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First Glance

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi
Certainly, no one is more aware than John Kerry (D) that when a member of the Senate runs for the White House these days, the position he or she stakes out on Iraq is viewed through the prism of presidential politics. 

And, as in Kerry's own case, a candidate's presidential prospects may come to depend on how clearly he or she stakes out that position.  Kerry's inarticulateness in talking about the war -- "I voted for it before I voted against it," the botched joke he made in late October about getting "stuck in Iraq" -- was used by Republicans to undermine his credibility on an issue on which the decorated Vietnam veteran seemed otherwise well-poised to lead the charge for his party in 2004.

Kerry's announcement that he will forgo a 2008 bid for the presidency yesterday, coming at the end of a lengthy attack on President Bush's war policy on the Senate floor, suggests that he is hoping to become the party's most prominent honest broker on Iraq, a prominent critic with no grander political ambitions in mind.  Per NBC's Carrie Dann, Kerry said in his speech that "this isn't the time for me to mount a presidential campaign...  As someone who voted to give the president the authority to go to war, I feel the weight of a personal responsibility to act... in an effort to limit this war and bring our participation to a conclusion."

Meanwhile, two Senate Republicans with designs on the White House are publicly acknowledging that their chances could be torpedoed by their positions on the war and on Bush's proposed troop increase.  John McCain supports the war and the move to send more troops; Chuck Hagel opposes both.  As he and his advisors have conceded, McCain's presidential prospects are now tied to the success or failure of the troop increase, even though he may try to adjust his positioning at the margins by, for example, lambasting Vice President Cheney for giving Bush bad advice, or suggesting that the additional troops may not be stationed in Iraq long enough to be effective. 

Hagel, on the other hand, has renounced his vote in favor of the war and is co-sponsoring the original non-binding resolution opposing a troop increase.  Yesterday, he joined with Foreign Relations Committee Democrats in voting out the measure.  In making his case for it, Hagel said "maybe I'm wrong" for standing up against the Administration's policy.  "Maybe I'll have no political future."  His position aligns him squarely with a majority of the public, potentially making him an appealing general election candidate, but there simply may not be enough of an anti-war constituency within the GOP to give him a real shot at the nomination.  NBC political analyst Charlie Cook suggests that Hagel could become the McCain of the 2008 election -- the independent-minded maverick who gets glowing press coverage but can't get over the top.

Now that the Foreign Relations Committee has voted out the resolution opposing a US troop increase, the measure will go before the full Senate for debate and a vote, probably next week, where it will be open to more changes, NBC's Ken Strickland reports.  Only one alteration was made to the language yesterday: the word "escalation" was changed to "increase."  As Strickland notes, Sen. John Warner (R) has offered his version of resolution that also rejects the Bush plan.  Many Republicans feel that Warner's version uses more nuanced, nonpartisan language and could potentially attract substantial bipartisan support.  Vice President Cheney on CNN yesterday dismissed these efforts, saying they won't stop the Administration from going through with a troop increase. 

Today, it's the Senate Armed Services Committee's turn to hold a hearing on Iraq.  The committee is chaired by Carl Levin, who co-sponsored the non-binding resolution along with Hagel.  Yesterday, the committee approved the nomination of Lt. Gen. David Petraeus to oversee US forces in Iraq.  The Senate is expected to confirm Petraeus today.

President Bush, on day two of selling his State of the Union domestic proposals, heads to Missouri for health care events.