For all of the slightly odd talk about this being the start of the campaign season, it is clear that candidates are setting their messages for the next 3 months, and the press is going to take things more seriously now.
One of the things that is clear is that, to the extent that Iraq is one of the major issues in the primaries, the policy and tone of the Iraq debate will be set over the next 3-4 weeks. Congress is gearing up for a major fight. The Petraeus report will drop over the weekend. John McCain starts to lay out his argument for being the leading (credible) voice on Iraq.
So it is interesting to see how the candidates are handling this issue. And the answer is, with the exception of John McCain, they are running from Iraq.
Rudy Giuliani is talking Homeland Security by rolling out a Homeland Security Advisory list and making promises about emergency preparedness in … New Orleans.
Mitt Romney, in response to another perhaps less-than-spontaneous "Ask Mitt Anything" question, calls the Iraq situation "a mess." This is,of course, right at the beginning of the discussion of Iraq, and that he called Iraq "a mess" will get inserted in stories and blog posts over the next couple of weeks. Romney is cleverly continuing his distancing himself from Iraq.
The interesting question is what the other top candidates are going to do? Fred Thompson has never had a clear message or position, but after Thursday he will. Mike Huckabee will need a set of answers to this and other questions much beyond what he had August 10th.
All in all, the statements made in the next couple of weeks about Iraq are going to be what these candidates carry through the primary, unless some major event occurs on the ground in Iraq or in Congress. And, unless there is some natural pivot, the position taken by the eventual nominee will be one that he is accountable through November of 2008.