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On ISIS, Politics at Home Was the Easy Part for Obama

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives at Ankara International Airport on September 12, 2014. Kerry is in the region to speak with leaders about strategies to address the threat from ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry said on September 12 that the US would provide an additional $500 million in humanitarian aid to victims of the war in Syria, bringing total American assistance to $2.9 billion since the start of the conflict in 2011. AFP PHOTO/POOL / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKIBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP - Getty Images

Thirty-six hours after President Obama took his case for strikes against ISIS to prime time, he appears to have gotten past the big domestic political challenge: He’s convinced most of the country – and Congress – that something must be done about the threat. But rallying the American people and Congress is the easy part: the big challenge now is winning tangible support from the Arab governments that will be crucial to executing the plan. While Secretary of State John Kerry can point to yesterday’s joint communique from the U.S. and 10 Arab states backing a coordinated military campaign, it’s a lot murkier under the surface. As the New York Times writes this morning, the “underlying tone” of that communique “was one of reluctance.” There are a LOT of players here, with a LOT of political and historical baggage to complicate attempts at teamwork. “I think the ingredients are there,” Kerry told NBC News yesterday. “Whether it gets mixed correctly and baked properly over the course of the next months and year or so, we’ll have to see.”

A ‘good point of departure’

For the second time this year, Gen. David Petraeus has given a nod of approval for Obama’s foreign policy strategy – and perhaps offered some subtle pushback to the most hawkish voices in the GOP. At a Thursday night event in Denver, Petraeus said the president made “a very compelling argument” about the need to combat ISIS, calling the president’s plan “a good point of departure.” AND, he said, with a new government in place, Iraqi security forces could be newly effective against ISIS. The irony at home is that Obama isn’t getting criticism from the GOP for pushing military intervention, only for not doing it bigger, faster and harder. Petraeus seems to be saying the administration got it right by getting better politics in place in Iraq first.

Hillary kicks off big week in Iowa

Hillary Clinton’s big return to her political Waterloo this weekend kicks off a big week for 2016 and the Iowa caucus stakes. Clinton (plus husband Bill) will speak on Sunday at the 37th and final Harkin Steak Fry. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden will be hot on Hillary’s heels, visiting the state for an official event in Des Moines. And independent Sen. Bernie Sanders is also making three stops in the Hawkeye State this weekend – and he’ll stop in with one of us(!) on Sunday’s Meet the Press to talk about why he might take the 2016 plunge.

What to expect on Sunday:

By the way, here is the early tick-tock for Sunday’s event in Iowa:

2:30 pm ET: Pre-program speakers: Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan, IA-3 congressional candidate Stacy Appel, IA-4 congressional candidate Jim Mowrer, IA-1 congressional candidate Pat Murphy, gubernatorial candidate Jack Hatch, Rep. Dave Loebsack, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and U.S. Senate Candidate Rep. Bruce Braley

3:20 pm ET: Main program speakers: Ruth Harkin, Senator Tom Harkin, former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Iowa Democrats SEEM ready for Hillary

As we’ve said before, this is Hillary’s first trip to Iowa since her defeat there in Jan. 2008. And as we’ve said before, it’s the clearest sign yet that she’s approaching the point of no return for a 2016 run -- if she’s not running, that answer has to come soon. As she returns to the state where the end of her 2008 campaign began, she’s in good shape with Democrats, according to our July NBC/Marist poll. She’s beating Vice President Joe Biden by 50 points in a hypothetical matchup, and her favorable/unfavorable rating among Iowa Democrats is 89%-6%. BUT her popularity has also taken a big hit nationally, falling from 59% positive/ 22% negative in February to 43% positive/41% negative now. And that’s BEFORE she officially announces her campaign.

The number of visits to Iowa and New Hampshire -- updated

Oh, and here is our updated list on the number of trips potential 2016ers have made to the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire since the beginning of 2013, per our research and NBC’s Sarah Blackwill. It includes Sen. Rand Paul’s visit to New Hampshire today. The tally (which includes Rand Paul’s visit to New Hampshire today but not Hillary’s on Sunday): 33 visits by Republicans (Cruz, Perry, Christie, Ryan, Paul, Rubio), vs. 17 for Democrats (Biden, O’Malley, Schweitzer, Klobuchar, Sanders, Webb).

DEMOCRATS

Iowa (8)

Biden: 1 (Harkin Steak Fry, Sept 2013)

O’Malley: 3 (June 2014, July 2014, Sept. 2014)

Schweitzer: 1 (Dec. 2013)

Klobuchar: 1 (Aug. 2013)

Bernie Sanders: 1 (May 2014)

Webb: 1 (Aug. 2014)

New Hampshire (9)

Biden: 2 (March 2014, Sept. 2014)

O’Malley: 3 (Nov 2013, June 2014, Aug. 2014)

Klobuchar: 1 (Aug. 2014)

Bernie Sanders: 3 (April 2014, June 2014, Sept. 2014)

REPUBLICANS

Iowa (21)

Ted Cruz: 6 (July 2013, Aug 2013, Oct. 2013, March 2014, Aug 2 2014, Aug 9 2014)

Perry: 6 (Nov 2013, Feb 2014, May 2014, July 2014, Aug 2014, Sept. 2014)

Christie: 1 (July 2014)

Ryan: 2 (Nov 2013, April 2014)

Rand Paul: 4 (May 2013, July 2013, June 2014, Aug 2014)

Rubio: 2 (June 2014, Aug 2014)

New Hampshire (12)

Cruz: 4 (Aug 2013, April 12 2014, April 26-27 2014, Sept. 2014)

Perry: 1 (Aug 2014)

Christie: 2 (June 2014, July 2014)

Paul: 3 (May 2013, April 2014, Sept. 2014)

Ryan: 1 (Oct 2013)

Rubio: 1 (May 2014)

First Read’s Top 10 Senate takeovers

With less than eight weeks until Election Day and after our NBC/Marist polls from last Sunday, it’s as good of a time as any to list our Top 10 Senate takeovers. The headline here: nine of the 10 races are GOP pick-up opportunities.

1. Montana (D-Baucus retiring): We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Max Baucus’ decision not to seek re-election opened the door to the GOP having the chance to win the Senate.

2. South Dakota (D-Johnson retiring): Sen. Mike Rounds, we presume…

3. West Virginia (D-Rockefeller retiring): National Democrats dipped their toes in the water earlier in the summer to help Natalie Tennant (D), but she is the HUGE underdog to Shelley Moore Capito (R) in this increasingly GOP-leaning state.

4. Arkansas (D): Incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) looked stronger than we had expected back in May. Now? It’s a tougher race for him: Our NBC/Marist poll had the race at Tom Cotton (R) 45%, Pryor at 40%.

5. Louisiana (D): This race is so hard to gauge given the likely December runoff if no one gets 50% of the vote in the November jungle primary.

6. Alaska (D): Sen. Mark Begich (D) had been running a superb race – until his campaign pulled that Willie Horton-like TV ad. But given the state’s size and the lack of polling, anyone who says they have a good handle on the race would be lying.

7. Iowa (D-Harkin retiring): The contest between Bruce Braley (D) and Joni Ernst (R) is truly a 50%-50% contest, and that isn’t good news for Democrats, who are going to need to use their superior in-state organization to pull out the way.

8. North Carolina (D): Much of the current polling shows incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan (D) with a lead over Republican Thom Tillis, but the margin is very close. And Hagan is well below 50%.

9. Colorado (D): Here’s the recent good news for Democrats: Sen. Mark Udall maintains his decent lead over GOPer Cory Gardner, 48%-42%, per our NBC/Marist poll.

10. Kansas (R): Here’s our only GOP-held race of this Top 10 list, and it’s not Kentucky or Georgia. What’s the matter with Kansas could very well be the most interesting story to talk about after Election Day.

First Read’s Race of the Day: AZ-9: Sinema vs. Rogers

Freshman Democrat Kyrsten Sinema won her seat two years ago, beating back GOP attempts to paint her as a radical liberal. (Past statements like describing herself as a “Prada socialist” gave them lots of fodder.) But Sinema, who won with less than 50% of the vote in 2012, has worked hard to reach out to business groups and portray herself as a centrist, joining the Blue Dog Coalition and touting bipartisan work. Her opponent, retired Air Force pilot Wendy Rogers, is well behind Sinema in fundraising.

If it’s Sunday…

On Sunday’s Meet the Press, we’ll hear the latest from the administration on the ISIS strategy, and we’ll have an exclusive interview with former Secretary of State James Baker. Plus: Sen. Bernie Sanders weighs in about 2016 and Hillary Clinton.

Countdown to Election Day: 53 days

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