Former mayor Rudolph Giuliani is busy handling another 9/11 close-up -- as polls show his lead softening -- while former senator Fred Thompson chose to have the first all-out battle of his campaign over whether former governor Mitt Romney's troops were behind an attack Website. (Who's going to look good in that food fight?)
Enter McCain, coming off a strong debate performance, and with polls showing his standing stabilizing (and maybe even bouncing back a bit). As he embarks on his tour of early-voting states, this remains a Republican Party -- and, more deeply, a country -- that wants to see the war in Iraq achieve some level of success. If it does, it's McCain who stands to be the big political winner. That won't pay his campaign bills, but it will give his campaign a rationale at a moment that he needs to catch fire.
With his drop in the polls, "McCain finds himself in a more comfortable and familiar position: the maverick who can say whatever he wants," Politico's Roger Simon writes in the New Hampshire Union Leader. "And McCain is well aware of how closely his political fortunes in those states will be tied to how well Petraeus does in Iraq."
McCain is the Republican with "the most at stake in the surge," write The Wall Street Journal's Neil King Jr. and Greg Jaffe. "But [yesterday's] hearing highlighted how Sen. McCain has become something of an outlier even among members of his own party. Other Republicans expressed willingness to stick with the surge through next summer but were hesitant to make a long-term commitment to Iraq unless there is significant progress toward political reconciliation."
Back to the president's move, his announcement that as many as 30,000 troops will come home by next summer won't quiet Democratic criticism. Congressional leaders are vowing "to try again to force Bush to accept a more dramatic change of policy," The Washington Post's Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman report.
"Administration officials and outside lobbyists said they detected little change in the basic politics of Iraq in Congress, where a majority of lawmakers want to bring the war to a faster close but lack the votes to overcome a presidential veto," they write. "But the new criticism from some unexpected quarters in the GOP had leaders in both chambers casting about for new formulas that might attract bipartisan support."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said on ABC's "Good Morning America" that she viewed Petraeus' recommendation as a "10-year-or-more commitment to a war without end. That's where he is. We are someplace else." But while saying Democrats would still push for a "responsible redeployment of troops out of Iraq," she acknowledged the realities of vote counting in saying that Bush will leave the war in "the hands of the next president." She also had this to say about Moveon.org's "General Betray Us" ad: "I would have preferred that they not do such an ad."