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First thoughts: Iraq is back

Iraq is back, with Obama speech at 11:30 am ET to discuss the end of combat operations there by Aug. 31… Could the Iraq drawdown buy the administration some more patience with Afghanistan?... First Read's handy calendar looking at the other big events to watch during the dog days of August… Rangel and Waters ethics allegations create a headache for Dems… The push for more state aid in the Senate… It's close in Colorado between Bennet and Romanoff… And the St. Pete Times takes a critical look at Jeff Greene.

*** Iraq is back: It has been weeks, it seems, since we last typed the word "Iraq" on this blog -- which is ironic given that it was the ultimate political issue from 2003 to 2007 (and was the biggest supposed issue difference between then-candidate Obama and candidate Clinton). But it once again takes center stage, both today and this month. At 11:30 am ET in Atlanta, President Obama addresses the Disabled Veterans of America conference, where he will discuss the U.S. meeting its goal of ending combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31. "Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases," Obama is expected to say, according to excerpts. "We're moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we've seen in decades. By the end of this month, we'll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office." But the White House is wary of echoing Bush's "Mission Accomplished, and the president will remind the public that thousands of troops will remain in the country, the Washington Post writes. "We will maintain a transitional force until we remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of next year," he will say.

*** A campaign promise kept: The end of combat operations in Iraq would mark the completion of another campaign promise for Obama, and it could possibly buy him some more patience with Afghanistan, especially among Democrats. "America, it's time to start bringing our troops home," Obama said when he announced his presidential bid in Feb. 2007. "Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace." (However, the date Obama mentioned for withdrawal in that speech was March 2008, so he did end up missing that date by, oh well, more than two years.) Still, all of this talk of withdrawal from Iraq also is going to serve as an impetus to have the conversation about how much longer the U.S. will have approximately 100,000 troops in Afghanistan -- and just how real the July 2011 deadline is. Defense Secretary Robert Gates this weekend again indicated that the likelihood of a major withdrawal next summer is HIGHLY unlikely.

*** The Dog Days of August: In addition to the end of combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31, here are the other events for this busier-than-usual August:
Aug. 3: primaries in Kansas (Moran vs. Tiahrt GOP Senate race), Michigan (featuring the crowded GOP gubernatorial primary), and Missouri
Aug. 5: primary day in Tennessee (yes, it's on a THURSDAY); Obama stumps for Alexi Giannoulias and will also visit a Ford plant in Illinois
Aug. 6: July jobs report is released
Aug. 10: primaries in Colorado (the Dem Bennet vs. Romanoff race, and the GOP Buck vs. Norton and McInnis vs. Maes primaries), Connecticut, and Minnesota (featuring the Dem gubernatorial primary), plus the GOP gubernatorial run-off in Georgia (Handel vs. Deal)
Aug. 12: Pawlenty goes to the Iowa State Fair, while Romney heads to New Hampshire
Aug 16-18: Obama makes campaign stops in WI, CA, WA, OH, and FL
Aug. 17: primaries in Washington state and Wyoming
Aug. 24: primaries in Alaska (Murkowski vs. Miller), Arizona (McCain vs. Hayworth), Florida (Scott vs. McCollum and Meek vs. Greene), and Vermont
Aug. 31: end of combat operations in Iraq

*** From September to August: By the way, if you're a longtime political junkie and wondering are, "Since when did the August primary calendar get so crowded?" you can thank the Florida recount in 2000. As a result of the voting reforms implemented after the 2000 debacle, states have to make sure they get absentee and overseas ballots out by a certain date and in order to meet PRIMARY vote certification deadlines, many states have to move their primaries out of the month of September. A few states have exemptions this year, but that will continue to fade. Look at this cycle: A slew of former September primary states are now in August -- AZ, FL, WA, MN, and VT.

*** The Dems' ethics headache: But while Obama and the Democrats are hoping Iraq gives them a positive story to tell heading into the fall elections, it appears that ethics is a different matter. Here's the front page of the New York Times: "By defiantly pushing for full-fledged ethics trials, Representatives Charles B. Rangel and Maxine Waters are raising the prospect of a spectacle focusing on Congressional corruption this fall, just as Democrats are fighting to hold on to their majority in an election already defined by distrust of Washington." Because both Rangel and Waters are black, some folks might see this as a story about race. But is it race or the fact that both Rangel and Waters have served so long in Congress? The temptation by many in the media and in political circles to use the race card to cover this story will be great but, folks, take a breath and realize this is good 'ol fashioned Congressional entitlement mixed with blinders to wrongdoing.

*** Battle over state aid: The Democratic National Committee is making a push to help pass legislation in the Senate for more aid to states and localities. And the DNC is releasing this Web video: "States across America are facing tough choices -- choices like laying off police and firefighers, and one hundred forty thousand teachers losing their jobs," the Web video goes. "Democrats believe in education and safe communities. But Republicans have different values -- like saying 'yes' to tax breaks for CEOs who ship our jobs overseas, while saying "no" to teachers and those who keep us safe."

*** It's close in Colorado: It appears Colorado's Democratic Senate primary -- which features incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet and challenger Andrew Romanoff -- is going to be a close. After a robo-poll showed Romanoff with a slight lead, Bennet's campaign released its own poll showing them up by four points. And if the best you can do is release your own poll showing you up by four, you've got a tight race on your hands.

*** More midterm news: In Florida, the Washington Post notes that top aides/adviers (including Joe Trippi and manager Jessica Vandenberg) have departed Jeff Greene's (D) Senate campaign, and new folks are in… Also, the St. Pete Times runs a VERY critical piece about Greene. "Send Jeff Greene to the U.S. Senate, and what do you get? Maybe you've elected a self-made success story who doesn't owe anyone anything… Or maybe your new senator is a tyrant and egomaniac who spends six years embarrassing Florida." For those who have issues with the current campaign finance laws, check out Florida: Both the non-self-funding Senate candidates and gubernatorial candidates have to abide by very strict fundraising rules. The self-funding billionaires do not. Something's wrong with a political system that creates two sets of rules for candidates based solely on wealth. Whether you are an advocate for MORE spending restrictions or an advocate of LESS raising and spending restrictions, there's nothing about what's going on in Florida that looks fair right now, period.

Countdown to KS, MI, MO primaries: 1 day
Countdown to TN primary: 3 days
Countdown to CO, CT, and MN primaries, plus GA run-off: 8 days
Countdown to WA and WY primaries: 15 days
Countdown to AK, AZ, FL, and VT primaries: 22 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 92 days

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