War And Votes

I recently wrote in the Boston Phoenix about how national news events, outside the candidates' control, can have an impact on the special election race for US Senate here in Massachusetts. It will be interesting to see how that plays out next week, when President Barack Obama drops a (metaphorical) bomb during the final week of the primary campaign.

According to reports, Obama will make a prime-time address on Tuesday -- one week before the Senate primary -- outlining his plan to send some 34,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

On the surface, all four Democratic candidates have roughly the same position on Afghanistan: highly skeptical of increasing the number of troops, and somewhat preferring a reduction. There have been a lot of qualifiers like 'I haven't heard a strong enough argument for more troops.' Although there has been room between them on the issue, it hasn't been enough to make any difference.

But now, they'll be put to the test. Obama will, presumably, be making a strong argument for sending in more troops, so that caveat will no longer be operative. With a concrete plan decided upon, candidates' personal proposals become irrelevant: it becomes a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the Obama escalation. They'll have to either bluntly disagree with the President, or explain why they are now convinced that his plan is worth trying.

Further complicating the situation politically, they will probably have to give their answer, at least in part, before Obama speaks. The gist of the plan is already coming out, and figures to be a topic of conversation over Thanksgiving (at least, among those weird, politicall-obsessed 'likely voters'). If the candidate says he or she doesn't want to express an opinion until Obama has laid out his full rationale, that might look pretty weak-kneed to strongly anti-war voters -- who probably constitute a large share of the primary vote.

I would guess that Khazei, who has arguably been strongest about wanting troop reductions, will be first out of the box condemning Obama's plan; he'll hope to use it to differentiate himself as the true liberal in the field. (And, sitting at single digits in the polls, he has the least to lose.) Will all four end up in agreement? We shall see.

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