With the threat of sectarian violence spinning into all-out civil
war and American casualties exceeding 2,500, the war in Iraq has
emerged as a dominant issue in many of the 2006 congressional
"Iraq is a bigger issue in 2006 than 2004. 2004 was bigger
on the war on terror. Now the discussion is on Iraq," said
Kellyanne Conway, president and CEO of the Republican polling
firm the Polling Company.
public opinion polls indicate growing opposition to the president's
handling of the issue. Over 62 percent of Americans are unhappy
with the way that the Bush administration has handled the war
in Iraq, according to a July 2006 Gallup Poll. As long as a year
ago, six out of 10 Americans were saying the war was not worth
fighting, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll.
Democrats have sought to capitalize on the flagging support by
hammering on Republican candidates from Connecticut and Virginia
to Ohio and California. But as a party, the Democrats have been
unable to settle on one position on Iraq. Some, led by former
presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., have called for
an immediate timetable and withdrawal of U.S. forces, while others
have urged plans for leaving but on no announced schedule.
GOP strategists, including White House adviser Karl Rove, have
countered that the paths the Democratic Party advocates would
cede Iraq to the Islamic extremists and leave the geopolitically
critical nation embroiled in civil war.
The two parties' positions leave voters in a quandary, analysts
"[I]f the voters are confronted with two parties, one party
is the Republicans who screwed up Iraq, and the other party is
the Democrats who seem to want to cut and run, or seem to be defeatist,
or who don't have a policy toward Iraq, well, then what are they
going to choose?" said New York Times columnist David Brooks
in late June. "That's actually a tough decision."
Although the Democrats have had trouble outlining a single policy
on Iraq, the party is fielding a series of candidates that have
outlined clear policy differences as they challenge incumbents
who supported the war.
In Pennsylvania, Patrick Murphy, former U.S. Army Captain in Iraq,
is challenging incumbent Republican Andy Warren. Murphy was a
former Republican who switched to the Democrat Party while he
was a soldier in Iraq. He says that he was angered when more troops
were needed, and the Pentagon tried to cut soldiers' pay. Murphy
has proposed a three-stage troop withdrawal with 100,000 troops
deployed by the summer of 2007.
Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq veteran who lost both legs when the helicopter
she was piloting was attacked, is contending for a seat in one
of Illinois' closely watched contests.
James Webb, the Democratic retired Vietnam veteran is challenging
U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., running largely against Allen's
support for the war. He claims that he "knows how to bring
the war to an early and honorable end."
But Iraq is not strictly a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue. In
Connecticut, Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the most pro-war
of Democrats in the Senate, lost his party nomination in August
to millionaire Ned Lamont largely because of his support for the
"What's significant about this election is that what is
obvious is that the status quo, the stay-the-course Bush policy
of the status quo in Iraq, is politically unacceptable to a vast
majority of Democrats, to a majority of independents, and to a
sizable minority of Republicans," said syndicated columnist
Mark Shields on the NewsHour.
During his primary campaign Lieberman stood by his commitment
to the war, saying the United States must continue its presence
in Iraq. With the backing of liberal activists and party members,
Lamont put the war and Lieberman's closeness to President Bush
at the center of his campaign.
"The people of Connecticut voted for change," Lamont
said on the NewsHour the day after his primary win. "They
don't want to stay the course in Iraq; they don't want to stay
the course here in America. ... I think Iraq is a defining issue.
Are we safer than we were before the invasion of Iraq? Have we
destabilized the Middle East? Have he emboldened Iran? Is Israel
any safer? I think the answers to those questions are kind of
clear, that the war in Iraq was a bad decision for this country."
Lieberman filed to run as an independent candidate in the November
general election, saying he will offer a choice to voters in the
middle of the political spectrum.
President Bush, meanwhile, has remained committed to maintaining
American forces in Iraq until the new government has the ability
to secure itself.
"[Iraqi] Prime Minister [Nouri] Maliki was very clear this
morning; he said he does not want American troops to leave his
country until his government can protect the Iraqi people. And
I assured him that America will not abandon the Iraqi people,"
he said July 25.
For Republicans on the stump, the question is how closely to
align their positions with that of their president, and for Democrats
looking to take control of Congress, the challenge remains to
offer another way forward in Iraq.