From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
A day after the New York Times said the Iraq Study Group will recommend a gradual US pullback from Iraq but set no firm timetable for withdrawal, the Washington Post today reports that the panel will recommend -- as a goal -- that all US combat forces depart Iraq by 2008, while leaving behind soldiers to train and advise Iraqi forces. NBC's Andrea Mitchell says that the target of 2008 comes with the condition that there aren't "unexpected developments" in Iraq, which she says is a big loophole.
The 2008 date, of course, carries huge political significance. Mitchell reports that while the Iraq Study Group couldn't agree on a fixed date for a withdrawal, its target for accomplishing it by 2008 is partly with an eye on the political calendar. Participants in the group's discussions tell her that both Democrats and Republicans on the panel believe it must be accomplished before the 2008 primary season. Which means that Iraq could become a less important topic in the upcoming presidential election.
Speaking of, with just a bit more than 700 days left until Election Day 2008 -- that's right, 700 days -- the potential and already-declared contenders continue revving up their presidential engines. Outgoing Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack begins Day Two of his announcement tour. Today, he's in New Hampshire; on Saturday, he hits Pittsburgh (his original hometown, where he started out as an orphan with an adoptive mother who was an alcoholic) and Des Moines, IA (the site of his campaign headquarters); and on Sunday, he's in Nevada, home to the Democrats' second nominating contest.
Barack Obama also once again jumps into the spotlight, this time appearing today -- which is World AIDS Day -- at evangelical pastor and author Rick Warren's mega-church in Lake Forest, CA, to discuss AIDS and HIV. After that, Obama sits down with NBC's Jay Leno to tape his appearance on the "Tonight Show." Obama's visit to Warren's church, however, has angered some anti-abortion activists due to his support for abortion rights. As we mentioned yesterday, Obama will take a HIV test at the event and will encourage others to do the same; he took an AIDS test when he visited Kenya earlier this year.
(Obama isn't the only one gearing up for World AIDS Day. In addition to President Bush participating in a meeting this morning on AIDS, the White House announced yesterday that Bush will meet with South African President Thabo Mbeki next Friday to discuss, among other things, ways to fight HIV/AIDS in South Africa.)
In more oh-eight news, John McCain crashed Mitt Romney's Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida (see below for more on that). And then there's the nominating calendar. On Saturday afternoon, the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to discuss a proposal that would award bonus delegates to states that hold their presidential nominating contests at later dates as a way to discourage a front-loaded calendar. Per a source, the committee will likely recommend this proposal, and the full DNC will vote on it in February.
Also at the DNC confab, chairman Howard Dean -- a day after his counterpart at the RNC gave his own midterm assessment -- will discuss what the party accomplished in 2006. Joining him will be Nancy Boyda of Kansas and Tim Walz of Minnesota, who were two of the more surprising House Democratic challengers to win on Election Day. And Dean will obviously highlight them as successful examples of his controversial 50-state strategy.