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Iraq May Influence US Vote

Americans vote on November 7 to elect a new Congress and the war in Iraq has become a major issue in this year's campaign.

As the violence continues in Iraq, public opinion polls suggest the American people are growing weary of the struggle there. Recent surveys show a majority of those asked disapprove of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war and believe the U.S.-led invasion was not worth the cost. Opposition Democrats believe the president and his Republican supporters in Congress are politically vulnerable on the issue.

Retired General Wesley Clark sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2004 and may do so again two years from now. "In plain language, invading Iraq was a mistake, a strategic blunder, a step, a major step, in the wrong direction for winning the war on terror," says Clark.

Republican Dissent

Even some Republicans now question the Bush administration's strategy on Iraq. The top Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, recently visited Iraq and offered a downbeat assessment of the Iraqi government's efforts to contain sectarian violence. "To summarize it, it seems to me the situation is simply drifting sidewise," says Warner.

In speeches and news conferences, President Bush offers a vigorous defense of the Iraq effort as the central front in the overall war on terrorism. "If we were to leave before the job is done, the enemy is coming after us. And most Americans understand that we have got to defeat them there if we do not face them here. It is a different kind of war. But nevertheless, it is a war," said President Bush.

Public dissatisfaction over the Iraq war is proving to be a major challenge for Republicans in this year's congressional election campaign. Analyst Stuart Rothenberg publishes an independent political newsletter in Washington. He believes the voters are pessimistic.

"The number one reason for the mood is, I think clearly, the war in Iraq. The daily dose of bad news, whether it is about U.S. casualties and fatalities or about Iraqi [casualties] or about the inability of the government in Iraq, the security forces, to stabilize the situation there," says Rothenberg.

Even though the public seems to have soured on the Iraq war, surveys indicate most Americans do not support a withdrawal of U.S. troops, which some Democrats advocate.

Karlyn Bowman monitors U.S. public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Turning to Iraq, every poll shows a very pessimistic public. While I would certainly not argue that this issue benefits the Republicans, it is not clear to me how much it is benefiting the Democrats," says Bowman. "When people are asked, 'Would Democrats doing anything differently?', and a number of polls have asked that, Americans say, 'No, the Democrats would not do anything differently.'"

But Karlyn Bowman also says that the public's pessimistic outlook on Iraq is not likely to change unless the security situation on the ground in Iraq improves. "I think the public would feel better if they saw some clear end to the situation. That does not mean it has to be this week, next week, six months or even a year [from now]. But if they felt that things were also improving on the ground, I think that would make Americans a little bit more optimistic about the situation," says Bowman.

National Security and Elections

Republicans did well in the 2002 congressional elections and the 2004 presidential election by focusing on national security and the overall war on terrorism. President Bush has tried to convince Americans that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, hoping the Republican Party's traditional strength on national security will be an asset this year as well.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says, "The one area where he [, i.e., President Bush] is doing reasonably well, not great or as well as he did two years ago, but reasonably well, is in handling the war against terror, keeping us safe, we have not been attacked again. So that is what they are going to."

But recent public opinion polls suggest the Republicans may be losing some of their advantage on the terrorism issue. Stephen Wayne, a professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington says, "Now the Republicans do better than the Democrats when terrorism is the principal issue, but not as much as they did two, three and four years ago. So that is an issue that will help the Republicans, but it may not help them all that much."

A Democratic takeover of either the Senate or House of Representatives could lead to congressional investigations of the Bush administration, including its handling of Iraq. Stephen Wayne says, "If the Democrats were to take control of one of the houses [of Congress], there would be a great incentive to investigate the executive branch and the Democrats would try to drag the administration through with non-stop investigations for the next two years."

The U.S. military recently announced it has formulated plans to keep the current level of U.S. forces in Iraq though 2010 if necessary, leaving little doubt that Iraq will also be a major issue in the 2008 presidential campaign.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.