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First thoughts: Obama's very busy week

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Obama's very busy week: In the Obama Era, every week has seemed to be busy, but this week is particularly so -- and it has little to do with health care, at least at the presidential level. Today, President Obama gives a speech on the economy in Troy, NY and then does Letterman. On Tuesday, in New York, he speaks at UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon's climate-change summit, holds a bilateral with Chinese President Hu, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and delivers remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative. (Also on Tuesday come the results from our newest NBC/WSJ poll.) On Wednesday, Obama addresses the UN General Assembly. On Thursday, he heads to the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. And then on Friday, the president holds meetings with G-20 leaders and then has a press conference. But these aren't the only political issues on his -- or our -- plate. Afghanistan, David Paterson, and Virginia's gubernatorial race are all in the news (see below). And so is health care, with the Senate Finance Committee marking up Max Baucus' bill tomorrow.

*** Obama's Sunday-palooza: So what did the president get out of his five Sunday show interviews? Was it about selling his health-care plans to the American public, again? Was it about sending messages to Senate Dems and Olympia Snowe? Or was it -- as American politics becomes increasingly shrill, uncivil, and partisan -- about portraying himself as the only grownup out there? As for the news from his Sunday-palooza, it's hard for any ONE thing to stand out when the president sits down for five interviews. That said, there were some buried nuggets. On ABC, Obama seemed to suggest that, politically, Democrats will need some sort of "Medicare protection" amendment to support. On CBS, when asked about the letter seven former CIA chiefs sent urging him to reverse Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to re-open those CIA interrogation cases, Obama appeared to only offer Holder tepid support. And on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said he wants to shift the debate over Afghanistan from troops to strategy. "The question that I'm asking right now is to our military, to Gen. McChrystal, to Gen.  Petraeus, to all our national security apparatus, is … how does this advance America's national security interests? … [I]f it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or … sending a message that America is here for the duration."

*** We've got a leak! Yet as if on cue, within hours of Obama expressing some skepticism about increasing troops in Afghanistan, the McChrystal recommendations get leaked. Gotta love it: Who says it's ONLY Congress and the two political parties leak news in this town; the Pentagon knows how to play the game, too. Here's the Washington Post, with a Bob Woodward byline (!): "The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict 'will likely result in failure'… Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: 'Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) -- while Afghan security capacity matures -- risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.'"

*** Obama on the economy, innovation, education: Obama's economic speech today in Troy, NY will take place at 11:50 am ET at Hudson Valley Community College. So before he plays the role of world leader at the UN and G-20, he's reminding folks that he's focusing on jobs and the economy. It's worth noting that the speech occurs in the NY-20 congressional district that Democrats won earlier this year and where the debate over the stimulus was an important issue. Per an administration official, Obama's remarks "will outline the administration's strategy for innovation: investing in education, infrastructure and research; spurring productive entrepreneurship and sustaining competitive markets and achieving breakthroughs for national priorities including health care and energy." Joining (and introducing) Obama will be Dr. Jill Biden, who's work is in education.

*** Obama's not-so subtle message to Paterson: Also joining Obama in Upstate New York will be Gov. David Paterson (D), which could be AWKWARD after the New York Times reported that the Obama White House was encouraging Paterson not to run next year. It shouldn't be surprising that the White House is getting involved in electoral politics. Remember, presidents' also are leaders of their party, and all of them, when they can, sometimes step in (just ask Senate candidate Tim Pawlenty about the call he received from Dick Cheney in 2001-2) The reason Obama is intervening here: Paterson's poll numbers are dismal; the New York political landscape is a mess; the most recent state legislative session was a disaster for the party; Rudy Giuliani could very well run for governor; and 2011 is the redistricting fight, which will decide how the makeup of House districts will be for the following 10 years. There is a hope among some Dems that if Paterson decides not to run, and if the party rallies around Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, then Giuliani will get cold feet and not run. It is ironic listening to Obama deride "politics" when he is a very savvy political player. Of course, you have to be to become president.

*** Steele's "stunning" statement: Did anyone else catch RNC Chair Michael Steele's comments about the Paterson news? After accusing Jimmy Carter last week of playing the race card, Steele said this yesterday: "I found that to be stunning, that the White House would send word to one of only two black governors in the country not to run for re-election. And it just raised a curious point for me. I think … Gov. Paterson's numbers are about the same as Gov. Corzine's numbers, yet the president was with Gov. Corzine. One really BIG difference between Corzine and Paterson: Corzine was actually elected… By the way, the only person to benefit for this story going public THIS week (just before the Obama was to appear with the New York governor) was Paterson. And given the Caroline Kennedy history, there are a bunch of folks around Paterson who have no problem with leaking. The question is whether this ends up helping Paterson, or whether it actually accelerates the process since many New York Dems are hoping Paterson, sees the writing on the wall.

*** Good news, bad news for Deeds: There was good news and bad news for Creigh Deeds (D) in Sunday's Washington Post poll on Virginia's gubernatorial race. The good news: Capitalizing on the fallout over Bob McDonnell's (R) thesis, Deeds has narrowed the Republican's lead among likely voters from 54%-39% in August to 51%-47% now. The bad news: Even after McDonnell's thesis has dominated the news and airwaves, he's still above 50%, which is a solid place to be a month and a half out from this election. Question: How much of this Deeds movement would we have seen if there HADN'T been the thesis story? Is this just a natural tightening of the race? Moreover, McDonnell has the enthusiasm edge right now -- 36% of McDonnell supporters say they are very enthusiastic about voting for their guy, compared with just 22% of Deeds supporters who say the same thing. That 14-point gap isn't chump change.

*** All about enthusiasm and the NoVA 'burbs: So in order to win, Deeds has to improve on those enthusiasm numbers. And here's another number to watch: Deeds now leads McDonnell in populous (and Dem-leaning) Northern Virginia by a 57%-40% clip, after being essentially tied there last month. For Deeds to beat McDonnell in November, he'll need to win NoVA by at least 60%-40%. Also in the poll, Deeds leads McDonnell on women's issues overall, abortion, health care, and education. But McDonnell leads on more bread-and-butter issues, like transportation, state budget, the economy, and jobs and taxes. McDonnell also leads Deeds on the issue of guns. By the way, Obama's approval rating in Virginia, according to the poll, climbed from 47% in August to 53% now, which is essentially what his national average is. More proof that as Virginia goes, so goes the nation?

*** Mark-up time: As for health care, we might know by Thursday where the Senate Finance Committee eventually comes out, after considering some 500 amendments. By the time Obama returns to DC on Friday, he believes he'll have a Finance Committee bill that will have, at a minimum, the support of Olympia Snowe.

*** I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal: Finally, given all the attention to health care and this week's international focus, the government's apparent success in disrupting a potential major terrorist attack is no small deal...

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 43 days
Countdown to Primary to Replace Ted Kennedy: 78 days
Countdown to Special Election to Replace Kennedy: 120 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 407 days

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