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Bush Tries to Shore Up US Domestic Support on Iraq


President Bush continued his efforts this week to rebuild public support for his handling of Iraq with speeches this week in Washington and Kentucky. But, those Democrats who oppose him on Iraq are not backing down.

Iraq figures to be a major issue in the November congressional elections, and Mr. Bush is trying to improve Republican prospects by convincing the public that the United States must stay in Iraq and finish the job.

But the president also had words for Democrats who oppose him on Iraq, warning them not to engage in what he called irresponsible debate in the months ahead.

"But one way people can help as we are coming down the pike in the 2006 elections is to remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in harms way and the effect that rhetoric can have in emboldening or weakening an enemy," he said.

Democrats remain split on Iraq but many of them disagree with the president's suggestion to tamp down the debate over Iraq.

Democratic Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia discussed the issue during a recent town hall meeting with some of his constituents.

"There is nothing more patriotic, nothing more American than engaging in a debate, even an intense, heated, contentious debate over the future our nation should take," he said.

So far, only a few Democrats have supported the call by Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha for a speedy, phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

But one of them is the leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California.

"Under the president's plan we will have troops there for a long time to come in harm's way," she said. Again, loss of life, loss of limb - [this is] tragic for our country."

President Bush's public approval ratings dropped dramatically during 2005, largely due to bad news from Iraq. In recent weeks, those poll numbers have shown a slight improvement.

University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato says that while the public continues to have doubts about the president's handling of Iraq, they also appear unwilling to support a quick withdrawal of American troops.

"They do not want to cut and run," he said. "That is a phrase used by the Bush administration and that phrase sells."

Many Republicans fear that they will lose congressional seats if the public continues to hold a negative view of Iraq at election time in November.

Analyst Stuart Rothenberg told a Washington audience this week that is a legitimate concern.

But Rothenberg also says the Democrats have their own problems in convincing the public that they are strong enough to deal with national security and foreign policy issues.

"The war in Iraq has hurt the president," he said. "The president's credibility has been hurt by the war, but also by other things, [Hurricane] Katrina, ethics issues and domestic surveillance. In terms of the public's confidence and trust in the White House, it is significantly down. But I am not entirely sure that the Democrats as a party have a reservoir of support or the credibility to fully take advantage of."

Other issues besides Iraq could play a major role in the November elections, including the general state of the economy and the budding corruption scandal involving once-powerful Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his links with several members of Congress from both parties.

"Elections tend to be about mood," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. "Does the public want change or is the public satisfied with the status quo?"

All 435 House seats are at stake in November along with 33 of the 100 Senate seats. In addition, 36 of the 50 states will hold elections for governor.

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