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Nine Days That Will Shape the Race

The next nine days will feature four debates and a GOP straw poll that could be make or break for some contenders. Rudy Giuliani, seen here campaigning in Sloan, Iowa won't be in that contest, but needs to convince voters in the Hawkeye state that he will work for their support. (AP).

If you are lucky enough to be heading off on vacation this weekend, don't bother to read further. If you aren't one of the lucky ones, here's a primer on an extraordinarily busy week of presidential politics ahead.

Over the next nine days there will be three Democratic candidate forums, a Republican debate and the world-famous Republican straw poll in Ames. Hardly a candidate in either field doesn't have something to accomplish between now and when the tents come down on the Iowa State University campus.

Start with the Democrats, who will gather in Chicago on Saturday afternoon for a 90-minute forum at the second annual YearlyKos convention of the blogosphere.

This is not going to be Hillary Clinton country. The New York senator has had a contentious relationship, at best, with the bloggers on the left, who distrust her because of her vote for the Iraq war and because of her husband's centrist ideology.

Clinton sometimes has found a way to defuse -- though not necessarily charm -- her opponents on the left, employing some of the most anti-Bush rhetoric among the Democratic candidates.

The question for her is how much she feels the need to tamp down her blog critics and how much room she wants to preserve for positioning herself as a general election candidate. The Clinton camp usually leaves nothing to chance, so the calibration will be important to watch.

Chicago is Barack Obama's town, but he can't expect any deference to be paid by his rivals. They have been pummeling him for two weeks over a series of foreign policy statements made in debate, in a speech and in an Associated Press interview.

Obama has irritated some bloggers this week with hawkish rhetoric about going after terrorists inside Pakistan. He's drawn criticism from rivals for musing out loud about nuclear options -- and then trying to rewrite his words on the fly. Will he take the opportunity to try to make the record clear -- and double down and defend everything he's had to say as proof that would be a fresh and welcome change from the past?

On Tuesday, the Democratic scene shifts to Soldier Field, where 10,000 or so union members and their families will gather for a Democratic debate, moderated by MSNBC's Keith Olberman.

The forum at Soldier Field will be John Edwards's moment. Nobody has worked harder to court labor unions than the former North Carolina senator and nobody needs their endorsements more than he does. He continues to run strong in Iowa but he'll need a boost this fall to stay in the fight with Clinton and Obama as their millions of dollars begin to swamp his more modestly financed campaign.

But Edwards will face competition at Soldier Field -- and not just from Clinton and Obama. Chris Dodd and Joe Biden have longstanding ties to the labor movement and speak their language and Bill Richardson will be pitching hard as well. If Edwards tries too hard, he could find one of the others eclipsing him on Tuesday night.

The final gathering of the Democrats next week will be in Los Angeles when the Human Rights Campaign and Logo co-sponsor a forum for the candidates. Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg will moderate the forum and singer Melissa Ethridge will be one of three questioners.

The candidates will appear sequentially -- Clinton is scheduled last -- and most people may have to catch up with it after it ends. But it will be carried live on the Logo cable network..

Gays and lesbians represent an important constituency in the Democratic Party and the most interesting question is whether candidates fully embrace the gay community's agenda and how they talk about their views about gay issues have changed over the years.

The Republicans will spend their week in Iowa, starting on Sunday morning with a debate on a special 90-minute edition of ABC's "This Week." George Stephanopoulos will moderate the debate, which begins at 9 a.m. EDT.

The candidates will spend the rest of the week drumming up support for the straw poll, although three of the top four candidates in the GOP field will be missing in action in Ames. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain said they wouldn't compete in the straw poll -- presumably because they were afraid of the consequences of a poor showing. Fred Thompson isn't yet a candidate.

That puts Mitt Romney on the spot. One of his advisers recently dubbed Romney the GOP frontrunner, and he's been leading recent GOP polls in the Iowa. With Giuliani, McCain and Thompson not competing in Ames, he will be expected to win going away -- and there are some of his supporters who worry that they've let expectations get out of control.

Sunday's debate will be the first for McCain since his campaign blew up a month ago. He's trying to resurrect his candidacy but Iowa has not been terribly hospitable. His performance on the stage in Des Moines this weekend will offer some important insights into his energy level, his determination and into whether having been singed by the immigration debate, he has begun to change his message.

Giuliani has been spending more time in New Hampshire, and the question is how hard he intends to try and sell the Iowa audience on the idea that he'll be a serious competitor in next year's caucuses.

The GOP candidates with the most to prove next week are the also-rans: Mike Huckabee, Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback and others. Thompson has made clear that his campaign needs a victory in the straw poll, so he's already established expectations for himself. A loss next Saturday likely will drive him out of the race.

Huckabee and Brownback have been in a nasty fight, trying to become the candidate of the Christian right. It's not likely both can survive the results in Ames.

Look for updates through the week -- or enjoy your time off. We'll be here for you.

-- Dan Balz

By Post Editor  |  August 3, 2007; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Dan Balz's Take  
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Next: Elizabeth Edwards
On "Moms Blog"


I truly need someone to explain to me why people are so concerned about what happens in other people's bedrooms.

While HE is at it, HE might explain why forcing women to bear unwanted children is pro-life.

Posted by: pach12 | August 5, 2007 9:25 PM | Report abuse

"Gay Marriage" is such a phony, red-herring issue that it boggles the mind to see us wasting the candidates' time on it. It's a Rovian trick. Remember how the Republicans wasted time talking about the "No Flag Burning" constitutional amendment to the Constitution, until they won and promptly forgot about it? Almost all of the Democrats, and even many Republicans, favor the granting of civil-union status to same sex couples. As to whether this union gets religiously solemnized as a marriage, that's a religious issue for each denomination to consider, not a political or governmental issue. Completely equal LEGAL rights can be given, and assuredly will. The REAL issue is what the economic implications are for Social Security, health insurance, divorce courts etc. in dealing with people in these unions in the same manner as married people.

Posted by: dyinglikeflies | August 4, 2007 5:58 AM | Report abuse

I am neither Republican or Democrat and why anyone would identify themselves with either group in this day and age is simply beyond me.

I truly need someone to explain to me why people are so concerned about what happens in other people's bedrooms. Or why you care if someone else gets married or not. Okay...YOUR religion says that's wrong. My question, what does that have to do with me or my constitutional rights? I am not gay, I am a 38 year old married woman and I am tired of seeing our society marred by discrimination in every form. This country was not founded on those principles and we have come a long way; but there are days when I feel like we are headed back the way we came and it scares me to death.

Posted by: erindjackson | August 3, 2007 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Ron Paul will win the straw poll as long as the results aren't rigged using the diebold voting machines

Posted by: rjr7777 | August 3, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Ron Paul will win the straw poll as long as the results aren't rigged using the diebold voting machines

Posted by: rjr7777 | August 3, 2007 2:12 PM | Report abuse

from Schmitz Blitz:

The Democrats on gays at the Youtube debate

At the Democratic Youtube Debate, which aired tonight on CNN's Situation Room with Anderson Cooper, Americans were allowed to submit their questions to the Democratic candidates via Youtube.

Rev. Reggie Longcrier of Hickory, NC submitted the following video to Jon Edwards:

Senator Edwards said his opposition to gay marriage is influenced by his Southern Baptist background. Most Americans agree it was wrong and unconstitutional to use religion to justify slavery, segeragation, and to deny women the right to vote.

So why is it still acceptable to use religion to deny gay Americans their full and equal rights?

Edward responded:

I think Rev. Longcrier asks a very important question, which is, fundamentally, whether it's right for any of our faith beliefs to be imposed on the American people when we're President of the United States. I do not believe that's right. I feel enormous personal conflict about this issue. I want to end discrimination, I want to do some of the things I just heard Bill Richardson talk about; standing up for equal rights, substantive rights, civil unions, what Chris Dodd just talked about, and I think that's something everybody on this stage will commit themselves to as President of the United States.

But I personally have been on a journey on this issue. I feel enormous conflict about it. I think as a lot of people know, Elizabeth spoke at, my wife Elizabeth out a few weeks ago, and she actually supports, uh gay m-marriage [stutter], I do not, um this is a very difficult issue for me and I have enormous respect for people who have a different view of it.

Anderson Cooper, being a good moderator, pressed Edwards to answer the question, asking bluntly, "why is it OK to quote religious beliefs when talking about why you don't support something?"

Edwards responded:

It's not. I've been asked a personal question, which, I think is what Rev. Longcrier is raising. The personal questions is, do I believe, do I personally support gay marriage. The answer to that is I don't. Uh, but I think it is absolutely wrong as President of the United States for me to use that faith basis as a basis for denying anybody their rights. And I will not do that when I am President of the United States.

Edwards still did not respond to Rev. Longcier' s question! From what I've taken from his response, Edwards believes that religion should not be used to discriminate and that he is against discrimination, but he still thinks it's right to discriminate against gays by keeping them from marrying.

Anderson Cooper then pressed Barack Obama on the issue (presumably because he is the only black candidate), saying, "the laws banning interracial marriage in the US were ruled unconstitutional in 1967--what is the difference between the ban on interracial marriage and a ban on gay marriage?"

Obama responded:

Well I [stutter] I think it is important to pick up on something that was said earlier by both Dennis and by Bill and that is that we've got to make sure that everybody is equal under the law, and the civil unions that I propose would be equivalent in terms of making sure that all the rights that are conferred by the state are equal, uh, for same sex couples as well as for heterosexual couples.

With respect to marriage it's my belief, uh, that it's up to individual denominations to make a decision as to whether or not they want to recognize a marriage or not. Uh, but, in terms of, you know, the rights of people to uh, transfer property, to have hospital visitation, all those civil rights that are, uh, conferred by our government, those should be equal.

Doesn't Obama, of all people, realize that separate is never equal? I wonder when gays will finally wake up and realize that none of the mainstream candidates support their full equality. Gays donate and vote for Democratic candidates overwhelmingly. When will gays stand up and hold the Democrats accountable?

Posted by: eschmitz424 | August 3, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

As much as the Democrats would LOVE Romney as an opponent in 2008, there is simply no chance.

His shameless flip-flopping on the abortion/gay rights issues will provide for many laughs throughout the campaign.

The additional fact that he is self-funding his campaign makes him appear even more laughable.

McCain will soon be out and Giuliani will take the bulk of his supporters since their views are most closely aligned.

Thompson will never get off the ground and at this point, the party will unite behind Giuliani and that will be the end of it.

Posted by: gthstonesman | August 3, 2007 12:55 PM | Report abuse

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