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First thoughts

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Julia Steers 
*** So Now It's Wait Until March? While it might not have the national buzz of Britney at the VMAs (or the altercation there between Tommy Lee and Kid Rock), Washington finally gets the moment it has been waiting for: General Petreaus' report on Iraq. While Petraeus will recommend withdrawing about 4,000 troops by December and getting down to the pre-surge troop level by next August, he will also say -- per today's New York Times -- what to do after that shouldn't be decided for another six months (in March). Who does the public trust more with resolving the Iraq war? Sixty-eight percent say military commanders. Twenty-one percent say Congress. Five percent say the Bush Administration. Any wonder why the Administration is happy that Petraeus is getting all of the attention? And any wonder why some Democrats are trying to tie Petraeus to Bush? Will the public ultimately view Petraeus as a Bush surrogate or a military surrogate?

VIDEO: NBC's Political Director Chuck Todd offers his first read on the Petraeus Iraq report and the 6th anniversry of 9/11.

*** The Risk For The Left: Other than drowning our email inboxes with releases, the thing to watch with the presidentials this week is what they latch on to from the Petraeus report. All are likely to find something to back up their own assessment of Iraq. The risk, politically, is on left because the anti-war wing of the party seems ready to simply explode; they are not happy with the compromise chatter coming from congressional Democrats (see today's MoveOn full-page ad in the New York Times). Edwards has tried to give voice to these folks. But what about Clinton and Obama? Will the two sit back and let Edwards snag the angry anti-war voters? Obama's camp is billing a Wednesday address in Iowa on Iraq as a major speech. As for President Bush, this is the week he proves that he's NOT a lame duck. He's anything but in a time of war.

*** Losing One Chuck (Hagel) Makes Another Chuck (Schumer) Happy: At a press conference in Omaha today, Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) will announce that he will not seek another term next year, nor will he -- as expected -- run for the White House. Believe it or not, Democrats have two decent recruits for this seat, including former Sen. Bob Kerrey (the other is the Omaha mayor). Obviously, Kerrey's potential candidacy gives the race a bit of a celebrity feel (is he REALLY read to move back to Nebraska?). Counting Nebraska, Democrats will have at least SIX excellent pick-up opportunities next year (in Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Virginia are the others), compared with just ONE for the Republicans (Louisiana). Could Democrats expand their current narrow 51-49 majority to a 54-46 or 55-45 one after next year?

"Party Like It's 1993…": Over the weekend, Edwards blasted Clinton on health care. It's worth noting that both Obama and Edwards have been attempting to single out Clinton's health-care reform failure from 1993. Clearly, both camps believe this issue undermines the "experience" card that Clinton, to date, has so effectively played. With Clinton expected to unveil the rest of her health-care plan shortly, this '93 line of attack should get more attention in the weeks to come.

*** A Smooth Launch? Fred Thompson takes his announcement tour to South Carolina today, after already visiting Iowa and New Hampshire. Frankly, no state may be more important to Thompson than South Carolina, so extra scrutiny of the enthusiasm quotient is deserved. So how did his last few days go? Well, on Friday, he made this un-Reagan-like statement about the Bin Laden videotape: "Bin Laden is more symbolism than anything else." After GOP rivals McCain and Romney issued statements saying, respectively, that "My presidency will be Al Qaeda's worst nightmare" and "Osama Bin Laden is the face of evil," Thompson released a statement later that night calling for Bin Laden "to be caught and killed." Uh, oh. And on Sunday, a report came out that Thompson, in 1992, billed about three hours for his law firm's client who was representing two Libyan intelligence officials charged in the Pan Am 103 bombing. The good news? There was no Wesley Clark flub. The bad news? It still wasn't a smooth launch.

*** On The Trail: Elsewhere today, Clinton is in Boca Raton, FL, where she will discuss her agenda for seniors; Dodd appears on both CNN's Situation Room and MSNBC's Hardball; McCain raises money in Virginia; and Richardson raises money in Colorado and California.

Countdown to LA GOV election: 40 days
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