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Iraq War, Dragging Down Republicans, Dogs Democrats as Well
By Catherine Dodge and Jay Newton-Small
December 9, 2005

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Iraq, which is dragging down President George W. Bush's public standing, is also creating a dilemma for Democrats torn between riding the wave of opposition to the war and fear of looking soft on national security.

"The public has historically seen the Democratic Party as weak on security issues," said Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center in Washington. "On the other hand, they have pressure from their own constituents. This is an issue where there is great partisan divide. A majority of their own constituents is saying we've got to go now."

"They are really cross-pressured," Kohut said.

Representative John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and Vietnam War veteran with close ties to the U.S. military, ignited a debate last month when he called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Democratic Chairman Howard Dean suggested this week that the U.S. is fighting a losing battle under the current strategy.

Others in the party, including House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, say a quick withdrawal could lead to disaster in Iraq. Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut won praise from Bush and an invitation to breakfast with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after writing an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal Nov. 29 that supported the president's policy.

`Very Sticky'

"This is a very sticky, complicated problem for them with no easy solution, kind of like the war itself," said Jennifer Duffy, who follows politics for the Washington-based Cook Political Report. "Starting with the Vietnam era, Democrats developed a reputation of being weak on defense of not being willing to stay and fight. They have not recovered from that."

Democrats need to find a unified middle ground that is "considerably more to the anti-war spectrum," said pollster John Zogby, president of Utica, New York-based Zogby International.

"The middle has got to be close to the Murtha side because that's where their constituency is," Zogby said. "Democrats are not going to win support by being Joe Lieberman on this. Lieberman will get White House dinners, but he won't persuade Democrats to support the war and support a pro-war candidate."

Sixty-one percent of Democratic voters favor an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, compared with 18 percent of Republicans, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of 1,230 voters surveyed Nov. 28 to Dec. 4.

Job Approval

Bush's job-approval rating rose to 40 percent this month after reaching 35 percent in October, the lowest point of his presidency, according to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Dec. 7.

The war in Iraq, which began in March 2003, is still the biggest drag on the president's standing with the U.S. public. Fifty-three percent of those polled said they disapproved of the way Bush was handling his job, and more than half of those people said the main reason was the Iraq war, according to the poll.

Democratic candidates running in regions that Bush carried in 2004 can't afford for the party to officially back an immediate withdrawal, said Representative Harold Ford, a Tennessee Democrat. Ford is running for the Senate next year in a state that Bush carried with 57 percent of the vote in 2004.

"I don't think the party's position can be that we leave," Ford said. "I can't support it. We leave, we give a road map of how to defeat us."

The Republican View

Democrats are "divided in so many different ways: either they believe we can't win, or they're for troop withdrawal or against troop withdrawal," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican. "One thing for sure is that we'll remain the party of national security and maintain that position."

Ford said Democratic candidates running in Republican- dominated areas must show they can find a middle ground between Bush's current policy and a rapid withdrawal of troops. Ford favors establishing benchmarks that could help determine when the U.S. reduces troop levels, such as how many Iraqi security forces will be trained by certain dates.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, voted against sending troops to Iraq and supports Murtha's position. "Murtha has moved this forward," he said. "He will be the person who brought this sad chapter to a conclusion."

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Dodge in
Washington at  cdodge@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 9, 2005 00:06 EST

It's hard to imagine two political parties that are this incompetent. The dems should use the Margaret Thatcher line, "The fact was that there were no facts, there was no evidence, and there was no proof," or simply "there were no facts to support war." The republicans should admit they took us for to war for no reason, apologize and make changes within the party to ensure that this kind of mistake never happen again (specifically, they will never let Bush lie to them again).

One of the few issues republicans lead democrats on is defense and this is after they were 100% wrong on Iraq. I don't know what surprises me more, that democrats have a "strong defense" deficit of 21% or that anyone still thinks republicans are strong on defense. Doesn't being "strong"mean you have to be right once in awhile? Dems should exploit the fact that the GOP is consistently wrong on national security issues.