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Action Against Iraq Becomes US Election Issue - 2002-09-18

The debate over what to do about Iraq is increasingly spreading into the campaign for control of the U.S. Congress. The prospect of military action against Saddam Hussein is becoming a factor in the November U.S. elections.

Democratic Congressional leaders have agreed to work with the White House and Republicans to pass a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq before the November 5 congressional elections.

It is an apparent victory for President Bush, who last week criticized Democrats seeking a delay in the vote until after the elections.

"It is an important signal for the country, as importantly, it is an important signal for the world to see that this country is united in our resolve to deal with threats that we face," President Bush said.

Some Democrats wanted to hold off on debating a use-of-force resolution to see if the United Nations would have success in restarting a strict inspections program in Iraq.

But Democratic congressional leaders have apparently decided it is better to have the debate over Iraq sooner rather than later.

"We will work in concert with the administration," Senate Majority Leader, Tom Daschle said. "Republicans and Democrats, hopefully with the recognition that this ought to be done in the international arena, and I am confident that is where it will be done.

Opposition Democrats contend that while there is public support for the president's tough stance on Iraq, most Americans do not want the United States to go-it-alone when it comes to dealing with Saddam Hussein.

Some recent opinion polls appear to support that view, including one conducted by Andrew Kohut, the Director of the Pew Research Center in Washington.

"While 64 percent favor using military force to get rid of Saddam Hussein, that level of support withers to just 30 percent if we have to do it without our allies," Mr. Kohut said. "And this is the second time we have found this drop in support, and it is apparent in other polls as well."

The Iraq debate is beginning to creep into some House and Senate races around the country with Republican candidates looking to put some wavering Democrats on the defensive. Some analysts believe the Democrats want to get the Iraq issue behind them quickly so that they can focus on the economy and other domestic issues in the final weeks of the election campaign.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato is not convinced that focusing on Iraq will help the Republicans.

"I think an awful lot of people, including many conservatives and Republicans, are very nervous about the potential of the Iraq incursion," he said. "So Iraq will not necessarily cut for them. It may have changed the subject from the economy, but it will not necessarily help them."

Democrats say they will make a sustained effort in the coming weeks to focus their campaign on fears about the weakening economy and several recent corporate fraud scandals.

Elections expert Ron Faucheaux says that while that formula has been successful in the past, it may not work this time.

"So the big question at this point is whether or not the Democrats can tie together a domestic-issues message into a coherent theme, and whether or not their candidates have the credibility to deliver that message," he said.

Both parties are trying to seize on key issues in the final weeks because polls indicate that the battles for control of the Senate and House of Representatives are very close.