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Veterans Hit the Battlegrounds

By Shailagh Murray & Michael D. Shear
Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sen. John McCain is getting battleground-state help this week from Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who will appear in a television commercial aimed at convincing the public that the United States is winning the Iraq war and should stay to finish the job.

Produced by Vets for Freedom, an organization of veterans of the two wars, the ad will run in Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and on cable nationwide. The group, with about 20,000 members, will spend $1.5 million on what it says is the first of many spots during the next month.

"As an organization, we have four months here," said the group's chairman, Pete Hegseth, an Iraq veteran. "A window of opportunity of heightened awareness. We think it's crucial that the success our troops have made on the battlefield is relayed to the American public."

The ad features eight veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and the mother of a soldier in Iraq. "We changed strategy in Iraq," one of the soldiers says in the ad. "And the surge worked. Now that's change we can believe in. We need to finish the job. . . . No matter who is president."

Hegseth says his group is not operating on behalf of McCain and notes that federal law prohibits the organization from coordinating the ad with his campaign. The states were chosen, he said, not because they are crucial swing states for McCain, but rather because the heightened interest in those states will give it a larger audience.

"We're going to tap into that heightened awareness," he said, noting that his organization has supported several Democratic candidates in the past year or so. "It's not an attack on anybody. We're not taking on any presidential candidates."

But he conceded that the message in the ad is almost identical to McCain's on the stump: The troop buildup worked; let's continue the war until we win. He said McCain has been the "strongest advocate" for the veterans of the two wars.

"We would hope that success in Iraq could benefit everybody," he said.

MELDING POT

The Clinton and Obama worlds continue to collide.

Patti Solis Doyle, fired as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign manager, started her job last week as chief of staff to Obama's yet-to-be-named vice presidential pick. And Neera Tanden, Clinton's policy czar, is joining the Obama campaign as the head of domestic policy.

Now the presumptive nominee hopes to snag John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former White House chief of staff and founding head of the Center for American Progress. According to several Obama sources, the campaign wants Podesta to run the transition operation if Obama wins in November.

Podesta kept a low profile during the primary season, although he was a staunch Clinton supporter. He is one of the most seasoned Democratic operatives in Washington, a quintessential insider with a rare grasp of both politics and policy. Before his White House years, when he weathered the impeachment scandal and many other crises, Podesta served as a staff counsel in the Senate, and one of his bosses was then-Sen. Tom Daschle, now a key member of Obama's inner circle.

His brother Tony Podesta is one of those high-powered Washington lobbyists that Obama likes to criticize.

Other former Clinton advisers making the shift: former White House economic adviser Gene Sperling; trade specialist and former European Union ambassador Stuart Eizenstat; and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

TURNING BLUE

Hunting for evidence that a Democratic wave may be building in congressional races? Look no further than the latest edition of the Cook Political Report, the nonpartisan newsletter that tracks House and Senate contests.

In its issue released last week, CPR shifted its competitiveness ratings for 28 House races -- and 27 of them shifted in favor of Democrats.

Twenty-one of those contests were moved from "Solid Republican" to "Likely Republican," meaning that more and more seemingly "safe" GOP seats aren't quite safe anymore under the current political circumstances.

"While it's not likely that a majority of the races moved from 'Solid' to 'Likely' Republican will become competitive by November, the poor national climate for the GOP and the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's] unprecedented financial edge makes even very difficult districts for Democrats worth keeping tabs on," the report counsels.

Many of the contests shifting in favor of Democrats are in states that will be competitive in the presidential race, as well. The revised ratings include four races in Florida, four in Pennsylvania, two in Virginia and one apiece in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and Ohio. (Pennsylvania had the only race that shifted away from Democrats: the reelection bid of Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D) in the 11th District).

Even before these latest ratings shifts, the Cook Report was predicting a Democratic gain of "10 to 20 seats." With more districts now coming into play, Republicans may count themselves lucky if that prediction proves to be accurate.

TWO DAYS: Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama address the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington. The Hispanic vote is widely seen by both candidates as a critical part of their winning coalition in the fall.

SIX DAYS: The National Council of La Raza annual convention is held in San Diego. Importance factor? See above.

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