The Morning Line: Obama Hits the Trail

BY David Chalian  August 16, 2010 at 8:19 AM EST

President Obama will be in non-stop campaign mode for the next three days — more so than at any time since his 2008 victory.

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His name isn’t on the ballot, but more than any political pundit or practitioner, President Obama understands that November 2 is his midterm exam and he’s prepared to strive for the best grade possible from the American people.

The Associated Press’ Ben Feller walks us through the five-state swing (Wisconsin, California, Washington, Ohio and Florida) during which the president will be working on behalf of Senate, House and gubernatorial campaigns.

First up is Wisconsin, where Mr. Obama will raise some campaign coin for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s gubernatorial bid in the Badger State.

The president will be welcomed by a new, 60-second commercial by the Republican gubernatorial candidate, County Executive Scott Walker. Using Mr. Obama’s own words in the ad in a clever effort to get lots of free media pickup while the president is in town, Walker hammers away at what he calls an $810 million boondoggle to build a high-speed rail line from Madison to Milwaukee:

President Obama: “Make no mistake…”

Walker: “We’re trying not to. But you, President Obama, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, are trying to spend $810 million to build a high speed train line between Milwaukee and Madison.

President Obama: “Now, let me be clear…”

Walker: “No, let me be clear. I’d rather take that money and fix Wisconsin’s crumbling roads and bridges.”

Mr. Obama will also include some official business events talking up initiatives aimed at sparking economic growth. (But that’s really more to help defray costs to the campaigns to have the president stump for them.)

The main political purpose of this trip is two-fold:

  1. Fill Democratic campaign coffers as much as possible, because they’ll need every last dime in this very difficult political environment.
  2. Deliver the Democratic Party message on the economy as the political season is about to turn the post-Labor Day corner into the homestretch.

The president ends his evening in California at a high-dollar, Beverly Hills fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

THE GROUND ZERO MOSQUE DEBATE GOES NATIONAL

There is little doubt that senior White House advisers knew that when President Obama took to the East Room on Friday night to deliver remarks at an iftar dinner commemorating Ramadan, he had already decided to insert himself into an issue where he’d lose 70 percent to 30 percent in opinion.

President Obama and his aides took pains over the weekend to say that his Friday evening remarks were nothing more than a statement of support for the bedrock principle of freedom of religion upon which this country was founded.

Of course, you can read the remarks for yourself to determine if that’s all President Obama was saying, but it seems that if he didn’t intend to lend support to the building of the Islamic center near Ground Zero, then his words were inartful at best.

Republicans didn’t immediately jump on President Obama’s comments, but once the GOP saw the president try to clarify his remarks on Saturday, party leaders pounced.

“The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do. That is the essence of tolerance, peace and understanding. This is not an issue of law, whether religious freedom or local zoning. This is a basic issue of respect for a tragic moment in our history,” said House Republican Leader John Boehner in a statement, which serves as a signal to every Republican running for Congress this year on how to use the president’s remarks as an issue against their Democratic opponents. You can now be certain that the Ground Zero mosque controversy will play a (minor) role in races across the country this week.

THE GENERAL’S MEDIA TOUR

For the first time since taking over command in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus is sitting down with American journalists for extensive interviews on the current state of affairs in the war and the path forward for the American military with a looming July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops.

Indeed, it was that timeline that may have produced the most daylight between the general and his commander-in-chief, all under the guise that they’re singing from the same songsheet. Gen. Petraeus stressed that the July 2011 transition will be conditions-based, as Mr. Obama has also said, but with an emphasis on flexibility rather than the White House emphasis on the start of a drawdown.

“Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces, began a campaign on Sunday to convince an increasingly skeptical public that the American-led coalition can still succeed here despite months of setbacks, saying he had not come to Afghanistan to preside over a ‘graceful exit,’” writes Dexter Filkins of the New York Times.

The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran: “After burrowing into operations here and traveling to the far reaches of this country, Petraeus has concluded that the U.S. strategy to win the nearly nine-year-old war is “fundamentally sound.”

Petraeus, talking to David Gregory on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “My job is, again, to provide my best professional military advice, informed, certainly, by an awareness of the context within which I provide it, but not driven by it. And that’s the same way that we approached the very difficult recommendations that we made during the effort in Iraq. Over time I think those worked out and, touch wood, that over time they can work out here as well.”