Is good news out of Iraq good news for Sen. Barack Obama? (Yes, and no.)
Is bad news out of Iraq good news for Barack Obama? (No, and yes.)
Can any news he picks up in Iraq change his position? (Yes, but not really.)
Is there anything Obama can do about any of this? (No, and probably still no.)
As Obama, D-Ill., attempts to hit restart on the Iraq debate with a speech in Washington Tuesday, it's useful to remember how tough this is to get right -- not just for him, but for any politician who's come into contact with the chaotic politics of the conflict.
The broad strokes may be painted in his direction, and he may yet turn his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan into a pure plus. But the early signs aren't encouraging -- drawing him criticism from the left and the right -- and thus the need for a new start.
As unpopular as the war is -- and as much as the Democrats have portrayed Sen. John McCain as a continuation of Bush-era policies -- voters say they are as likely to support McCain's plans Iraq plans as they do Obama's.
"Americans divide evenly between Barack Obama and John McCain's approaches to the war in Iraq, and rate McCain much more highly on his abilities as commander-in-chief -- key reasons the unpopular war isn't working more to Obama's advantage," ABC polling director Gary Langer writes.
Obama's troop withdrawal plan is preferred by a bare 50-49 edge -- and here's one possible reason why: "Seventy-two percent of Americans -- even most Democrats -- say [McCain would] be a good commander-in-chief of the military," Langer writes. "By contrast, fewer than half, 48 percent, say Obama would be a good commander-in-chief, a significant weakness on this measure."
Check out the partisan split: "Sixty-nine percent of Democrats say he'd do well in this role; just 44 percent of independents and a mere 19 percent of Republicans agree," Langer writes.
"The poll results suggest that months of Democratic attacks on McCain's Iraq position have not dented voters' basic trust in his ability to lead the country's armed forces," Jonathan Weisman and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post.
New head-to-head poll, out of Quinnipiac University Tuesday morning, has it Obama 50, McCain 41 -- outside the margin of error, but not quite comfortably so.
That's a slice of the stakes when Obama speaks on foreign policy and national security at 10:45 am ET in Washington -- a "major address" for a major moment in a campaign that can't afford to see Iraq slip away as an underpinning of a candidacy.
From the excerpts: "This war distracts us from every threat that we face and so many opportunities we could seize. This war diminishes our security, our standing in the world, our military, our economy, and the resources that we need to confront the challenges of the 21st century. By any measure, our single-minded and open-ended focus on Iraq is not a sound strategy for keeping America safe."
"In fact -- as should have been apparent to President Bush and Senator McCain -- the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and it never was," Obama plans to say.
Obama's key point -- the one that cannot be muddled, whatever else is said: "As President, Senator Obama will consult with the generals on the ground on the tactics necessary to ensure the safe, responsible redeployment of American troops over 16 months," per his campaign.
But holding your ground (any ground) comes with a price. McCain surrogate Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Monday accused Obama of building "a political strategy around losing" the war.
Said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a Democratic defense analyst at the Brookings Institution: "To say you're going to get out on a certain schedule -- regardless of what the Iraqis do, regardless of what our enemies do, regardless of what is happening on the ground -- is the height of absurdity,"he told The Washington Post. "I'm not going to go to the next level of invective and say he shouldn't be president. I'll leave that to someone else."
The Washington Times' Joseph Curl: "As Mr. Obama repositions himself for the general election after exclusively targeting the Democratic base of committed liberals, it leaves some voters on the left feeling he is abandoning them on their top issue -- Iraq -- and has independents questioning his veracity."
The concern continues: "My problem isn't that Barack Obama doesn't always agree with me. My problem is that Barack Obama has started to not always agree with himself -- falling prey instead to the Conventional Wisdom sirens," Arianna Huffington writes.
A tough box to break out of: "Aides said Mr. Obama's recent remarks on the wars reflected not a shift in his positions, as critics have asserted, but rather an attempt to present a comprehensive approach to far-flung national security challenges with limited forces," John M. Broder and Isabel Kershner report, adding details of an Obama visit to the West Bank when he's in the Middle East next week.
This is a start (we guess): "Barack Obama's campaign scrubbed his presidential Web site over the weekend to remove criticism of the U.S. troop 'surge' in Iraq," James Gordon Meek reports in the New York Daily News. "The presumed Democratic nominee replaced his Iraq issue Web page, which had described the surge as a 'problem' that had barely reduced violence. . . . Obama's campaign posted a new Iraq plan Sunday night, which cites an 'improved security situation' paid for with the blood of U.S. troops since the surge began in February 2007."
On the speech: "The Democrat will explain how missteps in Iraq have hurt efforts to strengthen U.S. security, aides said. He will also discuss his proposal to add two new brigades in nearby Afghanistan, as well as call for Pakistan to step up its own efforts dealing with terrorists," AP's Glen Johnson writes.
(The shift in focus and manpower to Afghanistan is critical here -- it's there, and not Iraq, where Obama might be best-positioned to "clear" the commander-in-chief hurdle. And it may be there that the campaign finally finds a message it can drive -- events on the ground are prodding McCain to address Afghanistan at the top of a town-hall meeting Tuesday.)
It still may not be Obama's favorite subject area: "Every day spent on Iraq arguing about the surge's success is not an optimal day for team Obama," Jennifer Rubin blogs for Commentary. "Not only does it emphasize the candidate's major error on national security, but it distracts him from his domestic message."
And McCain knows it (Steve Schmidt, again, framing Obama before he can frame himself): "I note that he is speaking today about his plans for Iraq and Afghanistan before he has even left, before he has talked to General Petraeus, before he has seen the progress in Iraq, and before he has set foot in Afghanistan for the first time," McCain plans to say Tuesday, per his campaign. "In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around: first you assess the facts on the ground, then you present a new strategy."
The DNC pushback comes in -- what else? -- a Web video, tying McCain to President Bush over the war.
More problems on Obama's homefront: The list of grievances from the Hill grows longer -- and this won't be the last story like this.
"Some Capitol Hill Democrats have begun to complain privately that Barack Obama's presidential campaign is insular, uncooperative and inattentive to their hopes for a broad Democratic victory in November," Politico's John Bresnahan writes. "Some Democratic leadership staffers complain that, having defeated the vaunted Clinton political machine in the primaries, the Obama campaign now feels a 'sense of entitlement' that leads to 'arrogance.' "
Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (including some in tough primary battles) are getting antsy.
"Barack Obama's endorsement of a white incumbent facing a black primary challenger has disappointed some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who are wondering whether he will support them in their primaries," Aaron Blake and Jordan Fabian write in The Hill.
"CBC Chairwoman Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) said that some members were 'a bit disappointed' in the endorsement and that she is still waiting to hear back from Obama's campaign about her primary," they write. Said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.: "I think he's looking at races on a case-by-case basis. I'm not sure what goes into that calculus."
Jesse Jackson's comments made Obama's speech before the NAACP about eight times more interesting than it otherwise would have been. And this is why Jackson actually may have done Obama a favor with his almond-seasoned uh-oh last week.
"Now, I know some say I've been too tough on folks about this responsibility stuff," Obama told the NAACP gathering in Cincinnati. "But I'm not going to stop talking about it."
Actually, he's glad to be able to keep talking about it: "In his implicit criticism that some black men neglect their children, Obama showed he was prepared to endure a breach with his political base. The move could have an upside: White voters might see it as an example of courage," the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicholas and Michael Finnegan write.
"Some analysts have suggested Jackson's gaffe may help Obama appeal to more white conservative voters who might view criticism from the longtime civil rights leader as a badge of honor," John McCormick and Rick Pearson write in the Chicago Tribune.
"His remarks about responsibility, which came toward the end of his speech, were greeted by growing applause and cheers," USA Today's Susan Page writes. "By the end, the crowd was on its feet when he held out the prospect of returning next year to address the group's 100th convention as president."
McCain went on offense on immigration reform Monday at La Raza: "In a bid to court the Latino vote, Senator McCain is accusing Senator Obama of jeopardizing an overhaul of immigration laws to placate organized labor," Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun. "However, appearing before a Hispanic activist group yesterday, the presumptive Republican nominee may have dampened his appeal to Latinos by insisting that border security measures be implemented before broader immigration legislation and by offering vague responses to questions about whether he would halt workplace immigrations raids."
And well -- this is a whole lot of controversy for one little magazine cover. New Yorker editor David Remnick plays defense, in an interview with ABC's Jake Tapper: "What we set out to do was to throw all these images together, which are all over the top and to shine a kind of harsh light on them, to satirize them. That's part of what we do," he said. "Satire always comes with some risk and the chance of people misunderstanding it, but if you're going to satirize things only that there's a 100% [consensus] on, there's no satire."
It highlights a broader problem: Can you make fun of Obama without offending lots of someones? "There has been little humor about Mr. Obama: about his age, his speaking ability, his intelligence, his family, his physique. And within a late-night landscape dominated by white hosts, white writers, and overwhelmingly white audiences, there has been almost none about his race," Bill Carter writes in The New York Times.
Maybe we're all too uptight: "It seemed fairly obvious to me, my 8-year-old and, likely, the majority of readers of one of America's finest magazines that the cover drawing by Barry Blitt was a parody," James Rainey writes in the Los Angeles Times. "In other words (for those still struggling with the concept), the joke was not on the Obamas but on the knuckle-walkers who would do them harm by trying to turn a couple of fresh-scrubbed Harvard Law grads into something foreign and scary."
And yet: Tapper takes note of the glee with which Obama critics embraced and distributed the cover. "No single illustration could more perfectly convey the legitimate -- I repeat, legitimate -- fears and concerns that so many of us have about the prospects of an Obama Presidency," writes a blogger at StoptheACLU.com.
Writes a conservative commentator at JosCafe.com: "Evidently the artist did the drawing to sum up all 'conservative' fears of this man. The artist is correct. But I don't call them fears. They are concerns. The picture show's all things we now to be true about them -- except the picture above the fireplace."
Obama attends to some Senate business in Washington and delivers a 10:45 am ET speech on Iraq and national security, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
He backs up the speech with TV interviews, sitting down with PBS' Gwen Ifill and CNN's Larry King.
McCain has a noon ET town-hall meeting in Albuquerque, before heading to St. Louis for a fundraiser. He's on deck at the NAACP, with a speech scheduled for Wednesday.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
Down the Ballot:
Irony watch: Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is facing a strong primary challenge on Tuesday essentially because he didn't switch allegiance to Obama soon enough. "Today, Lewis faces his first primary challengers since 1992, a pair of candidates who are promoting the "change" mantra of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign and have organized their campaigns around a single, not-so-subtle message: Lewis's support for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) over Obama in the presidential primary," Paul Kane writes in The Washington Post.
"Lewis is one of three House Democratic incumbents in Georgia who should be enjoying an easy run through today's primary but instead find themselves battling a wave of younger black politicians emboldened by Obama's success and intent on succeeding their elders in choice political posts," Kane writes.
Minnesota is going to have settle for only one Senate candidate with a SAG card: Former governor Jesse Ventura, I-Minn., is out. "I've decided not to run," Ventura told CNN's Larry King Monday night.
But he left himself an opening: "If between now and 5:00 maybe God comes and speaks to me like he did the president, and tells me I should run, like he apparently told the president to invade Iraq, well, then maybe at 5:00 tomorrow, Larry, don't call me a liar, just understand God sent me to file. How's that?"
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who would probably have preferred another celebrity in the race, has a fundraising edge and a lead in the polls. And, per ABC's Tahman Bradley, he is running for reelection in part based on the reminder that he brought professional hockey back to Minnesota when he was mayor of St. Paul.
And Al Franken has a Democratic primary challenge on his hands: "Priscilla Lord Faris, the daughter of former U.S. District Judge Miles Lord, said Monday that she's not convinced that Franken can win despite what she called Republican incumbent Norm Coleman's vulnerability," per Kevin Duschere of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Checking in on Nebraska's Senate race: "Democratic Senate candidate Scott Kleeb seems to be finding fundraising traction in this heavily Republican state, bringing in nearly $700,000 in the latest reporting period and besting Republican Mike Johanns for the first time," per the AP's Anna Jo Bratton.
The DCCC is on the air: "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has purchased ad time in Pennsylvania's 11th Congressional District targeting Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, the Republican challenger who is looking to unseat Democratic Rep. Paul Kanjorski," ABC's Karen Travers reports. "This is the first ad of the general election cycle from the DCCC, which has already reserved advertising time in 31 congressional districts at the cost of about $35-million.
Your unlikely GOP savior? This "whale" is Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson: "Strapped for cash and facing dozens of tough House and Senate races, the party is expected to lean heavily on outside issue-advocacy groups to mount Republican-friendly campaigns that it can't afford to run itself," June Kronholz and Tamara Audi write in The Wall Street Journal. "In that largely unregulated arena of independent advocacy, the 74-year-old Mr. Adelson -- a casino tycoon whose battles with Nevada's unions, staunch support for Israel and enormous investments in China have stirred controversy -- is expected to provide one of the biggest bankrolls."
More troubles for House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y.: "House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel is soliciting donations from corporations with business interests before his panel, hoping to raise $30 million for a new academic center that will house his papers when he retires," Christopher Lee reports in The Washington Post. "Ethics experts and government watchdogs say it is troubling that one of the nation's most powerful lawmakers would seek money from businesses that have interests before the committee he leads. Rangel's panel has broad jurisdiction over tax policy, trade, Social Security and Medicare."
And is trouble brewing for Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., over the collapse of IndyMac Bank? The Wall Street Journal editorial: "He was, he says, just doing his job in telling regulators that the bank 'could face a collapse,' a prophecy that quickly proved to be self-fulfilling. 'It's what legislators are supposed to do,' the New York Democrat told the Journal. . . . Mr. Schumer now argues that OTS was asleep at the switch, and that blaming him is like blaming 'the fire on the guy who called 911.' In fact, it's blaming the guy who poured on the gasoline."
The boomlet for Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., surprises Reed himself (but remember that there's no "I" in Reed). Reed tells the AP's Michelle R. Smith that the vice presidency is a "position which I have no interest in," and said he has not been asked to provide information to Obama's vetting team. "There are people that are spending a lot of time, one, looking for candidates, and . . . trying to promote themselves as candidates," Reed said. "And I'm in neither category."
The New York Sun's Seth Gitell sees former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., as the answer to McCain's questions: "The answer to many of Mr. McCain's problems is looming in plain, uncomfortable sight: He needs a running mate who can immediately infuse the campaign with energy, a fluid surrogate who can hammer away at Mr. Obama, stay focused, not lose his cool, and, most of all, an economic expert, who can negate, if not reverse, the Democrat's perceived advantage in the areas of jobs and growth. The man who possesses those qualities is the same person who got under Mr. McCain's skin during the primary fight -- Mitt Romney."
Former Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., sashays off the short list with his likely new Fox News Channel show. Tuesday and Wednesday, he subs for Paul Harvey on his radio program.
Did Carly Fiorina misspeak again on a policy item? The McCain campaign tells ABC News that the candidate has not changed his opposition to a Social Security tax hike, despite Fiorina's suggestion that one could be palatable if it impacts only the rich. (But McCain still isn't absolutely ruling anything out.)
Obama campaigns with Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., in Indiana on Wednesday. "The event, to be held at Purdue University in West Lafayette, will mark the first Obama campaign appearance for Bayh, who was a vocal supporter and national campaign co-chairman for Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's rival in the Democratic primary," per ABC's Matt Jaffe.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is making plans for 2012 (and no, not those kinds of plans -- not yet). "Hillary Clinton's campaign is sending out letters to donors asking permission to roll a $2,300 contribution to Clinton's 2008 general election coffers to her 2012 senate election fund instead of offering a refund," Jason Horowitz writes in the New York Sun.
Al Gore is scheduled for a noon ET speech Thursday in Washington. From the announcement: "The speech will offer a new way of thinking about our energy production and consumption and a new sense of what is possible when we choose to work together. It will propose a means of tapping America's innovative skills to build a more secure energy future."
Also in the news:
Is the next round on Cindy? The sale of Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian brewer InBev could mean quite a windfall for Mrs. McCain. Records suggest "that the $70-per-share price InBev is paying will give Hensley a gain of roughly $1 million to $2 million compared to February, when speculation about the deal surfaced -- and two-thirds of that would pencil out as the McCain family's windfall," David M. Halbfinger writes in The New York Times.
Remember those good-for-you-and-good-for-democracy town-hall meetings? Neither do we. "The idea slipped away, though, after what appeared to be a half-hearted response from the Obama campaign," Adam Nagourney writes in The New York Times. "All of this is very much in keeping with the kind of race Mr. Obama is running these days: the safe, take-few-chances campaign of a front-runner."
The JibJab guys are back -- their new video premieres on Leno Tuesday night.
"I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the last several days. One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia." -- John McCain, mentioning a country that has not consumed any energy for more than 15 years, being that it ceased to exist on Jan. 1, 1993.
"We're carrion birds. . . . We're sitting up there saying 'Does he seem weak? Is he dehydrated yet? Let's attack.' " -- Jon Stewart, perhaps a little frustrated that the Democratic nominee is so hard to make fun of.
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