The New York Times leads with the GOP's decision to refocus campaign resources from Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, to Senate races with rosier prospects, leaving DeWine to fend for himself and, in the paper's view, effectively conceding the seat. The Washington Post leads with the involvement of government-allied Shiite militias in escalating violence in northern Iraq that left more than 80 people dead as of Sunday. USA Today leads with the Iraqi prime minister saying he's not going to disarm those militias, at least not this year, and that American reliance on force in securing the country is the "wrong approach." The Los Angeles Times leads with a Bush-administration-backed panel's plan to recommend something other than "staying the course" in Iraq. The Wall Street Journaltops its world-wide newsbox with Sunday's 6.6 earthquake in Hawaii.
The GOP backing away from DeWine means two things, the NYT argues. First, it indicates that DeWine's seat is unsalvageable, not because the party is withdrawing funding—DeWine has $4.5 million on hand, according to the paper, but because the party wouldn't be doing this unless the race were hopeless; the GOP had previously called it a "must-win" seat. Most election watchers were rating the race as wide open—CQPolitics.com and the Cook Political Report each call it a tossup. Slate's analysts call Ohio "leaning Democratic." But according to the NYT, internal polls painted a bleaker picture, convincing the party brass to refocus their energies. Second, with DeWine out of the picture, the party has more money and resources to shore up another competitive seat—but where? The paper suggests that Sen. George Allen, R-Va., is a likely pick, though party officials are also polling New Jersey to see if Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez might be vulnerable enough to be worth throwing big money after.
The WP's reports of militia-led sectarian violence in the city of Balad, Iraq, are especially disheartening taken in tandem with USAT's lead interview with Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki. The militias are tied to influential political factions in the Iraqi parliament, making dealing with their actions more than just a little ticklish. While al-Maliki agrees that the militias will have to be disbanded to curb the violence, he doesn't think it can be done just yet. The current killings stem from kidnappings in the town of Duluiyah, spawning waves of reprisals.
Along with the WSJ, the LAT fronts its coverage of Sunday's 6.6 earthquake in Hawaii, while USAT teases its coverage. It's the biggest earthquake to hit the state in at least 20 years (the LAT says since 1975), but the damage seems mild so far, all things being relative. No deaths have been reported, no tsunami watch was issued, and property damage appears more limited than some feared. The NYT does a better job of putting it in perspective, pointing out that the 6.7 earthquake that hit Los Angeles in 1994 cost $26 billion in damage, adjusted for inflation. Sunday's quake may cost as little as $25 million.
The LAT's decision to lead with James Baker's White House-approved study group rumbling about the need for a policy shift Iraq is more than a little bewildering, given that both NYT and the New York Sun scooped them on the story last Monday. If you read those articles (or last Monday's TP …) then you already know the score, as the LAT has little to add to the discussion. If you missed the story last week, the gist is that Baker's group is willing to say that the U.S. has more policy options in Iraq than simply staying or running away. The two proposals the group is currently looking at call for either a phased withdrawal of troops or asking Syria and Iran to help stabilize the country.
The NYT off-leads with White House press secretary Tony Snow's recent round of speaking at Republican fund-raising events, an unprecedented act for a sitting press secretary. The article raises the obligatory questions of what Snow's role ought to be and if partisan fund-raising violates those parameters, but the paper seems satisfied that if Snow's dual role is a little unorthodox, its not really damaging—especially given Snow's past as a political commentator and his reputation for witty remarks. The sound bites provided from a recent Illinois rally are particularly amusing, especially his description of Bush's mental prowess: "He reminds me of one of those guys at the gym who plays about 40 chessboards at once."
The LAT off-leads with a piece on the efforts of social conservatives to save Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., in the November elections. The NYT's lead story depicted Santorum's seat as one the GOP is prepared to lose, and despite its misleading slug, ("GOP on a Mission to Save Santorum") the LAT story is about a grass-roots effort to aid the ailing senator, not a high-level move to bolster the campaign.
Below the fold, the WP runs a pretty by-the-numbers feature on the challenges facing House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. The analysis of Hastert's rise to power, his accomplishments, and management style are all fine. But then there's this line: "He looks like a cross between actor Wilford Brimley and Jabba the Hutt." TP would absolutely love to know what thought process led the WP's editors to believe that comparing Hastert to a Star Wars villain was appropriate in what is ostensibly an evenhanded story. Yes, the man is overweight. There's a picture of him next to the article, lest you doubt it. So, how does making fun of his appearance give a (no pun intended) fuller picture of the man? And in the age of partisan media, what does it do to the credibility of the story?
USAT writes that Americans like the ideal of government-sponsored "universal" health-care coverage but don't want to pay more taxes or give up services to get it. Also, the paper reports that Americans are confused by health-care issues and unsure of whom to trust regarding the latest findings.
The NYT fronts two business-corruption stories. First, the chief of one of the nation's largest health insurers is booted in a widening probe over back-dated stock options, a practice in which options are given the lowest price of a given year, instead of the price on the day they were issued, allowing for potentially larger profits.
The NYT also fronts a probe into the possibility that hedge funds, an already heavily scrutinized sector of the financial market, may be integral in insider trading, leaking sensitive data provided to the funds in their capacity as lenders.
Under the fold, the WP investigates the vagaries of crop insurance. Crops are insured by 16 firms acting in conjunction with the federal government. The companies aren't allowed to vary their rates, competing on service instead of cost, and can pass the chanciest claims off to the feds. This allowed the firms to pocket $3.1 billion in profits over the last eight years, even as the government swallowed $1.5 billion in losses.