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First thoughts: Obama's inheritance

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama's inheritance: While David Brooks today attributes Obama's struggles to abandoning the center, the troubles that the president and his administration are currently facing seem to have more to do with things they inherited -- a wrecked economy that many mainstream economists said had to be bailed out and stimulated by government, a public that already was mistrustful of government bailouts and spending (which explains the hesitance on health care), and a war in Afghanistan that hadn't received enough troops or attention. And today, conservative columnist George Will writes that it's time for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan. A conservative-liberal coalition calling for a pullout could be a potent political force.

*** Between a rock and a hard place: Strikingly, the Obama administration's motivation on Afghanistan is pretty similar to its thinking on health care: a determination not to make the same mistakes that were made earlier. The fear of walking away from Afghanistan in the 1980s is something that haunts many Afghan policymakers. Let's also not forget: Our motivation to be there -- and perhaps to send more troops there to buttress the effort -- is as much about having a stable neighbor for nuclear power Pakistan as it is creating a stable environment for Afghanistan. But the choices for Team Obama certainly aren't good: Double down on an increasingly unpopular war, or risk walking away from an unstable Afghanistan and Pakistan.

*** Back to the center? Going back to Brooks' point that Obama has abandoned the center, did he abandon the center -- or did the center abandon him because of their own weariness? If the president is losing David Brooks, it could be because the White House hasn't made the public push for bipartisanship that so many like Brooks thought he would. At the beginning of the term, it seemed as if the push to include Republicans in his government was a sincere effort. But ever since, relations with Republicans and the president are at an all-time low. Part of that is perception. For instance, why hasn't the White House tried harder to go around the congressional GOP leadership and create their own bipartisan working groups with folks like Lamar Alexander, Dick Lugar, George Voinovich, Mel Martinez, Bob Corker etc… These are all folks who may not see eye-to-eye ideologically but would never turn down a White House meeting. The appearance is that the White House is simply inviting these folks to participate but it takes a constant sledgehammer to get them to believe the White House is serious about working with them. 

*** Waiting for Vicki to speak: Yesterday, we learned two things in the Kennedy succession story. One, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick picked Jan. 19 as the date for the special election to replace Kennedy in the Senate, with the primary to occur on Dec. 8. And two, the Massachusetts legislature will hold an expedited hearing on Sept. 9 on a bill that would allow Patrick to appoint an interim replacement until the special election. But here's the third thing we'll all waiting for: whether one of the Kennedys decides they want the seat. Until we hear from Vicki herself, Kennedy's widow, the speculation about her will likely continue, even though Patrick and people close to her say she's not interested. Some Democrats in DC would prefer that she take the seat, particularly if Dukakis is the alternative. But regardless, the thinking is she'd need the least amount of on the job training for the current debate over health care. Reminder: She's been helping to run the office and served as a conduit these last eight months. For now, though, the only Kennedy interested appears to be Joe, though many in Massachusetts have seen this movie before as Joe has started and stopped bids for governor multiple times. By the way, who will be the first to announce? Our bet: Attorney General Martha Coakley.

*** Time to stick a fork in Corzine? So much for the view that incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) was narrowing the gap with challenger Chris Christie, at least according the newest Quinnipiac survey. Per that poll, Corzine trails Christie by 10 points (47%-37%), with independent Christopher Daggett at 9% -- in other words, 56% of folks supporting someone NOT NAMED Corzine. Last month, Christie's lead was six points (46%-40%), with Daggett at 7%. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the poll for Corzine is that it comes after Christie has suffered a tough two weeks in the press, over his ties to the Bush administration, an undisclosed loan, and traffic tickets. Also troubling for Corzine, as well as for Democrats nationwide, is that Corzine linking Christie to George W. Bush -- even after Christie's reported conversations with Karl Rove became news -- doesn't seem to be working. In the poll, 56% of respondents and 59% of independents say those ads are unfair. By a 60%-34% margin, New Jersey voters disapprove of Corzine's job. President Obama's approval in New Jersey is on the plus side, 51%-43%. Still, it's New Jersey, the Lucy-Charlie Brown football of the Republican Party.

*** We're gonna party like it's 1989? Meanwhile, turning to the race for Virginia governor, who knew that the first major engagement of that contest would be sparked by a … graduate thesis? And Bob McDonnell's (R) conference call yesterday responding to the thesis he wrote in 1989 as a graduate student at what is now known as Regent University was extraordinary for its length (it exceeded an hour), for his repudiation of some of the things he wrote in it (on feminism, contraception), for whacking Creigh Deeds (D) at the same time, and for the tough questions he got from reporters. To us, the conference call was analogous to a football team that's ahead playing prevent defense -- McDonnell was willing to concede lots of yardage (disavowing parts of that '89 thesis) just as long as he didn't give up a big play (i.e., stand by his assertion in the thesis that feminism and working mothers are detrimental to the family). That said, the Washington Post editorial page, which has been VERY friendly to Deeds so far, has tried to advance the thesis story, penning an editorial entitled, "Bob McDonnell, Culture Warrior." Indeed, the last three sentences in it could be lifted directly and used in campaign ads targeting Northern Virginia women. Perhaps we'll see it.

*** Following the Kaine playbook: Despite being put on the defensive, McDonnell's conference call was smart on two fronts. One, there were no cameras, thus keeping it a print story (remember that George Allen's "Macaca story resonated because it was caught on tape). And two, the McDonnell camp can now say, "He's answered these questions until folks had no more." Another striking thing about McDonnell's conference call was how he seemed to borrow a page from the Tim Kaine playbook. In 2005, responding to concerns about his opposition to abortion and the death penalty, Kaine said he'd enforce the law of the land -- namely Roe v. Wade and Virginia's law permitting the death penalty. Well, yesterday, there was McDonnell explaining that his past opposition to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, didn't much matter because he enforce the laws protecting abortion in those circumstances. "You must follow the law," he said. "I will enforce those laws as governor."

*** Obama's day: Taking a break from his "stay-cation" at the White House, President Obama receives a briefing on H1N1 preparedness at 1:15 pm ET. Later tonight, he hosts a dinner celebrating Ramadan.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 63 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 427 days

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