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From the Post Politics Hour

Every weekday at 11 AM, the Post politics team takes your questions about the 2008 campaign. Today, Dan Balz responded to reader queries about General Petraeus's testimony on Capitol Hill, the primary calendar and much more. Here are a few excerpts.

Rockville, Md.: For the sake of discussion (and some perspective), five years from now, will the general's speech today be seen more for its information or as a high point of partisan interpretation? With calling him "General Betray us" few can deny the partisan tone of the observers. But The Post has reported few will believe him. I suspect the mood is "my mind is made up, and I don't need more facts." What is your take?

Dan Balz: I think it will be seen as one moment in a long continuum. A few months ago, people thought this week might be a major turning point in the war, or at least the debate over the war. But the partisan divide remains pretty large right now. We'll see in a month or so whether Republicans in Congress have moved away from President Bush by demanding a substantial change in policy and the start of a significant draw down of troops.

That's a way of saying I can't predict the future five years from now.

LaVale, Md.: Thanks for chatting this morning. What are the big events between now and January that will or could really start moving the presidential candidates' poll number in the early states? Is there a big debate in Iowa, New Hampshire or both that really will focus the voters' attention?

Dan Balz: There are a host of debates between now and the end of the year among the Democrats; fewer among the Republicans. Various things could move the polls: TV ads will begin soon and candidates like Clinton and Obama have tons of money to dump into Iowa and New Hampshire. The Iraq debate could crystallize in some new way, although that seems unlikely. Voters in the early states will begin to sort out the candidates after Thanksgiving. The other and least predictable is a particular moment, be it in a debate or by a candidate, that attracts attention. Often this is something that negatively affects a candidate. The Republican race, as we've said for a long time, is more volatile and therefore given to potential changes. The Democratic race is one in which a number of candidates are fighting to become the real alternative to Hillary Clinton.

Gettysburg, Pa.: Good morning Dan. What's the latest story about when the early primaries are going to be? If Michigan is now Jan. 15, 2008, wouldn't New Hampshire have to be Jan. 8, which would make Iowa's caucus on New Year's Day? (Seems like a bad time for a caucus, but maybe they don't drink a lot on New Year's Eve or watch much college football in Iowa.) How do South Carolina and Nevada then fit into the mix?

Dan Balz: This is still fluid. New Hampshire could move to Jan. 8, but that would not necessarily mean Iowa would be Jan. 1. Iowa generally holds its caucuses eight days before the New Hampshire primary but this year could be different. Iowa Gov. Chet Culver has said he prefers not to push the caucuses into December and that he is open to a calendar that might put Iowa only a few days ahead of New Hampshire. Everyone is waiting -- and will have to wait awhile longer -- for New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner to announce the date for that state's primary. But there are lots of discussions going on among various parties involved, and something of a game of chicken with states like Michigan and Florida challenging the status of Iowa and New Hampshire as the early influentials.

You asked also about South Carolina and Nevada. South Carolina Republicans have moved up their primary to Jan. 19 but the Democrats there have not moved off of their Jan. 29 date. Nevada was given a prime slot by the Democratic National Committee and is scheduled to hold its caucuses on Jan. 19.

But almost everything is in flux right now.

By Post Editor  |  September 10, 2007; 12:16 PM ET
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