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Iraq War Represents Key Issue for Democratic Voters - 2004-09-09

For months, public opinion polls in the United States have suggested that the major issues in this year's presidential campaign are Iraq, the war on terror, jobs, and health care. National Correspondent Jim Malone has spent the past week traveling with Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and talking to some of the Democrats, independents and even a few Republicans who show up at Mr. Kerry's political rallies.

Whether it is Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota or North Carolina, Democrats turning out to John Kerry's rallies share a common concern, jobs.

"It is not good up in Burke County because we have had tremendous layoffs and we have been hit hard, really hard," says Jo Sitton, from Burke County, North Carolina. She says another major concern is health care.

That concern is shared by this coal miner in rural West Virginia. He worries that his company might one day limit his health care benefits.

"More [health care] protection from the companies. The companies are taking it away. It will be a nationwide trend," he says.

Time and again, voters on the campaign trail had a four-word response to the question of what issues were most important to them, "jobs and health care."

But somewhat surprisingly, another issue creeps up nearly as often when Senator Kerry takes questions from voters, and that is what to do about the situation in Iraq.

"Those are United States troops, folks, and they are being shot at and harmed and murdered every day. The policy stinks. It needs to be changed." commented a man at a campaign event in Pennsylvania. But Rhona Cook had similar concerns at a Labor Day picnic in Cleveland, Ohio. She thinks the Iraq war was a mistake.

"I really do. There are too many of our boys getting killed over there now and after he [President Bush] pronounced that the war was over," she says. "So you can see it is not over, it is still going on."

Another concern heard time and again from Democratic voters about Iraq is the damage done to U.S. alliances abroad. Jeannie Buchanan attended a Kerry rally in Greensboro, North Carolina.

"We should have stuck with the U.N. coalition before we ever went in," she says. "It broke my heart that it was the first time that we attacked a country without having been provoked."

The concerns raised by voters about Iraq may be having an impact on the Kerry campaign. In recent days, Senator Kerry has talked extensively about Iraq and what he would do differently if he is elected in November.

Mr. Kerry says his top priority would be to line up more international support to help the United States share the burden of reconstructing Iraq.

"It is American troops that are 90 percent of the combat casualties and it is American taxpayers that are paying 90 percent of the cost of this war," Senator Kerry said. "It is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time."

But the Bush campaign sees an opening in Senator Kerry's changing views on Iraq. The Massachusetts Senator voted for the congressional use of force resolution before the war, but later voted against an $87 billion spending bill to fund the troops.

President Bush likes to point out the apparent Kerry contradiction as he defends his decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power in his campaign rallies around the country.

"Do I trust the word of a madman and forget the lessons of September 11 or take action to defend America? Given that choice, I will defend America every time," President Bush said.

Recent presidential elections have been dominated by the economy. But this year, Iraq is likely to play a pivotal role, making it perhaps the most significant foreign policy debate in a U.S. election since Vietnam took center stage in the 1968 presidential campaign.