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First thoughts: Iraq is back

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Iraq is back: A new book on Iraq by Ron Suskind is going to give Obama quite a few new talking points as the White House (and maybe McCain?) is put on the defensive. As NBC's David Gregory recounted on TODAY, Suskind reports that in early 2003, in secret meetings with British intelligence, Saddam Hussein's intelligence chief Tahir Jahil Habbush revealed that Iraq DID NOT have weapons of mass destruction, and that information was passed on to the CIA.

VIDEO: NBC's David Gregory reports on the new book by Ron Suskind claiming the White House deliberately misled the public on Iraq by ordering a CIA forgery.

The most explosive charge, Gregory says: "In order to bolster the connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq, the White House ordered the CIA to write a fake letter from the Iraqi intelligence chief Habbush, claiming that 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta trained in Iraq prior to September 11th." The White House has pushed back hard against Suskind, who has written previous critical accounts of the Bush White House. "Ron Suskind makes a living from gutter journalism. He is about selling books and making wild allegations that no one can verify, including the numerous bipartisan commissions that have reported on pre-war intelligence," White House spokesman Tony Fratto told Politico.

VIDEO: Ron Suskind defends claims made in his book to TODAY's Meredith Vieira.

*** The energy debate continues: Today, expect a repeat of yesterday's back-and-forth over energy. Obama stumps in Ohio -- with Gov. Ted Strickland (D) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) -- where he will once again rap McCain for his contributions from the oil industry. "He's offering a plan with no significant investments in alternative energy," Obama will say, according to excerpts of his remarks. "He's offering a gas tax holiday that will pad oil company profits and save you, at best, half a tank of gas over the course of an entire summer. And he's offering $4 billion more in tax breaks to the biggest oil companies in America, including $1.2 billion to Exxon-Mobil… We can choose four years more of the same failed policies that have gotten us where we are. Four years more of oil companies calling the shots while hard working families are struggling. That's what Senator McCain is offering."


VIDEO: Political Director Chuck Todd gives his first read on the debate between the candidates on energy policy and Bill Clinton's recent statement on Obama's qualifications to be president.

Meanwhile, McCain will most likely discuss his plan to build 45 new nuclear plans when he visits one in Michigan today. Yesterday, McCain emphasized his call for offshore drilling when he said, "We have to drill here and drill now." With both candidates staying on the energy message, they are actually doing each other a favor.

*** Drilling a divide: Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the drilling debate is starting to divide Democrats -- and not just Obama, who on Friday signaled a willingness for the first time to accept offshore drilling as part of a compromise for a larger energy package. Politico reports that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is encouraging vulnerable House Dems to back offshore drilling if it helps their political prospects, even though she's opposed to the action. "Pelosi's gambit rests on one big assumption: that Democrats will own Washington after the election and will be able to craft a sweeping energy policy that is heavy on conservation and fuel alternatives while allowing for some new oil drilling. Democrats see no need to make major concessions on energy policy with a party poised to lose seats in both chambers in just three months — even if recess-averse Republicans continue to pound away on the issue." This is the type of compromise that the base isn't going to like, and it'll be interesting to watch the liberal blogosphere respond to this dilemma: Is it more important for Pelosi to WIN the drilling debate or SURVIVE it? Looks like she and Obama want to do both. It may be the political expedient thing to do, but it goes against what they've been promising.

*** Bikers, Kid Rock, and John McCain: Will Obama no longer have to answer for some of the hip-hop references he's made after McCain yesterday visited the biker rally/festival in Sturgis, SD, which also featured scantily-clad women and concerts by Kid Rock and KISS? From the Los Angeles Times' coverage of the event: "It was almost as if McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was a celebrity -- a dirty word in his lexicon since his campaign last week ran ads mocking rival Barack Obama for his celebrity status, comparing him to Britney Spears." More: "McCain joked that he had encouraged his wife to enter the annual Sturgis beauty contest, one in which nudity is not uncommon. The engines roared again. 'I told her with a little luck she could be the only lady to serve as first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip,' he said with a broad grin."

*** The Dems' registration advantage: The New York Times front-pages the big gains that Democrats have made in voter registration over the past few years -- especially in battleground states like Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. This will be a story to watch as voter-registration numbers from the states continue to trickle in. Indeed, we've seen this shift in our polling, which shows more and more people identifying themselves as Democrats and independents and fewer and fewer people identifying themselves as Republicans. While this certainly has implications for the McCain-Obama, the Times also reminds us that it could have a big impact on downballot races, particularly with redistricting on the horizon.

*** A veepstakes question: With Obama campaigning with Evan Bayh tomorrow, fueling tons of veep speculation, what will the liberal blogosphere think about Bayh as a possible running mate when they find out how deep his ties are to Mark Penn? Speaking of Penn, he -- pardon the pun here -- pens a Politico op-ed in which he offers this advice for the Obama campaign: "I suggest making clear that this election is not about who is strong or weak, but about who is right or wrong. Maybe the key will be to emphasize that there will be real policy differences between a Democrat and a Republican in the White House next year and that those differences will — as they did in the past eight years — make all of the difference in the world to the country and the lives of its people."

*** Bob Novak retires: The legendary reporter/columnist arguably pioneered a certain method of political journalism that is thriving today on the Internet. The partisan reporter is something many people believe was invented the day Matt Drudge bought his first modem. But the fact is that Novak, while not the first either, was the trailblazer. Did he get scoops? A lot of them. Did he swing and miss? Yes, but he was always swinging. That's what made Novak's Saturday/Sunday notebook column of political tidbits must-read. He had some very loyal sources; some used him for good, others just used him, but the guy always came to play and was incredibly competitive. His decision to retire to focus on his health battle leaves a big hole in Washington.

*** On the trail: McCain visits the Enrico Fermi nuclear plant in Newport, MI. Obama is in Ohio, where he holds town halls on energy in Youngstown and Berea.
Countdown to Dem convention: 20 days
Countdown to GOP convention: 27 days
Countdown to Election Day 2008: 91 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 168 days
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