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Michigan, Minnesota, And Maliki

Chris Cillizza writes up a somewhat disturbing-for-Obama Quinnipiac poll showing him basically tied with McCain in Michigan, Colorado, and Minnesota. I don't believe Minnesota is tied (most other polls show Obama way up there, and it's culturally and demographically similar to Wisconsin, where Obama still has a healthy lead), but the results are in line with a general tightening trend in key battleground states, so they can't be dismissed.

One of the reasons for what we're seeing, suggests Cillizza, is Iraq:

McCain's campaign has hammered home the idea that Obama was mistaken in his opposition to the surge of U.S. troops last year and is wrong now about his proposed 16-month timetable for withdrawing troops.

Voters in all four states seem to agree. Asked whether they would prefer a "fixed date" for withdrawal or to "keep troops in Iraq until the situation is more stable," majorities in all four states preferred the latter option despite the fact that similar majorities in each state say that America was wrong to go to war in Iraq.

Those results suggest that while Obama's initial opposition to the war plays well with voters, his plan to remove troops from the country within 16 months of taking office as president is less well received.

I agree. But that's also why the Maliki endorsement of Obama's withdrawal timetable is so important. My read of public opinion on Iraq is that Americans don't want to stay any longer, but they don't want to "lose the war" either, as vague a concept as that is. Prior to Maliki, McCain could say Obama wants to concede defeat at the very moment we're starting to win, which played to the latter sentiment. But Maliki's statement tells Americans there's no tension between leaving and winning. You can leave now and still claim victory, which is what they really want, and which is what Obama is offering.

A quote from Tom Davis in yesterday's Washington Post gets at this dynamic another way:

In private, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), Iraqi leaders continue to tell U.S. officials that they want and need U.S. forces to stay. But Davis admitted that because of Maliki's comments, "there are some members who feel, because of what is happening out there, a little hung out to dry."

Now that Maliki is assuring Americans they can leave without suffering defeat--the avoidance of which is the only reason to stay--it becomes very tough politically to opt for staying (even though, as Davis suggests, the on-the-ground reality might recommend it).

--Noam Scheiber