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First thoughts: Changing course?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Changing course? A day after news organizations got their hands on the McChrystal report, which argues that the eight-year conflict in Afghanistan will result in failure unless more U.S. troops are sent there, we now learn that the Obama White House is considering focusing more on counterterrorism efforts than a large-scale counterinsurgency effort. The AP: "The White House is looking at expanding counterterror operations in Pakistan as an alternative to a major military escalation in Afghanistan." Whether this is a trial balloon or a real signal that a change in strategy is coming, the political stakes here are considerable. "Obama's decision is complicated by a deepening domestic political divide and no guarantee of success whichever option he chooses," the Washington Post says. "One observer, characterizing the president's dilemma at its most extreme, said: 'He can send more troops and it will be a disaster and he will destroy the Democratic Party. Or he can send no more troops and it will be a disaster and the Republicans will say he lost the war.'" 

*** Poll day! How does the public view the war in Afghanistan? Is it a success? Should more troops be sent there? Or should they be immediately withdrawn? Well, beginning at 6:30 pm ET, be sure to tune into NBC Nightly News or click on to MSNBC.com for the answers to these questions in our latest NBC/WSJ poll. The survey also will have plenty of other numbers on health care and on President Obama's overall standing with the public.

*** The president's day in the Big Apple: Obama has a busy day in New York with the events tied to the United Nations' General Assembly. At 9:15 am ET, he delivers remarks at UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's climate-change summit. Then, later in the morning, he holds bilaterals with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and then a trilateral with all three (there's a pool spray at the top of that trilateral). That's perhaps the day's biggest event. It was a mild accomplishment to even get that photo-op, but that's what it is for now. At 3:30 pm, Obama meets with Chinese President Hu, and he delivers remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative at 5:15 pm.

*** Staging the intervention: So we guess it takes the White House getting involved in a New York race for folks to begin paying attention to the fact that Team Obama is injecting itself in several political races across the country (and has been for MONTHS) -- either to give Democrats the best candidates or to build some important allies on Capitol Hill. (After Obama endorsed Sens. Arlen Specter and Michael Bennet, these guys aren't going to vote against health care, right?) On TODAY this morning, former President Bill Clinton said some nice things about embattled Gov. David Paterson, but it wasn't different than any other Democrat would say right now. To paraphrase Clinton, Paterson is a good man who has done a lot, and he should be able to make his own decision whether he should run in 2010 or not. If he thinks he can win, Clinton said, he should run. If he can't, then he shouldn't.

*** Paterson's poor standing: That sounds like the same advice the White House gave Paterson. Remember, that's truly what the White House did, give advice (now, it was advice that came with a heavy hand, but…) So what do the polls show? An August Quinnipiac survey found Rudy Giuliani leading Paterson by 20 points, 53%-33%. (By comparison, Andrew Cuomo was leading Rudy by nine points, 48%-39%.) And a more recent Marist poll shows that only one-fifth approve of Paterson's job. Looks like the handwriting is on the wall, right?

*** Getting that 60th vote: Speaking of politics, the Massachusetts Senate is expected "to begin debate this morning on a bill that would let Governor Deval Patrick appoint an interim successor to Edward M. Kennedy, potentially paving the way for appointment of a new US senator later this week," the Boston Globe writes. "The Republican leader in the state Senate, who has twice succeeded in postponing the debate using parliamentary maneuvers, said yesterday that he is prepared to allow debate to proceed, and the Democratic Senate president said she is ready for a debate and a vote… If the state Senate approves the bill today, the governor would probably be able to sign it tomorrow."

*** Mark it up: Also today, the Senate Finance Committee begins marking up its health-care bill today. Per the Washington Post, "Lawmakers have proposed 564 amendments to Baucus's measure, and a vote on the $774 billion plan is not expected before Friday at the earliest." The mark-up comes as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has said he'll be making some adjustments to his legislation, particularly making subsidies to low- and middle-income Americans more generous.

*** Murtha watch: The Washington Post has another damning story against Democratic Rep. John Murtha. Seriously, read this story; it almost reads like a parody. "The buzzer is broken at the John P. Murtha Institute for Homeland Security, and a note invites visitors, 'Please knock.' On a summer afternoon, a lone intern answers the door of the mostly empty basement offices that through the years have overseen $50 million in federal money awarded to projects designed to make the nation safer." Are you kidding us? There's a "John P. Murtha Institute for Homeland Security?" And it has a broken buzzer, a lone intern... You can't make this up.

*** 2009 watch: In New Jersey, Chris Christie (R) is calling for opponent Jon Corzine (D) "to release all documents related to a forensic review of a hedge fund that Gov. Jon Corzine invested that was conducted last year by the state Attorney General's office." And in Virginia, Bob McDonnell (R) and Creigh Deeds (D) both hosted fundraisers last night -- McDonnell at the offices of the American Gas Association, which former Massachusetts governor and "possible presidential hopeful" Mitt Romney was also scheduled to attend. and

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 42 days
Countdown to Primary to Replace Ted Kennedy: 77 days
Countdown to Special Election to Replace Kennedy: 119 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 406 days

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