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First Thoughts: Putting the 2016 cart before the horse

Putting the ’16 cart before the horse… Taking the time machine back to Aug. 2005… Recapping last weekend’s Family Leadership Summit in Iowa… Obama continues to get heat on NSA surveillance… McAuliffe is losing control of his biography… Holder to make news on sentencing for non-violent drug crimes… NJ SEN primary is tomorrow… And Weiner releases his first TV ad.

*** Putting the ’16 cart before the horse: If you thought the last few days looked and sounded more like Aug. 2015 than Aug. 2013, you weren't alone. Potential Republican presidential candidates gathered in Iowa over the weekend. So did a prominent Democratic group in support for a female president, i.e., Hillary Clinton. Yesterday, we learned that Vice President Joe Biden is headed to Iowa on Sept. 15 for Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry. And the political world dissected an interview Rand Paul recently gave to Bloomberg Businessweek’s Josh Green. But here's an important reality check: All the 2016 coverage right now, including from yours truly, is akin to someone beginning to think about a wedding after only a couple of dates. In other words, it's very, very early.

Even though the Iowa caucuses are roughly 29 months away, potential presidential hopefuls like Rick Santorum and Donald Trump are already speaking to crowds in the state. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

*** Taking the time machine back to 2005: After all, at this point in the 2008 cycle -- so in Aug. 2005 -- no one viewed Barack Obama as an ‘08 presidential contender (in fact, he had served just seven months in the U.S. Senate). Also at this point in the ’08 cycle, Hillary Clinton was seen as the overwhelming favorite on the Democratic side. (How did that turn out?) Back then, George Allen (R-VA) was considered at the least the co-frontrunner for the GOP nomination. (He lost his bid for re-election a year later.) And at this point in the 2008 cycle, George W. Bush had yet to see his poll numbers nosedive (Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. on Aug. 29, 2005). Just something for everyone to consider with more than three years until Election Day 2016…

*** Recapping last weekend’s Family Leadership Summit in Iowa: But channeling “Field of Dreams,” if you build a 2016 stage in Iowa for potential candidates, they’re going to come, even if we’re three years away until ’16. And we’re going to cover it -- like last weekend’s conservative Family Leadership Summit in Iowa. Ted Cruz, in his second Iowa appearance in the past month, railed against Washington, even though he’s a member of the U.S. Senate. “There is a divide -- a divide of Washington versus the people. And we have been seeing over and over again the people rising up and saying, 'Look, career politicians in both parties have let us down. We need to get back to the Constitution and the principles that made this country strong,’” he said, per NBC’s Alex Moe. Rick Santorum, as he’s done in the past, criticized the establishment GOP and the Romney campaign. “We can’t just celebrate the job creators, we have to celebrate the job holders and we have to have a message for them.” And Donald Trump also spoke in Iowa, and he told NBC’s Kasie Hunt in an interview that the United States had become a “laughingstock.” (Folks, he isn’t going to run.)

*** Obama continues to get heat over NSA surveillance: President Obama remains on his weeklong vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, but he hasn’t been able to escape the ongoing debate about the government’s controversial surveillance program, NBC’s Kristen Welker reported on “TODAY.” House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul said on “Meet the Press” that Obama hasn’t done a good job of explaining the program to the public and accused the changes the president has proposed were merely “window dressing.” And while most Democrats welcomed the proposed changes, some -- including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) -- continued to express concerns about privacy rights, Welker adds. But any major changes to the program will have to wait until September when Congress is back in session. Obama has no scheduled events today, and neither does Vice President Biden.

*** McAuliffe is losing control of his biography: Terry McAuliffe is beginning to lose control of his biography in Virginia’s gubernatorial contest. Over the weekend, the New York Times examined the controversies involving the Democrat’s work heading the auto company Green Tech. “Republicans have used it to question Mr. McAuliffe’s ability to create jobs, laying the groundwork for a possible line of attack in 2016 against Mrs. Clinton, who will hold a fund-raiser for Mr. McAuliffe next month. The official Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Wang met with in 2011, Alejandro Mayorkas, is the focus of an internal Homeland Security Department investigation into whether he gave GreenTech special treatment, which he denies.” And the Washington Post also took a look at Green Tech. “In Horn Lake, Miss., GreenTech runs a temporary assembly plant in an old elevator factory. There, fewer than 100 workers are producing no more than one car every two or three days, according to current and former company employees.” If McAuliffe weren’t running against Ken Cuccinelli, it’s very possible this race would be over. Fortunately for McAuliffe, he is running against Cuccinelli.

*** Holder to make news on sentencing for non-violent drug crimes: NBC’s Pete Williams reports that Attorney General Eric Holder “is directing federal prosecutors to change the way they file charges for some drug crimes, to reduce the number of convictions for offenses that carry inflexible, mandatory minimum sentences. The new policy involves the prosecution of low-level, non-violent drug offenders who have no ties to gangs, cartels, or other large-scale organizations. They will be charged with offenses that -- like those for most crimes -- specify a range of months or years, allowing judges to decide sentence length.” Holder will make this announcement today at the American Bar Association meeting in San Francisco, where Hillary Clinton will also speak today.

*** NJ SEN primary is tomorrow: We’re a day away from the special primary to begin filling New Jersey’s open Senate seat. And Newark Mayor Cory Booker is the overwhelming favorite in the four-person Democratic field. In fact, a Quinnipiac poll released last week showed Booker ahead getting support from 54% of likely Dem voters, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) getting 17%, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) getting 15%, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver getting 5%. On the GOP side, the poll found conservative activist Steve Lonegan crushing physician Alieta Eck, 74%-10%. NBC's Kasie Hunt notes that Booker is set to spend Monday on a bus tour that starts at a senior center in Cherry Hill, winding north with stops along the way and ending with a rally in Newark with actress Eva Longoria. In his speech tonight, look for Booker to focus on his intentions to act as a disruptive force in Washington -- refusing to play by what he's called the "old rules" of politicking in the capital.

*** Weiner releases his first TV ad: Finally, Anthony Weiner -- who finds himself in fourth place in the New York mayoral Democratic primary, according to the latest polls -- is up with his first TV ad. “I've waged a campaign focused like a laser beam on focusing on the middle class and those struggling to make it,” Weiner says in the ad. “If you give me the chance, I’ll fight for you and your family every single day.” The primary is Sept. 10.

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