Politics Today: Liberal Protests Await Obama in Mass.

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:

** Will liberals in Massachusetts be happy to see Obama?...

** The White House distances itself from Deeds...

** More public option in-fighting among Democrats...

PRESIDENT OBAMA TODAY: President Obama continues campaigning for embattled Democrats – this time in Boston for Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., and in Stamford, Conn., for Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who are in tough 2010 re-election battles.

Mr. Obama will also make remarks at MIT on clean energy before the fund-raiser for Gov. Patrick.

If slow ticket sales for an Obama-led fund-raiser in a blue state are an indication of how hard things are for a candidate, then Patrick is truly having some issues. On top of that, liberal protesters promise to picket as well.

"President Obama blows into the bluest state tomorrow facing a cold shoulder from once true-blue admirers, as gay rights activists, anti-war protesters and vexed environmentalists vow to picket a fund-raiser he's headlining for Gov. Deval Patrick - a marquee event that hasn't even sold out," report the Boston Herald's Edward Mason and Hillary Chabot.

"As of last night, liberals who once braved frigid temperatures to behold Obama were shunning tickets to the fund-raiser at the posh Westin Copley Place featuring the president, sources told the Herald. And despite campaign denials, Patrick operatives reportedly were pushing the ducats - between $500 and $6,000 - by e-mail up to the last minute...

"Among the groups planning to dog Obama during his scheduled afternoon swing through Cambridge and Boston: Anti-war activists CODEPINK ... Environmental coalition 350.org ... gay marriage advocate Join the Impact-MA ."

One thing the president is sure not to talk about in Massachusetts, reports the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly, is the state's universal health care plan.

"The president's critics say his reluctance to spotlight the Massachusetts model is real-world evidence that his vision would not work on a national scale. High costs have forced the state to trim benefits for legal immigrants and prompted one safety-net hospital to sue over a $38 million shortfall.

"Obama's allies -- and even one prominent adversary -- see a more nuanced picture that offers guideposts for federal lawmakers as they finalize decisions on a bill that could reshape one-sixth of the economy."

Meantime, tonight in Connecticut, " Sen. Chris Dodd's re-election campaign hopes Friday's visit by President Barack Obama will highlight the partnership the two Democrats share on issues like health care and credit card reforms," the Associated Press reports. "Obama is scheduled to appear at a $1,000-a-plate dinner in Stamford. The event is expected to raise $1 million. Besides Dodd's re-election campaign, the state Democratic Party and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will benefit. ...

"One of Dodd's potential GOP foes, [Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO] Linda McMahon, is running a TV ad on Friday criticizing Obama's visit as a 'pat on the back from Washington' that she says Dodd doesn't deserve."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., has said he won't be at tonight's Dodd-related event – not for political reasons but for religious reasons," writes the Stamford Advocate's Devon Lash.

"Lieberman, who is Jewish, is not planning to attend the fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., because he'll be celebrating the Sabbath at his Strawberry Hill Avenue home, his spokeswoman said.

"'While he's delighted the president is coming to Stamford, because of the Sabbath, he won't be able to attend,' spokeswoman Erika Masonhall said...

"While Dodd faces a challenging campaign for re-election in 2010, Masonhall said Lieberman has loudly endorsed him so he can 'continue (his) work for the state and the nation.'"

2009 RACES: "Sensing that victory in the race for Virginia governor is slipping away, Democrats at the national level are laying the groundwork to blame a loss in a key swing state on a weak candidate who ran a poor campaign that failed to fully embrace President Obama until days before the election," report the Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman and Anne E. Kornblut.

"Senior administration officials have expressed frustration with how Democrat R. Creigh Deeds has handled his campaign for governor, refusing early offers of strategic advice and failing to reach out to several key constituencies that helped Obama win Virginia in 2008, they say.

"Democratic strategists said that over the summer, Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) offered Deeds advice on winning a statewide election. Among other things, Kaine, who is also chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told Deeds that he should lay out more of his own vision and stop attacking Republican Robert F. McDonnell so ferociously. But Deeds did not embrace the advice, according to a national Democratic strategist…

"A loss for Deeds in Virginia -- which for the first time in decades supported the Democratic presidential candidate in last year's race -- would likely be seen as a sign that Obama's popularity is weakening in critical areas of the country. But the unusual preelection criticism could be an attempt to shield Obama from that narrative by ensuring that Deeds is blamed personally for the loss, particularly given the state's three-decade pattern of backing candidates from the party out of power in the White House."

Meantime, in New Jersey, "With the bitter campaign for governor close to conclusion and the outcome very much in doubt, the three major candidates tonight stayed away from personal venom but clashed over a wide range of issues in their final face-to-face debate," write the Newark Star-Ledger's Claire Heininger and Josh Margolin.

"During an hourlong session at WBGO-FM in Newark, Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, Republican Chris Christie and independent Chris Daggett crammed into the radio studio — standing so close that the governor nearly brushed his Republican opponent while gesturing with his arms. They debated as polls show a race too close to call between Corzine and Christie, with Daggett continuing to gain ground."

In the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District, Sarah Palin continued her re-emergence Thursday night when on her Facebook page, she endorsed Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate.

"Unfortunately, the Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race," Palin wrote.

This is the seat that was held for years by former Rep. John McHugh, a moderate Republican who is now Obama's Army Secretary.

Moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava was favored to win over Democrat Bill Owens until Hoffman began gaining some steam and splitting the Republican vote. Thursday, Hoffman was also endorsed by Dick Armey; Fred Thompson has also endorsed him and the conservative Club for Growth has run ads on his behalf (and calling both the Democrat and Republican "liberals"). For her part, Scozzafava has the support of the National Republican Congressional Committee and Newt Gingrich.

The latest Siena College poll from Oct. 15 in the district, which covers most of northern New York State, shows the Democrat Owens in the lead with 33 percent (up 5 points from Siena's Oct.1 poll), the Republican Scozzafava with 29 (down 6) and Hoffman with 23 (up 7).

Among Republicans, Scozzafava only gets 40 percent with Hoffman getting 27 percent. Hoffman leads among independents with 31 percent. Owens gets 28 percent of independents and Scozzafava 24 percent.

Conservatives are looking at this as a prime opportunity to derail a moderate and make a statement that the GOP should move to the right, not to the center.

While Conservatives may feel emboldened to try to derail moderate Republicans across the country, here are still many Republican leaders that are pushing for moderates to be part of the fray, including NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., who has recruited such moderates as Charlie Crist in Florida (who is facing a primary challenge from conservative Marco Rubio) and Mike Castle in Delaware to run for Senate next year, as well as Gingrich.

In his endorsement of Scozzafava, Gingrich wrote: "We have to decide which business we are in. If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed then I probably made the wrong decision."

HEALTH CARE: "In pushing to include a government-run health insurance plan in the health care bill, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, is taking a calculated gamble that the 60 members of his caucus could support the plan if it included a way for states to opt out," report the New York Times' Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn.

"Mr. Reid met with President Obama at the White House Thursday to inform him of his inclination to add the public option to the bill, but did not specifically ask the president to endorse that approach, a Democratic aide said. Mr. Obama asked questions, but did not express a preference at the meeting, a White House official said…

"As word of Mr. Reid's intention spread Thursday, centrist senators from both parties said they had come together in an informal group to resist creation of a uniform nationwide public insurance program.

"Leaders of the group, including Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, said they wanted to be sure the bill was not rushed to the floor.

"One of the centrists, Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, said: 'I am pressing to get a government-run, taxpayer-supported public option out of the bill. I want to rely on a reformed private marketplace.'"

The Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt and Janet Adamy add, "Sen. Ben Nelson, who has met twice this week with Mr. Reid, said it would be 'very difficult' for him to support any proposal that creates a national plan -- even one that allows states to opt out. The Nebraska Democrat wants to empower states to experiment with their own public plans, he said, 'the nature of which would be determined by the states, not the federal government.'"

"Liberals, led by Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), are seeking support for an 'opt-out' provision that would create a government plan but allow states not to participate. Others worry that if Reid adds a public plan to the package he is crafting from two competing Senate bills, moderate Democrats will join Republicans in voting to block the bill from reaching the Senate floor," write the Washington Post's Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray.

"Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), the only Republican to support any of the Democrat-sponsored health-care legislation, opposes the Schumer alternative and told reporters Thursday that she would vote against a measure that includes it. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) also criticized the opt-out approach and urged Reid to leave the public plan out of the bill. 'I applaud his effort,' Nelson said of Reid's attempt to find common ground. 'But it's too risky.'

"The discussion continued at the White House late Thursday, where Obama was noncommittal on the opt-out idea, according to senior Democratic aides who were briefed on the session. Many Democrats said Reid was leaning toward adding the Schumer language, even at the risk of failure on the Senate floor, to establish a baseline of support in the chamber for a public option."

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
On the House side, "Speaker Nancy Pelosi counted votes Thursday night and determined she could not pass a 'robust public option' — the most aggressive of the three forms of a public option House Democrats have been considering as part of a national overhaul of health care," reports Politico's Mike Allen.

"Pelosi's decision—coupled with a significant turn of events yesterday during a private White House meeting—points to an increasingly likely compromise for a trigger option for a government plan.

"Administration officials have been telling Politico for weeks now that this the most likely compromise because it can probably satisfy liberals—albeit only reluctantly and after many vent frustration and some even threaten to walk away from the bill.

"This would clear the way for backers to sneak a limited public option through the Senate by attracting moderate Democrats and then to win President Barack Obama's signature."

"Pelosi's lieutenants have been polling House Democrats on whether they support the most robust public option — and say they are closing in on the 218 votes needed to pass a public option," writes Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown. "'Getting from 200 to 218 can sometimes take a little time,' Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen said as he emerged from a leadership meeting in Pelosi's office Thursday evening.

"Also, a group of 36 moderate House Democrats have written to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, saying they would vote down a House bill that 'does nothing to rein in the cost of health care and therefore may not be sustainable outside the 10-year budget window.'"

5377715AFGHANISTAN: "The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan planned an unexpected appearance Friday at a meeting of NATO defense ministers focused on making Afghan security forces responsible for fighting the war there," reports the Associated Press' Lara Jakes.

"Officials said Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal was to brief NATO ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on his view of the war in Afghanistan.

"A document provided to The Associated Press outlines formal NATO approval of plans to eventually give Afghan army and police officials control over a war that is in its ninth year. The plans specifically do not require any withdrawal of the 104,000 U.S. and NATO troops that will be in Afghanistan by the end of the year. Instead, they officially affirm NATO's intent to shift from being in charge of security and rebuilding in the war-torn nation to taking a backup role to Afghan officials, according to the document."

"The serious fraud that clouded the credibility of Afghanistan's presidential election last summer is unlikely to be repeated on the same scale in the runoff set for Nov. 7, but it cannot be altogether eliminated, said Afghan and international officials here as they scrambled to prepare for the vote," reports the New York Times' Alissa J. Rubin.

"At least as worrisome is the likelihood of low turnout caused by continuing threats from insurgents, winter weather that has already brought subfreezing temperatures to some areas and a deep sense among Afghans that there is little reason to vote a second time."

"White House press secretary Robert Gibbs lashed out at former vice president Richard B. Cheney on Thursday, dismissing the Republican's criticism of delays in President Obama's decision-making on Afghanistan strategy," writes the Washington Post's Michael D. Shear.

"In a speech Wednesday night, Cheney offered the latest in a series of harsh assessments of the president's conduct of foreign policy, accusing Obama of 'dithering' in his weeks-long review about whether to add 40,000 new U.S. troops to the fight in Afghanistan. Cheney said Obama 'seems afraid' to make a decision.

"Those comments drew a sharp rebuke from Gibbs, who asserted that the Bush administration -- and Cheney himself -- had sat for eight months on a request for more troops from their own military leaders.

"'What Vice President Cheney calls 'dithering,' President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public,' Gibbs told reporters. 'I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously.'


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  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.