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First Thoughts: A Tale of Two Speeches

Breaking down Obama’s address last night: A Tale of Two Speeches… Now the U.S. remains in a holding pattern as it pursues a diplomatic path with Syria and Russia… Remembering 9/11 on this 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks… Total Recall in Colorado: GOP wins both contests… De Blasio, Lhota come out on top in NYC’s mayoral primaries. The only question is if de Blasio gets the 40% to avoid the run-off… And about that Hillary-Jeb event last night.

*** A Tale of Two Speeches: While the most significant political event last night arguably took place in Colorado, we begin with President Obama’s speech on Syria… The president’s address to the nation last night was two speeches in one. The first speech -- which the White House had been working on for days -- laid out his case to use limited force to deter the use of chemical weapons. It was succinct, firm, and heavily moralistic in explaining why the world cannot tolerate these weapons. “When, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act,” Obama said. “That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.” However, the second speech -- obviously cobbled together over the previous 36 hours -- acknowledged the potential diplomatic breakthrough under which Syria would turn over its chemical weapons. And Obama asked for more time to see if that diplomatic deal can be achieved. “I have, therefore, asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path,” he said.  “Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.”  

*** Remaining in a holding pattern: As others have pointed out, the two speeches were somewhat contradictory. Obama was essentially saying: “The United States MUST act to deter the use of chemical weapons, but let’s WAIT to see if this diplomatic deal can be sealed.” It was a jarring shift, especially for Americans who might not have been paying attention to every twist and turn in the Syria debate. Then again, that diplomatic path Obama wants to pursue provides him with a way out -- from possible military action when the country isn’t for it, and from a Congress who was about to hand him a stinging defeat. (The diplomatic path also provides Syria and Russia with a way out, too, which is why a deal is possible.)  What also was striking was what Obama DIDN’T say last night: He didn’t ask Congress for new authority to pursue this diplomatic path; he didn’t say what would happen if the deal falls through; and he didn’t say how long he’d give the diplomatic process to play out. So the administration remains in a holding pattern, although that holding pattern seems a better place for Obama than the other options did a few days ago.

*** Remembering 9/11: On this 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the White House’s focus moves from Syria to the 9/11 remembrance. At 8:45 am ET, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden all observed a moment of silence from the White House. Then, at 9:30 am ET, Obama attends a ceremony at the Pentagon remembering the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As our recent NBC/WSJ poll showed, 39% believe the country is safer than it was before the attacks; 28% say it’s less safe; and 33% say it’s virtually the same.

*** Total Recall in Colorado: GOP wins both contests: As we mentioned above, maybe the most significant political story last night took place in Colorado, where both Democratic state senators were recalled after the Dem-led state legislature passed gun-control legislation earlier in the year. The Denver Post: “An epic national debate over gun rights in Colorado on Tuesday saw two Democratic state senators ousted for their support for stricter laws… Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron will be replaced in office with Republican candidates who petitioned onto the recall ballot.” While it’s always prudent to not overstate the results of a special election -- especially one in which Colorado voters weren’t allowed to vote by mail (as many of them usually do) and especially with control in the state Senate not changing hands -- the political situation there is one to watch over the next year. Since 2004, no state has become more Democratic-leaning than Colorado: Obama won twice there; Democrats have won every U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contest; and Dems control the legislature. But the recall results will invigorate Colorado Republicans (as well as pro-gun groups and voters). The question is if a vulnerable Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) can win re-election in 2014, and if Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) can still cruise to victory next year. If the answer to these questions is “no,” then the Democrats’ streak in Colorado will come to an end. And that would be a big deal.  

*** De Blasio, Lhota come out on top in New York: In last night’s other contests -- the New York’s mayoral primaries -- Bill de Blasio, as expected, came out on top of the Democratic field. The only question is if he breaks the 40% threshold to prevent an Oct. 1 run-off, and he looks to be on track to do so. With 98% reporting, de Blasio has 40.1% of the vote, Bill Thompson was in second with 26%, Christine Quinn faded to third with 16%, and Anthony Weiner finished fifth (!!!) with just 4.9%. Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Joe Lhota got nearly 53% of the vote and becomes the Republican nominee. The thing to watch over the next couple of weeks is whether Lhota can grab support from some of the Dem business-community types. But in this highly polarized day and age, a Republican winning election in New York is hard to imagine. By the way, the New York Times piece detailing de Blasio’s win is a reminder for many who are already beginning to game out the 2016 presidential race: No matter how popular the incumbent is, voters are often attracted to a “change” message. “After 12 years of any mayor, [de Blasio’s team] reasoned, the electorate craved something fundamentally different in substance and style.” Oh, and Eliot Spitzer lost the Democratic primary for NYC comptroller. So out of the three politicians who have tried to resurrect their political careers in 2013, the only one who was victories was Mark Sanford…

*** About that Hillary-Jeb event last night: Lastly, NBC’s Alex Moe covered the joint Hillary Clinton-Jeb Bush event in Philadelphia last night. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush shared a stage Tuesday evening not as political rivals but to celebrate public service where American democracy was born, Moe reported. “We recognize the commitment of someone who has devoted her life to public service. I want to say thank you to both Secretary Clinton and President Clinton,” Bush acclaimed. “Thank you for your service to our country. We are united by love of country and public service. I believe that is the central goal of the constitution.” Clinton was honored with the 2013 Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center, the organization of which Bush is the chairman. This was the 25th annual ceremony for the organization and in 2006, former presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton received the Liberty Medal award.

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