite at the Iraq apple when he holds a press availability following a 4:20 pm ET speech in Pearl, Miss. The availability will follow the mayor's rollout of his "commitment" to the American people on preparedness for disasters and terrorist attacks.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are flooding the zone with a series of high-profile television interviews. Today alone, Hillary Clinton makes a taped appearance on Ellen while Bill Clinton appears on Oprah and Letterman. On Wednesday, Bill Clinton appears on "Today" and Larry King.
With Congress coming back into session, Politico's Jeanne Cummings sees "long-simmering disputes" over President Bush's expansive interpretation of his executive power coming to a head. "The resolution," she writes, "could permanently change the balance of power between the two branches of government."
After spending a long, hot August recess listening to voters who are "enraged that the party did not find a way to rein in a deeply unpopular war," the Boston Globe's Marcella Bombardieri sees many Democrats preparing to take "combative stances" on Patraeus, Gonzales' replacement, and S-CHIP.
ABC News Poll: Clinton vs. Giuliani on the Long Drive:
More Americans would rather drive across the country with Hillary Clinton than with Rudy Giuliani, that's the finding of a new ABC News poll which was released this morning on "Good Morning America."
Forty-eight percent of Americans said they'd rather have Clinton as their traveling companion on a drive across the country, versus 39 percent who'd want Giuliani along for the ride.
On the question of who you would like to run a business where you work, Clinton and Giuliani finish much closer, at 45 percent to 42 percent, per ABC News' Polling Director Gary Langer.
In other news:
John Edwards is stepping up his electability argument against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
"John Edwards is a candidate who can campaign and win in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky -- places where Democrats can and should compete," Edwards said Monday in Pittsburgh. "I will campaign everywhere in America."
In the view of Nightline's Terry Moran, the "implicit" argument that Edwards is making is "subtle but unmistakable."
"As a white, Southern man, he is better positioned to win across the country than a woman from New York or a black man from Chicago. But Edwards has failed to gain much traction in national polls, as media attention and money have flowed to his two higher-wattage rivals."
In Tuesday's New York Sun, Russell Berman looks at efforts on the part of Obama and Edwards to take aim at Clinton's embrace of a Washington political system that they say was "broken" even when Bill Clinton was in the White House.
In an exclusive interview on "Good Morning America," two of Sen. Larry Craig's children asserted their belief that their father is not gay. They described their father, who announced on Saturday that he will be resigning from the Senate at the end of the month, as a victim of circumstance and they are disappointed in those politicians who ran away from their father without talking with him first.
With his long-anticipated entrance into the presidential race coming on Leno and over the web later this week, Fred Thompson finds himself on the cover of Newsweek with a "Lazy Like a Fox" header.
"There's no doubt Thompson looks the part," writes Newsweek's Holly Bailey, "there's a reason Hollywood directors have sought him out to play wise Washington hands in the movies. . . But as he prepares to formally begin his campaign for the White House this week, after months of 'testing the waters,' the conventional wisdom in Washington is that Thompson doesn't want it badly enough, isn't willing to work hard enough -- put bluntly, that he is lazy."
"'He needs to show he has the appetite for a presidential campaign, and he hasn't shown that yet,' says a top White House official who did not want to be named sticking a knife in the back of a fellow Republican. 'It's the hardest work in the world. I'm not sure he wants to work that hard.'"
With his new book, "Microtrends," hitting bookstores this week, Clinton guru Mark Penn got the Q&A treatment in Sunday's New York Times Magazine.
Asked about Barack Obama's "recent attacks" on Sen. Clinton, Penn says, "I think in the early part of the campaign, he tried a purely positive message and then stalled out. A lot of people advised him maybe he should try attacking her. It's a very unsuccessful strategy."
Over at www.joinrudy2008.com, the former New York mayor launches his social networking portals Tuesday with a new feature called "Running with Rudy" which promises to provide a "behind-the-scenes" look at the campaign.
"Double standard? There are triple and quadruple standards. He was arrested for lewd behavior that consisted of signaling an interest in sex. It goes on in 10,000 bars every night in our country. Obviously, this is about homosexuality and the country coming to grips with it and particularly the Republican Party which has done so well electorally in recent elections by being against gay rights." --George F. Will on Sen. Craig's resignation (This Week with George Stephanopoulos)
"That was a little weird. I don't know what God has to do with choosing Iowa among other states. I found that a little strange." --Sioux City resident Joe Shufro on Bill Richardson's invocation of the Lord (Des Moines Register: Richardson: God Wants Iowa First)
"Why the hurry? Why not take a little longer to think this over?" --Mitt Romney on Fred Thompson (Associated Press interview)