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Syria the Center of Debate For Second Straight August

It was exactly a year ago when Washington was debating about what to do in Syria. A year later, Syria is once again in the news
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Strikingly, it was exactly a year ago when Washington was debating about what to do in Syria -- back then, it was over the Assad regime’s chemical weapons. A year later, Syria is once again in the news -- this time over whether to strike ISIS in the region. Of course, the circumstances are different. Assad’s chemical weapons weren’t viewed as the same threat to the United States that ISIS is (if unchecked). And a year ago, when it wasn’t election season, members of Congress were eager to debate whether to authorize limited airstrikes in Syria. Today, in the midst of campaign season, many politicians (though there are some exceptions like Sens. Tim Kaine and Bob Corker) are notably silent on the subject. (See this Buzzfeed piece on that silence.) Despite those differences, the larger storyline is the same between Aug. 2013 and Aug. 2014: Syria remains the Obama administration’s most difficult foreign-policy problem. (How do you curb the Shiite Assad regime? How also do you stop the Sunni ISIS militants there?) And Syria presents the danger that if you start getting involved, it becomes hard to stop.

Romney: “Circumstances can change” about reconsidering a ’16 run

Mitt Romney unlocked the door -- maybe just a little bit -- to a potential 2016 bid when he acknowledged to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that while he thinks a new generation of Republicans is better able to beat Hillary Clinton, “Circumstances can change, but I’m not going to let my head go there.” He then referred to the line from the movie “Dumb & Dumber”: “So you’re saying there’s a chance….” Folks, this still-simmering Romney-2016 story says as much about the potential ’16 field than it does the former Massachusetts governor himself (and the strengths and weaknesses he would bring to a third presidential run). Chris Christie has been wounded by the Bridge-gate story; Jeb Bush (due to the GOP base’s opposition to immigration reform and Common Core) looks like a no-go; and Scott Walker could possibly lose his re-election race in Wisconsin. And so when Republican donors and strategists ask themselves, “Who could raise a billion dollars to stay competitive with Hillary Clinton?” Romney is always going to be in that conversation.

Koch problem for Cotton, Ernst, and Gardner

Turning to the midterms, Democrats have spent much of this election cycle making the charge -- especially in TV ads -- that Republican candidates across the country are doing the bidding of the billionaire Koch Brothers. Well, this audio of key GOP candidates Tom Cotton (in Arkansas), Cory Gardner (in Colorado), and Joni Ernst (in Iowa) attending a June 2014 Koch Brothers retreat, in which they showered praise on the Koch Brothers and their network of financial support. The Huffington Post has the goods on the audio, which was obtained from one of the participants of the retreat. Said Cotton at the event: "Americans for Prosperity in Arkansas has played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state [inaudible] building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities.” Said Ernst: “[T]he exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory." More Ernst: "We are going to paint some very clear differences in this general election," she said. "And this is the thing that we are going to take back -- that it started right here with all of your folks, this wonderful network."

Last night’s primary results in Arizona

In Arizona, state Treasurer Doug Ducey easily won the GOP primary for governor, and he faces off against Democrat Fred Duval in the November matchup to succeed term-limited Gov. Jan Brewer (R). We wrote yesterday that Ducey might have a competitive race on his hands because he’s very conservative. But a top Republican tells us that Ducey unites many of the key GOP constituencies. In perhaps the stunner of the night, the GOP establishment’s preferred candidate in AZ-1, state House Speaker Andy Tobin, trails businessman Gary Kiehne by just 226 votes, according to the state’s count. However, the AP count has Tobin ahead. State Rep. Adam Kwasman (who mistook YMCA campers for unaccompanied minors) finished third. The Hill explains why Tobin is the establishment’s favorite: “[Kiehne] made national headlines after declaring a majority of mass shootings are committed by Democrats, drew a rebuke from the Arizona Police Association after comparing police officers to Nazis.” The winner will take on vulnerable Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ). In AZ-9, retired Air Force officer Wendy Rogers bested former Arizona State QB Andrew Walter, 59%-40%, for the right to challenge Rep. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) in the fall. Meanwhile, in the AZ-7 Dem primary to succeed retiring Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ), Ruben Gallego beat Mary Rose Wilxox, 48%-36%.

Last night’s primary results in Florida

In the Sunshine State, incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott (getting 88% of the vote) and Democrat Charlie Crist (getting 74%) easily won their primaries, setting up the marquee gubernatorial contest of the fall.

How the VA story disappeared as a political issue

President Obama spoke yesterday at the American Legion in North Carolina to discuss the steps taken to improve VA hospitals and care across the country. And this was the only statement we saw after the speech – from GOP Rep. Steve Daines, who is running for the Senate in Montana. “I’m encouraged to see President Obama joining Congress in addressing the pressing issue of veteran suicide and taking steps to implement some provisions that are included in the House’s Clay Hunt SAV Act.” It’s striking how the VA story disappeared as a political issue. Of course, it took Eric Shinseki to resign, a new VA secretary, and a law being passed to get there. Yet it’s a reminder that the Obama White House shouldn’t be afraid of playing the Washington game (offering a sacrificial lamb – i.e., the Shinseki resignation). Yet while the VA story has disappeared as a political story, it remains in the news. An inspector general’s report found “inappropriate scheduling practices” and mismanagement at VA hospitals, per NBC’s Rich Gardella, it also said that it couldn’t prove that delays resulted in deaths. "While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans."

First Read’s Race of the Day: Arkansas Senate

Over 70 days, we’re profiling 70 of the most competitive races of the cycle. Today’s entry: Arkansas Senate. This is the “canary in the coal mine” race, with its relatively early poll-closing time (8:30 pm ET). A win by incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) would signal that Democrats are well-positioned, even in a state like Arkansas, to hold their Senate majority. Conversely, a win by opponent Rep. Tom Cotton (R) -- a rising star in the party -- gets Republicans one step closer to Senate control. Helping Pryor is his last name (his father David is the state’s former governor), as well as Cotton’s inexperience (he was elected to the House in 2012). Helping Cotton is the state’s GOP-leaning nature (Obama won just 37% of the vote in ’12), as well as midterm electorate (when fewer members of the Democratic base turn out). Polls so far have shown that the race is a coin flip.

Health-care premiums to see net 2% drop in Arkansas

Speaking of Arkansas, this isn’t good news for Cotton: “The governor’s office announced Tuesday that policies sold through the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace will see a two-percent net decrease in premium costs next year, according to projections from the Arkansas Insurance Department… Some people will see a small increase in their premiums and others will see a more than two-percent drop in costs.” Here’s the deal with health-care: It’s not an asset for Democrats, but it’s not the liability it might have been six months ago.

Tragedy at firing range

Finally, this story isn’t a positive one for the gun-rights crowd. “Firing-range instructor hands 9-year-old an Uzi. Now he’s dead.”