Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Iraq is main issue for Iowa, N.H. voters

CONCORD, N.H. - When it comes to the Iraq war, apparently there is more than one right answer.

Among rank-and-file Democrats in early voting states like New Hampshire and Iowa, anti-war passion is so strong that it's difficult for their party's presidential candidates to oppose the war too forcefully. On the other hand, candidates don't want to go too far and risk losing swing voters critical to winning the general election.

At the same time, Republican hopefuls campaigning in these same states must tread delicately if they are to distance themselves from President Bush's prosecution of an increasingly unpopular war without offending core GOP voters, many of whom continue to support Bush and the conflict.

As a result, candidates in both parties are spinning and pivoting as they search for the right impression to convey on the issue that for many voters eclipses all others.

"Iraq is still the No. 1 issue. It will be the No. 1 issue through the presidential primary," said Marine Lt. Col. Joseph Kenney, a Republican state senator from Wakefield, N.H., who spent six months in Iraq last year. "We cannot fail in Iraq."

That's not how fellow state Sen. Jacalyn Cilley, a Democrat, sees it. She says she has just one question for any presidential candidate seeking her support: "If this Congress and this Senate do not get us out of Iraq by the time you take office, will this be your first act?"

"It's THE issue for me," said Cilley, of Barrington, N.H.

Ditto for Democrats and Republicans in Iowa, where party caucuses will kick off the presidential nominating season on Jan. 14, 2008.

"If the situation remains the same, you better not be against the war, you better be really against it," said former Iowa Democratic Chairman Dave Nagle.

But Michael Mahaffey, a former Iowa GOP chairman, said, "Most Republicans want the president to succeed, they want this surge (Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq) to succeed."

Polls conducted by Research 2000 in late December found Democrats in both states strongly against the war, but the Republican picture was more complicated.

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