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First thoughts: Doubts on Afghanistan

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Doubts on Afghanistan: Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Obama administration is weighing alternatives to a troop increase in Afghanistan: The American public is increasingly pessimistic about the war there. According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, 59% say they're less confident the war will come to a successful conclusion, and 51% oppose sending more troops to Afghanistan. On the other hand, 55% also oppose an immediate and orderly withdrawal from that war zone, and the public is split over whether the conflict there has been worth the costs and casualties. Not surprisingly, President Obama's Democratic base isn't in favor of sending more troops to Afghanistan, which presents a potential political problem for the president. Two-thirds of Democrats oppose a troop increase, versus 60% of Republicans who support it. "It is reverse coalitions here," NBC/WSJ co-pollster Peter Hart (D) says. The poll also shows a generational split: 52% of those who are 50 years old or older support the troop increase, while 62% of those under 50 oppose it. There are two ways to look at that divide: The more of a memory the public has about military interventions, the more trust they have; or perhaps, those who are in the age group of folks who could get SENT over to Afghanistan are leery considering the recent memory of Iraq.

*** Clogging things up: Given these numbers on Afghanistan and given the Obama's indecision about what to do there, one thing that has become increasingly clear is how the health-care debate has clogged up everything else. Health care is dominating the debate in Washington and the political pain is making it harder to deal with other tough issues. For instance, on energy, it's unlikely the White House is going to put its full weight to get something passed in the Senate THIS YEAR. That means we might not see something until 2011, because if the politics of getting enough votes on a major energy bill is difficult in an ODD number year, then why should we think an EVEN-numbered year is somehow easier.  Then there's the issue of unemployment -- the No.1 issue in our poll, but Washington is talking about health care. Bottom line: Passing any health care might serve as Drano of sorts and unclog the political system making way for other debates and decisions.

*** Obama's health-care numbers: As for health care, Obama's numbers on this issue have slightly increased during and after his big media blitz to sell reform, although the increase remains within the margin of error. Per the poll, 39% believe Obama's health-care plan is a good idea, which is up three points since last month; 41% think it's a bad idea. In addition, the president's approval/disapproval on health care is 45%-46%, which is up from his 41%-47% score last month. Much of the improvement here is from Democrats -- in August, 62% of Dems thought Obama's health plan was a good idea; now 69% of them say that. As for Republicans on health care, just 26% approve of the GOP's handling of the issue.

Video: NBC's Chuck Todd discusses the latest NBC News/WSJ poll.

*** Fed up with Washington: Another takeaway from our new NBC/WSJ poll is just how angry the American public is at Washington right now. Only 22% approve of Congress' job, which is down two points from July; the Democratic Party's fav/unfav is 41%-39%, down from 49%-31% back in February; and the GOP's fav/unfav is 28%-43%, which is a slight uptick from its 26%-47% score back in February but still close to the party's ALL-TIME low. What about Speaker Nancy Pelosi? Her fav/unfav mirrors the GOP's, 27%-44% (a worse ratio than Glenn Beck's!). It's no wonder why the president is trying to flash anti-Washington rhetoric again. One question we have: Is the public fed up with the health-care debate and the tenor and tone, especially considering the conversation THEY are having around the kitchen table has to do with the economy?

*** We're huge in Belgium: Compared with those figures, Obama's numbers seem sky-high. But, in truth, they're decent -- and they've stabilized. Overall, Obama's job-approval rating is at 51%, which is unchanged from last month's poll. And the public continues to like him personally: A combined 77% say they like him, even if they don't agree with his policies, and his fav/unfav is 56%-33%. But just 45% are confident that Obama has the right goals and policies for the country, and only 40% are confident that he has the right policies to improve the economy. Still, go inside the crosstabs, and there are some potential problems, including the fact that independents -- for the first time -- are upside down on the president. The good news for him: His base keeps him at a floor, for now, at 51%... But some key swing voting groups have their questions.

*** Looking ahead to 2010: Perhaps the best news for Republicans in the poll is that they've narrowed the gap in the generic congressional ballot test, which could be a good sign for them come 2010. According to the poll, 43% prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress, versus 40% who want a Republican-controlled one -- which is the GOP's best performance in our ballot test since Oct. 2004, a year when Republicans picked up House seats. NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R) says Republicans have gained ground with independents on this ballot test. Another good sign for Republicans: Obama has a net-negative among independents on his job approval, a first in our NBC/WSJ poll. 

*** More optimism on the economy? The most important results you won't hear a lot about: the public's growing confidence in the economy. It's still not great, but to borrow a phrase, this poll has some "green shoots" of confidence. On the question of satisfaction with the economy, 23% are at least "somewhat satisfied." Compare that to 13% in July and just 7% in February. Again, it's nothing to write home about -- since 76% are still "somewhat dissatisfied" with the economy. But it's a start. More importantly, 47% told us they believe the economy will get better, compared with just 38% who thought that back in April. And on the issue of personal job security, 66% are at least somewhat satisfied with it, which is a six- point jump from July.

*** Winning the legislative battle, but not the P.R. war: But while there's growing confidence about the economy, the public isn't giving much credit to the stimulus -- which is a lesson to the White House P.R. shop if/when Obama signs a health-care bill into law. Our NBC/WSJ poll shows that while Team Obama won the stimulus legislative battle, they have seemed to lose the P.R. war. Just 34% think the stimulus was a good idea, versus 45% who said it was a bad idea. Moreover, less than half of the public (47%) thinks the stimulus is beginning to help improve the economy or will improve it in the future. And Americans are essentially split whether the stimulus saved the U.S. from entering a greater economic downturn than it did, which has been one of Obama's big messages. Bottom line: The Republicans defined the stimulus after it passed. And trust us: How the Obama administration implements health care will be more difficult than the stimulus. It's one thing to get the legislative victory. But if the public doesn't believe it worked, then they won't see political benefit in 2010 or 2012.

*** Obama at the U.N.: President Obama's marquee event at the U.N. today will be his speech to the General Assembly at 10:00 am ET. As NBC's Andrea Mitchell reported on TODAY, Obama will call for international cooperation on nuclear disarmament, the Middle East, and climate change. He'll also outline his top economic priorities for the upcoming G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh. Also today, the president holds bilaterals with the new prime minister of Japan (at 9:00 am) and with Russian President Medvedev (at 3:30 pm). At 7:05 pm, Obama and the first lady host a reception for heads of state. But so far, it's worth pointing out, Obama's U.N. week has not been a productive one. Yesterday's Middle East photo-op was, well, just a photo-op. The U.S. also found itself the enviro bogeyman of the world -- again... And then there is the fact this U.N .opening week can sometimes resemble the bar scene from Star Wars.


Video
: NBC's Savannah Guthrie gives a preview of President Obama's address to the U.N. General Assembly

*** Captain Kirk? Now that the Massachusetts Senate has passed a bill allowing Gov. Deval Patrick to make a temporary appointment to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, we could get Patrick's pick as early as today. There are three names in the mix: Michael Dukakis, former DNC Chair Paul Kirk, and former Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy. Sources tell NBC News that Kirk is probably the front-runner, but there is a growing chorus of folks who would like to see Patrick appoint a woman. We continue to hear that Dukakis is probably less likely to get it, but who knows.

***
The man with the plan:

Finally, after being criticized by opponent Bob McDonnell (R) for not having a transportation plan, Creigh Deeds (D) pens a Washington Post op-ed entitled "My Transportation Plan." He writes, "The last time Virginia passed meaningful transportation funding was in 1986, under Gov. Gerald Baliles (D), who created a commission to provide recommendations and build support for financing. Since then, each time a governor has presented a proposal to the General Assembly to raise meaningful transportation revenue, it has failed. The day after I'm elected, I will begin assembling a bipartisan commission to craft a comprehensive transportation package." Also in the op-ed, he says he's open to raising taxes to pay for transportation. "I will sign a bill that is the product of bipartisan compromise that provides a comprehensive transportation solution. As a legislator, I have voted for a number of mechanisms to fund transportation, including a gas tax. And I'll sign a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation -- even if it includes new taxes." 

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 41 days
Countdown to Primary to Replace Ted Kennedy: 76 days
Countdown to Special Election to Replace Kennedy: 118 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 405 days

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