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:
**Tension grows within administration over Afghanistan...
**Latest on health care battle...
**California's 10th Congressional District goes to the polls in today's special election...
**Massachusetts governor sets Jan. 19, 2010 for Kennedy seat special election...
"On Monday, McChrystal sent his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, the U.S. Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and NATO. Although the assessment didn't include any request for more troops, senior military officials said they expect McChrystal later in September to seek between 21,000 and 45,000 more troops. There currently are 62,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
"However, administration officials said that amid rising violence and casualties, polls that show a majority of Americans now think the war in Afghanistan isn't worth fighting. With tough battles ahead on health care, the budget and other issues, Vice President Joe Biden and other officials are increasingly anxious about how the American public would respond to sending additional troops."
"The appraisal comes amid declining U.S. public support for the war and growing tension between U.S. commanders in need of resources and a White House wary of committing to fresh troops," adds the Washington Post's Ann Scott Tyson.
"It echoes recent gloomy statements by top military officials such as Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the conflict is 'deteriorating' and that the Taliban is far more sophisticated than it was just a few years ago. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday called Afghanistan "a mixed picture" and said "a very tough fight" lies ahead."
5264155Meantime, Politico's Mike Allen reports that the White House is worried about the backlash from liberals over Afghanistan.
"White House officials are increasingly worried liberal, anti-war Democrats will demand a premature end to the Afghanistan war before President Barack Obama can show signs of progress in the eight-year conflict, according to senior administration sources….
"The result: some think Afghanistan - not health care - will be the issue that defines the early years of the Obama administration."
A new CBS News poll out today shows Americans' support for the war in Afghanistan eroding.
"The public remains negative about U.S. progress in Afghanistan," the poll reads. "As they have for months, most Americans think the war there is going badly. Four in 10 now want U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan decreased, a percentage that has been rising since the start of the year. In addition, President Barack Obama's approval rating on handling Afghanistan has dropped eight points (now at 48%) since April."
New York Times' Peter Baker and Dexter Filkins, "Groundwork Is Laid for New Troops in Afghanistan"
CBS News' David Martin, "Is Afghan Gov't Coming to Aid of Bombers?"
"That suggests trouble for the president and his party, and fears of losses in next year's midterm election are likely to shape the Democrats' fall agenda.
"At August's town-hall meetings, voters often started with complaints about health care, only to shift to frustrations about all the other things President Barack Obama and the Democrats have done or tried to do since January. The $787 billion economic-stimulus package, the government-led rescue of General Motors Corp. and climate-change legislation all came in for criticism."
Part of the problem Americans seem to have with the health care reform push is that they don't understand what's being proposed, according to a new CBS News poll out this morning.
"Most Americans find the health care reforms being discussed in Congress confusing, and say President Barack Obama has not clearly explained his plans for health care reform," the poll reads.
"Two in three Americans call the health care plans under discussion in Congress confusing; only 31% feel they have a clear understanding of them. This evaluation cuts across party lines, with majorities of both Republicans (69%) and Democrats (58%) finding the current health care proposals confusing."
Meantime, Gibbs "said congressional Republicans are 'stepping away' from attempts to reach a bipartisan agreement on overhauling the U.S. health-care system, Obama's top legislative priority," report Bloomberg News' Roger Runningen and Laura Litvan.
"Gibbs said Republican lawmakers are repeating political attacks and 'untrue allegations' about health-care proposals being advanced in Congress rather than negotiating and offering alternatives."
5192097McClatchy Newspapers' David Lightman and William Douglas, "Health care debate exposes regional rift for Democrats": "Congress' efforts to overhaul the nation's health care system are plagued by an age-old urban-rural, east and west coast vs. the heartland schism in the Democratic Party."
Washington Post's Lori Montgomery, "Study Raises Questions About Cost Savings From Preventive Care": " Preventive services for the chronically ill may reduce health-care costs, but they are unlikely to generate the kind of fantastic savings that President Obama and other Democrats have said could help pay for an overhaul of the nation's health system, according to a study being published Tuesday."
Wall Street Journal's Gerald F. Seib, "Obama Hurt by Hands-Off Strategy"
Washington Times' Christina Bellantoni, "Obama supporters maintain 'permanent campaign'"
CA-10 SPECIAL ELECTION: There's a special election today to fill the seat in California' s 10th Congressional District (replacing former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., who took a job in the State Department) and, reports the New York Times' Jesse McKinley, health care is the number one issue.
"The reason, most of the leading contenders say, comes from both the makeup of the district, which touches on four largely suburban counties east of San Francisco and is solidly Democratic, and the high profile the issue has been given by President Obama's proposed overhaul.
"'We knew in our polling that it was big,' said State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, a Democrat.'"And we knew the numbers were going to go up from what we were hearing from D.C.' ...
"If no candidate receives a majority on Tuesday — a strong possibility in a race with 14 candidates — a general election with the top vote-getter from each party will be held Nov. 3."
The Contra Costa Times' Lisa Vorderbrueggen reports on candidate David Woods, who's aiming to be the first gay African-American elected to Congress.
"Interest in Woods' candidacy has undeniably surged in the past 10 days, an observation bolstered by the fact that he has raised $215,000 in mostly individual contributions.
"Woods is a gay, 29-year-old African-American man who served two tours of duty in Iraq, received a Bronze Star Medal and was discharged this year when he disclosed to the Army his sexual orientation."
The Advocate's Neil Broverman, "Nation Ready for a Black Gay Congressman?"
"Amid the emotional public outpouring over the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, talk of a successor has focused on his widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and his nephew, Joseph Kennedy II, the 56-year-old former congressman who could return to politics after a decade's absence."
"'Even though he's emotionally drained right now, he can't help but be moved by the enormous flood of affection and respect from all over the country,' said veteran Democratic strategist Dan Payne. 'He wouldn't be human and he wouldn't be a Kennedy if he didn't give serious consideration to running for what is known as the 'Kennedy seat' in Massachusetts.'
"Kennedy would be an early favorite if he decides to run, likely discouraging other Democrats who might be reluctant to oppose a Kennedy so close to the senator's death. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday set a date of Jan. 19 for a special election to fill Kennedy's seat. The primary will be Dec. 8."
Bloomberg News' Tom Moroney and Heidi Przybyla add, "'They really are moving things up,' said House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, who, like other Republican lawmakers, is opposed to the plan. 'It's distasteful to do this,' he said. 'It shows we are not a nation of laws, and I certainly believe there's going to be a backlash.'
"Lawmakers could have a bill on Patrick's desk by the end of the month or sooner, according to Michael Moran, the Boston Democratic representative who co-chairs the joint committee.
"The day Patrick signs it, he can appoint an interim senator, Moran said. Potential interim officeholders include former Governor Michael Dukakis and former state Senate President Robert Travaglini, he said."
"Former U.S. Rep. Martin T. Meehan, currently chancellor at University of Massachusetts in Lowell, is also said to be mulling a run. But when contacted, Meehan, who has the biggest war chest of all potential challengers with $4.8 million, said, 'I would have to be persuaded to leave what I'm doing,'" report the Boston Herald's Dave Wedge, Hillary Chabot and Jessica Van Sack.
"Another likely contender, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-S. Boston), was in his Boston office yesterday but declined to comment.
"U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Malden) has raked in $276,000 this year and has nearly $2.9 million, records show. A spokesman declined to comment on Markey's plans.
"Two names that can be crossed off the list are U.S. Reps. James McGovern (D-Worcester) and William Delahunt (D-Quincy), both of whom said they're not interested in running.
"Among the potential GOP candidates are former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, former U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan and ex-ambassador Chris Egan."
5266166The Globe's Joseph Williams reports, "Kennedy left $4.55 million campaign fund": "If Victoria Kennedy ran for the seat, said Christopher Hilland, a Federal Elections Commission spokesman, 'the only thing his campaign could do would be to contribute $2,000 to her campaign. She would have to start her own campaign committee. She can't take over these funds.'
"The senator's campaign committee and its treasurer, John Zamparelli, have the authority to keep the campaign account open indefinitely, allowing them to control the money. But their options are limited: they can donate any or all of the money to charity, give an unlimited amount to the Democratic Party and its political committees, or distribute it in increments of $2,000 a year."
VIRGINIA GOVERNORS RACE: "The Virginia governor's race ignited Monday over Republican Robert F. McDonnell's 20-year-old graduate thesis: Democrats assailed him in e-mail blasts and interviews for what he wrote about working women, homosexuals and 'fornicators,' and McDonnell tried to explain his views to crucial moderate and female voters," write the Washington Post's Amy Gardner, Rosalind S. Helderman and Anita Kumar.
"McDonnell's opponent, Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, bombarded state and national media with details of the thesis, submitted by McDonnell in 1989 for a master of arts in public policy and juris doctorate in law from Regent University in Virginia Beach.
"McDonnell, meanwhile, spoke by telephone to reporters for nearly 90 minutes, saying that his views have changed on many of the issues he explored as a graduate student. He also released a list of women who support his campaign."
"Mr. McDonnell's opponent, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, has increasingly questioned Mr. McDonnell's stance on social issues in recent weeks, trying to portray the Republican as too conservative for Virginia. Democrats on Monday argued that Mr. McDonnell attempted to enact the agenda outlined in the paper during his time in the General Assembly," adds the Washington Times' Sarah Abruzzese.
"'If Bob McDonnell becomes governor, he'll continue to use this thesis as a blueprint for pushing his extreme social agenda that will take Virginia backwards,' Mo Elleithee, a senior adviser to the Deeds campaign, said in an e-mail to supporters Sunday.
"Mr. McDonnell denied the charge.
"'The idle rhetoric of the other side about me having a dramatic social conservative agenda that is not good for Virginia is simply not true. It is not borne out in my legislative record,' he said."
PRESIDENT OBAMA TODAY: The president interrupts his vacation for a briefing from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Naplitano and others on the latest efforts to prepare for the H1N1 virus. Later, he'll host a dinner in the State Dining Room for a celebration of Ramadan with American Muslims.
New York Times' Charlie Savage, "Justice Dept. to Recharge Enforcement of Civil Rights": "[T]he Obama administration is planning a major revival of high-impact civil rights enforcement against policies, in areas ranging from housing to hiring, where statistics show that minorities fare disproportionately poorly. President George W. Bush's appointees had discouraged such tactics, preferring to focus on individual cases in which there is evidence of intentional discrimination."
Meantime, in another NJ governor poll, "Christopher Christie leads Gov. Jon Corzine by five points, 47%-42% among likely voters, according to a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released this morning. Independent Christopher Daggett, who was not listed as one of the choices, is at 1%. A July FDU poll had Christie ahead 45%-39%."
Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel, "Under FEC pressure, Palin's PAC doles out cash": "Sarah Palin's political action committee, facing scrutiny from the Federal Election Commission, revealed Monday that it had recently made contributions to a raft of mostly conservative Republicans, including Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell and Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Orrin Hatch of Utah. Those contributions ... combined with earlier donations to the reelection campaigns of Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, brought Palin's committee, Sarah PAC, to the five-candidate contribution minimum necessary for it to be considered a multi-candidate political action committee under federal rules. That status will enable Sarah PAC to dole out larger contributions to candidates going forward."