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First thoughts: All about Afghanistan

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** All about Afghanistan: The next two days are all about Afghanistan for President Obama. Today, he huddles with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at 11:30 am ET (pool spray at the bottom), and then Obama meets separately with Gates and Biden at 4:30 pm (closed press). The Biden-Gates meeting introduces Biden's skepticism into the Afghanistan conversation in a very intimate and serious setting. And what had been scheduled for TODAY -- a major meeting of the key players on Afghanistan strategy -- has been postponed a day and will now be held TOMORROW. Among those who will be at tomorrow's meeting with Obama include Gens. Petraeus and McChrystal, Defense Secretary Gates, Secretary of State Clinton, Ambassador to Afghanistan Eikenberry, and Af/Pak envoy Holbrooke. It's a BIG meeting -- all about strategy assessment, which is why it may have been postponed a day as today may have simply gotten too packed.

*** Finance Committee back at work: Turning to health care, the Senate Finance Committee returns to work today on its mark-up of its health-care bill. On the agenda today will be the committee's vote on the public option amendments that Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jay Rockefeller are proposing. The big unknown is whether Olympia Snowe will introduce her version of a public option trigger.

*** The Club for (Democratic) Growth? Are Republicans/conservatives going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in NY-23, the congressional seat vacated by John McHugh (R)? The conservative Club for Growth has now endorsed Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over the socially moderate/liberal GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava; former presidential candidate Fred Thompson also has endorsed Hoffman. Could Republicans splitting their votes between Hoffman and Scozzafava tip the race to the Democrat in the race, Bill Owens? We've said this before and we'll say it again: Outside of watching the Obama administration's ups and downs, the most intriguing political story in America could very well be the infighting inside the Republican Party. Besides the Scozzafava-Hoffman split, we're going to see several important GOP primaries next year over the heart and soul of the GOP -- Perry vs. Hutchison in Texas, Crist vs. Rubio in Florida, the challenge against Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, and even the primary challenge against John McCain.

*** Whitman's crucial test: Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO who's running for California governor, now enters a crucial phase in her gubernatorial campaign. Either she survives an intense focus over the fact that she hasn't voted in past California elections, including recent ones, or it ends up sinking her fledgling campaign. Now her chief primary opponent, Steve Poizner, has a TV ad hitting Whitman on her voting record (or lack thereof). And today, the Los Angeles Times pens this editorial: "[J]ust because she failed to vote doesn't mean she lacks the skills to do the job well. As a voter, Whitman might have been disengaged, but as CEO of one of California's largest tech companies, she surely was not. Still, it's surprising, and of some concern, that someone so seemingly uninterested in politics would suddenly want to govern what is perhaps the most ungovernable state in the union."

*** "Going Rogue": As Politico writes, Sarah Palin's memoir is set to be entitled "Going Rogue" -- a reference to the complaints during the end of the presidential campaign that she wasn't entirely a team player for the McCain campaign -- and that the book is now scheduled to be published earlier than expected, for Nov. 17. Sources tell NBC's Norah O'Donnell that she was able to move up her schedule by writing furiously for months, something she couldn't have done if she were still governor of Alaska. O'Donnell adds that Palin moved the whole family to San Diego for the month of August, so she could crash the book with her collaborator Lynn Vincent, editor of an evangelical magazine; that Palin traveled to New York City for the first half of September to work on the editing process; that she will address never-heard details about her life, her time as governor, and the historic campaign; and that HarperCollins has ordered a huge first print of 1.5 million books. By the way, Palin's book will come out when the president is likely overseas… It would mark the second-straight major overseas trip for the president where Palin could be the national story.

*** Rick Santorum heads to … Iowa: Here's some more 2012 news: This Thursday, former Sen. Rick Santorum -- who lost his bid for re-election in the battleground state of Pennsylvania by a whopping 19 points, 59%-41% -- heads to Iowa to deliver the keynote at a conservative economic lecture series in Dubuque. Santorum holds a conference call at 10:30 am ET to preview his speech.

*** 2009 watch: Finally, Creigh Deeds is bringing in in his big gun, former Virginia Gov. (and current Sen.) Mark Warner. In a brand-new TV ad, Warner speaks to the camera about his support for Deeds. "The choice in this election for governor is really pretty simple," Warner says. "Do we move Virginia forward by continuing the pro-business economic policies that I helped put in place, or do we go backwards with the failed economic approach that ruined our economy? Creigh Deeds knows keeping taxes low and controlling spending is the right way to keep Virginia 'the best place to do business'. And I agree." Deeds also will be getting the endorsement of another former governor today, according to Virginia sources: Republican Linwood Holton. Of course, this shouldn't be a surprise… Holton is outgoing Dem Gov. Tim Kaine's father-in-law. And as the Virginia Republican Party has become more conservative, Holton has become more supportive of Democrats.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 35 days
Countdown to MA Special Primary: 70 days
Countdown to MA Special Election: 112 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 399 days

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