The Morning Line: The Promise Kept

BY Terence Burlij and David Chalian  August 31, 2010 at 8:31 AM EDT

The Morning Lne

President Obama travels to Fort Bliss, Texas, on Tuesday morning to meet with troops before delivering a primetime Oval Office address marking the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.

According to the White House, “Fort Bliss is home to troops who have served at every stage of the Iraq War, including troops who are redeploying back home throughout the fall, and troops supporting our new support mission in Iraq.”

The Oval Office speech will be the second of Obama’s presidency, and it gives him an opportunity to tout a campaign promise fulfilled.

As a Democratic presidential candidate, Mr. Obama separated himself from many of his chief rivals, most notably current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. During the campaign, Obama contrasted his long-standing opposition to the war with her 2002 vote authorizing the use of military force in Iraq.

That difference was on display throughout the campaign, but never more than in their first one-on-one debate in late January 2008. Clinton refused to apologize for her 2002 vote, saying she made a “reasoned judgment” while blaming then-President George W. Bush for failing to do likewise.

Mr. Obama and his campaign often pointed to his remarks at an anti-war rally in Chicago in October 2002, when as a little-known state senator still months away from declaring his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, he came out forcefully against the Bush administration’s approach to Iraq.

“I don’t oppose all wars. I know that in this crowd today, there is no shortage of patriots, or of patriotism. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war,” said Mr. Obama.

In the Senate, Mr. Obama also forcefully opposed the surge policy, which many observers see as instrumental to bringing Iraq’s security to a place that allowed the draw-down of American troops to an advisory force of 50,000.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Monday that President Obama plans to speak with former President George W. Bush prior to delivering Tuesday night’s speech. But if you’re expecting a reversal from the president on his opposition to the surge, you’ll likely be disappointed. Gibbs said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday morning that President Obama always conceded that adding additional forces would enhance security in Iraq, but that it was the political reconciliation and the “Sunni Awakening” that deserves the most credit.

Republicans are not planning to give the president a free pass on the Iraq issue. House Minority Leader John Boehner is expected to commend the success of the surge Tuesday at the American Legion Convention in Milwaukee, while noting that the president and other leading Democrats were opposed to the strategy at the time.

In excerpts of Boehner’s remarks obtained by The Morning Line, the GOP leader is expected to say:

“When General Petraeus embarked on the surge strategy in January 2007, it was widely viewed as our last chance to save Iraq from spiraling into an irreversible descent toward chaos. The consequences of failure then, as now, were severe. Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results. … today we mark not the defeat those voices anticipated – but progress.”

For the White House, desperately in need of some positive news headed into the November elections, the hope is Tuesday’s address will remind voters of the promise of the 2008 campaign, and not the political realities of near 10 percent unemployment and another war in Afghanistan that has worn on the public.

Be sure to tune in at 8 p.m. EDT for the NewsHour’s coverage of President Obama’s Oval Office speech, including the analysis of Mark Shields and David Brooks.

MAKING HISTORY

Republicans got a huge boost from the Gallup organization Tuesday when the polling group put out its latest assessment of the generic congressional ballot showing a 10 point advantage for the GOP.

“Republicans lead by 51% to 41% among registered voters in Gallup weekly tracking of 2010 congressional voting preferences. The 10-percentage-point lead is the GOP’s largest so far this year and is its largest in Gallup’s history of tracking the midterm generic ballot for Congress,” writes Frank Newport.

The poll also shows a continued and substantial voter enthusiasm advantage for Republicans. Twice as many Republicans (50 percent) say they are very enthusiastic about voting in the upcoming midterm elections as do Democrats (25 percent).

More from Newport:

“Gallup’s generic ballot has historically proven an excellent predictor of the national vote for Congress, and the national vote in turn is an excellent predictor of House seats won and lost. Republicans’ presumed turnout advantage, combined with their current 10-point registered-voter lead, suggests the potential for a major ‘wave’ election in which the Republicans gain a large number of seats from the Democrats and in the process take back control of the House.”

Republicans are not hurting for some feel good numbers, but heading into Labor Day weekend’s unofficial kickoff to the homestretch of the 2010 campaign season, the psychological boost for the GOP and depressant for the Democrats cannot be understated.

That didn’t stop White House press secretary Robert Gibbs from attempting to put a good face on the numbers when he appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Tuesday morning.

“We have a series of strong candidates across the board in House and Senate races and I think, come November, we’ll retain control of both the House and the Senate,” Gibbs said.

“We have nine weeks before an election,” he added, “that’s about three lifetimes.”

MILLER TIME?

The Alaska Division of Elections begins counting more than 25,000 absentee and questioned ballots Tuesday, with attorney Joe Miller leading incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski by 1,668 votes in the Republican primary.

Miller’s campaign has already begun making the case that if Murkowski somehow pulls ahead in the final count, it will be due to outside forces at work. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Miller’s campaign has alleged possible vote tampering in last week’s contest, claiming “a Murkowski ballot observer accessed the state’s computerized election management system.”

Miller also told ABC/Washington Post’s “Top Line” Monday that “he believes that ‘national folk’ are ‘trying to skew the results’ in Murkowski’s favor.”

Murkowski said Monday she was “astounded that Mr. Miller continues to make blatantly false accusations that there is something nefarious happening,” reported the Daily News.

If Murkowski doesn’t make up the nearly 1,700-vote deficit, her options would be limited. Murkowski could run as an independent write-in candidate or leave the race. There had been talk that Murkowski could run as a Libertarian, but the party’s five-member executive committee in Alaska this weekend ruled unanimously against allowing her to run on its ticket.

A KINDA/SORTA UNITY TOUR

The Republican Party is lining up behind its gubernatorial nominee in Florida after a bruising primary. Former hospital corporation executive Rick Scott will rally the GOP faithful with Republican Governors Association Chairman Haley Barbour in Miami Tuesday afternoon before heading up north to Jacksonville, Fla., to share the stage with former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum had been the preferred candidate of the Republican establishment, but Scott defeated him 47 percent to 43 percent in last week’s primary.

And despite the rallying around Scott from national figures like Gov. Barbour and Bush, his defeated opponent has still not come around. Over the weekend, McCollum made clear he has no plans to endorse Scott and suggested he may not even vote for him in November.