Politics Today is CBSNews.com's inside look at the key stories driving the day in Politics, written by CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:
**President Obama to get specific on health care...
**Latest on Afghanistan...
**Lt. Gov. John Garamendi favored to win California's 10th Congressional District special election...
5192102HEALTH CARE: President Obama wraps up his vacation today through Sunday at Camp David amid criticism that he's lost the communication war over his health care reform. A CBS News poll out yesterday backs those critics as 60 percent of Americans say he hasn't clearly explained his plans. And the CBS News poll shows more Americans disapproving of his handling of health care: 47 percent disapprove of how he's handling it, up from 38 percent in July.
Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report that Mr. Obama's lack of specificity is going to change "as soon next week" in a speech where he'll specify what he "wants to see in a compromise health care deal and directly confronting other trouble spots, West Wing officials tell Politico."
"Obama is considering detailing his health-care demands in a major speech as soon as next week, when Congress returns from the August recess. And although House leaders have said their members will demand the inclusion of a public insurance option, Obama has no plans to insist on it himself, the officials said.
"'We're entering a new season,' senior adviser David Axelrod said in a telephone interview. 'It's time to synthesize and harmonize these strands and get this done. We're confident that we can do that. But obviously it is a different phase. We're going to approach it in a different way. The president is going to be very active'...
"The timing, format, venue and content of Obama's presentation are still being debated in the West Wing. Aides have discussed whether to stick to broad principles, or to send specific legislative language to Capitol Hill. Some hybrid is likely, the officials said."
Bloomberg News' Julianna Goldman adds, "An Oval Office address, the first of Obama's presidency, or a speech to a joint session of Congress are also being considered, another administration official said."
5196009CBS News Chief Political Consultant Marc Ambinder, who reported this earlier Tuesday, writes, "He plans to list specific goals that any health insurance reform plan that arrives at his desk must achieve, according to Democratic strategists familiar with the plan. Some of these 'goals' have already been agreed to, including new anti-discrimination restrictions on insurance companies. Others will be new, including the level of subsidies he expects to give the uninsured so they can buy into the system.
"Obama will also specify a 'pay for' mechanism he prefers, and will specify an income level below which he does not want to see taxed.
"He will insist upon a mechanism to cut costs and increase competition among insurance companies -- and perhaps will even specify a percentage rate -- and he will say that his preferred mechanism remains a government-subsidized public health insurance option, but he will remain agnostic about whether the plan must include a robust public option. Officials won't say whether the president intends to endorse a specific 'trigger' mechanism if the competition mechanism fails, but they say he will make it clear that the final bill must contain language that increases competition."
Meantime, Axelrod and the White House are fighting back against Republicans they accuse of obstructing change, reports the Wall Street Journal's Janet Adamy and Jonathan Weisman.
"Senior adviser David Axelrod, responding to recent broadsides against Democratic health plans by Republican Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said Democrats would reach out to other Republicans to finish a deal this year. He added that President Barack Obama is considering laying out a more detailed vision of what he wants in a health-overhaul plan...
"Democrats hope to persuade the public that Republicans are to blame for the stalemate and shift opinion in favor of an overhaul. They want to build enough momentum to win support from a small number of moderate Republicans, in particular the two senators from Maine.
"Mr. Enzi charged in a radio address Saturday that Democrats are 'cutting hundreds of billions from the elderly" and planning 'to limit or deny care based on age or disability of patients.' In a fund-raising letter, Mr. Grassley exhorted supporters to 'help stop 'Obama-Care.' The senators are two of the three Senate Finance Committee Republicans on the 'Gang of Six' health-care negotiators.
Also: Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard, "McCain, McConnell visit Florida to denounce health care changes": "Former presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky joined Florida Sen. Mel Martinez at a polite, closed-door forum with staff at Palmetto General Hospital. Following stops in Missouri and North Carolina, it was the third joint appearance by McCain and McConnell on a road trip aimed at presenting the party's closing arguments before Congress takes up sweeping healthcare legislation next week. 'We have to make sure that in doing so we do not destroy this healthcare system,' Martinez said."
Washington Post's Dan Balz, "After a Bruising August, Time for Obama Team to Regroup"
New York Times' Carl Hulse, "Conservative Democrats Expect a Health Deal"
Boston Globe's Lisa Wangsness and Sasha Issenberg explain the Senate's rules on "reconciliation", "Health overhaul may ride on tactic"
New York Times' David Leonhardt, "Changing Health Care By Steps"
"In numerous e-mails, the guards describe a crisis in discipline and morale, understaffing, sleep deprivation, 'threats and intimidation.' One guard refers to a group of guards and supervisors from the security contractor ArmorGroup as 'sexual predators, deviants running rampant.'
"Guards provided dozens of graphic photos and videos depicting shocking scenes of hazing and humiliation by superiors, most of them too lewd to show. The guards recount a climate of fear and coercion where those who refuse to participate are retaliated against, even fired.
"The State Department contracts with a private security firm - ArmorGroup North America, owned by Wackenhut. ArmorGroup employs 450 guards at the Kabul Embassy - two-thirds from Nepal and India, the rest from the U.S. and other English-speaking nations. Fifteen guards have brought their concerns about embassy security to the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight..."
Meantime, reports the Los Angeles Times' Julian E. Barnes, "U.S. officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with 'trigger-pullers,' Defense officials say.
"The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of U.S. troops, a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan.
"The plan represents a key step in the Obama administration's drive to counter Taliban gains and demonstrate progress in the war nearly eight years after it began.
"Forces that could be swapped out include units assigned to noncombat duty, such as guards or lookouts, or those on clerical and support squads."
"But what will happen after that is far from clear, and tension and suspicion have mounted as the vote count drags on amid widening charges of electoral fraud. Afghans are confused, jittery and bracing for street violence -- or at least a protracted period of political polarization and drift.
"Legally, the internationally led Electoral Complaints Commission will have the last word on whether the fraud was extensive enough to change the results, but its investigations could go on for weeks after the official tally is announced. That leaves open the possibility of a delayed runoff between Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, or even nullification of the election.
Washington Post's Karen DeYoung, "Taliban Surprising U.S. Forces With Improved Tactics"
"'I have represented every part of this district for the past 10-1/2 years,' Garamendi said via telephone over the din of his campaign party in Walnut Creek late Tuesday. 'The people of this district understood that I knew the issues that they cared about and that I could be a good and forceful representative.'
"The well-known Garamendi will advance to the Nov. 3 runoff as the prohibitive favorite in this heavily Democratic district.
"He will most likely face Dougherty Valley attorney David Harmer, who won by a substantial margin among the field of six Republican candidates…
"The special election was triggered in June when former Rep. Ellen Tauscher was confirmed as Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security in the U.S. State Department.
Political experts from both parties view the seat as very difficult for a Republican to win."
"Other potential candidates continued to tap dance around the issue, holding private conversations but giving no public indication of their intentions, as they awaited word on whether a Kennedy would enter the race.
"Former US representative Joseph P. Kennedy II is said to be eyeing a run, but it is not at all clear he will. Some associates say he is sounding like a candidate; others say he is expressing some reservations.
"Those close to him say that Kennedy is content in his private life and in running his energy companies, where his salary reached $544,792 in 2007, according to federal tax filings. That includes $77,000 he earns from his nonprofit operation, Citizens Energy, which provides discounted heating oil to low-income households. A US senator's salary is $174,000.
"Kennedy's pondering has put something of a freeze on the campaign, with several other candidacies hinging on his decision. Three members of Congress - Edward J. Markey, Stephen F. Lynch, and Michael Capuano - are also considering running, though Markey and Capuano have told people they would be unlikely to run if Kennedy did."
"Former [Democratic] Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, whose name has been floated as a potential candidate, said he will not run for the Senate seat but said he would be 'very interested' in serving as an interim senator," adds the Boston Herald's Hillary Chabot.
"Potential candidates will have to decide fairly quickly if they're in or out given the quick pace of the special election," the Associated Press' Steve LeBlanc points out.
"The first major deadline, Oct. 20, is less than two months away. That's when candidates vying for their party's nomination must deliver the signatures of at least 10,000 voters to local officials for certification to secure a spot on the Dec. 8 primary ballot.
"The final election is just six weeks later on Jan. 19."
"Obama has been campaigning for both Governor Jon Corzine, 62, of New Jersey and Creigh Deeds, 51, a state senator running for governor in Virginia. The president's push for health care legislation and unprecedented federal spending on the worst financial crisis in 70 years has created headaches for his fellow Democrats, who both trail their opponents in the polls...
"While the results of these two races will be read as a referendum on Obama, outcomes in off-year elections have proven to be poor proxies for national trends. Virginia has held off- year elections since 1851, New Jersey began in 1847...
"Analysts say both races could change quickly based on developments unrelated to national issues. For instance, McDonnell may be hurt by disclosures Aug. 30 in the Washington Post that his master's thesis published in 1989 described working women as 'detrimental' to family, and was critical of women's rights, including equal pay and contraception."
5280453The Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman and Sandhya Somashekhar write that McDonnell is turning to his female supporters to counter the latest development.
"Virginia gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell has been working for months to reach out to female voters, a critical constituency, by forming a women's organization and touting the endorsement of the managing partner of the Washington Mystics women's basketball team...
"McDonnell has said his views on working women have changed in the two decades since he wrote the paper at age 34 at Regent University in Virginia Beach. On Tuesday, he made his most prominent female supporter, Democrat Sheila Johnson, available to say she believes the document is an irrelevant distraction in a campaign that should focus on rejuvenating the state's economy.
"'This man has changed and evolved over the years. I am interested in Bob McDonnell from his record and what he's been doing for the state of Virginia,' said Johnson, who was a leading supporter of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and is part owner of the Washington WNBA team. 'As one working woman speaking to all working women out there, he really is the best candidate for governor.'"
The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti, "C.I.A. Resists Releasing Detention and Interrogation Records"
The Dallas Morning News' Christy Hoppe on Kinky Friedman's announcement that he's running for governor of Texas as a Democrat.
The Boston Globe's Michael Paulson on scholars' analysis of the letter Ted Kennedy wrote to the Pope in the final months of his life.
Politico's Jonathan Martin reports on Mitt Romney's fall schedule, which suggests he's running hard for a 2012 presidential bid.
The Wall Street Journal's Valerie Bauerlein on Gov. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., "Shamed Governor Battles to Save Job"