Democrats Split Over Timetable For Troops

Unlike many Democrats running for House seats, Connecticut's Chris Murphy, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, supports withdrawal of Guardsmen.
Unlike many Democrats running for House seats, Connecticut's Chris Murphy, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, supports withdrawal of Guardsmen. (By Jessica Hill -- Associated Press)
By Jim VandeHei and Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Most Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races are opposed to setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, rejecting pressure from liberal activists to demand a quick end to the three-year-old military conflict.

Of the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year, according to a Washington Post survey of the campaigns.

The large number of Democrats opposed to a strict timeline for ending the military operations runs contrary to the assertion by President Bush and top Republicans that Democrats want to "cut and run" amid mounting casualties and signs of civil war. At the same time, the decision by many Democrats to refrain from advocating a specific plan for withdrawal complicates their leaders' efforts to convince voters that they offer a clear new direction for the increasingly unpopular war.

"It is like dropping a raw egg and asking me what my plans are for putting it back together," said Chris Murphy, the Democrat challenging Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.). Murphy favors bringing home National Guard and reserve units, or about 25,000 of the 138,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, beginning next year, and leaving it to Bush's military commanders to determine the rest of the exit strategy.

While Republicans have largely stood by Bush in opposing a timetable for troop withdrawal, congressional Democratic leaders this month coalesced around calls to begin drawing down troop levels by December, with no specified pace or completion date. But rank-and-file Democrats are far from unified.

Among the 46 House races that nonpartisan political handicapper Charles Cook lists as the most competitive, 29 Democratic candidates oppose a date-certain to begin withdrawing troops. The dynamic is different among Senate candidates, however, with a higher proportion of Democrats willing to call for a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Seven of the Democrats running in the 13 Senate races deemed the most competitive by Cook have endorsed some version of a timetable. That would suggest that Bush could face heavy pressure to bring an end to U.S. involvement in the conflict if Democrats pick up seats or win back control of the Senate in November. Republicans currently hold a 55 to 45 majority in the Senate.

With polls showing that a majority of Americans believe it was a mistake for the United States to invade Iraq, some Democrats say the wisest political course is to blame Bush and the GOP for problems in Iraq but avoid getting drawn into a debate with Republicans over how they would go about dealing with the war.

"They want to give us this cut-and-run moniker and accuse us of a pre-9/11 mentality," said Diane Farrell, a Democrat who is challenging Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). "I absolutely refuse to be manipulated by Karl Rove and company."

Democrats are pressing Republican lawmakers to defend Bush's war policies in the face of mounting troop and civilian casualties in Iraq, and to explain why the GOP-controlled Congress did not scrutinize mistakes by the administration and the military in prewar planning. Democrats say they would have held Bush accountable for what they deem his mismanagement of the invasion, occupation and rebuilding of Iraq. They promise rigorous oversight of the war if they take control of either chamber.

In New Mexico's highly competitive 1st District, Democratic challenger Patricia Madrid last week aired her first Iraq-related campaign ad, faulting Rep. Heather A. Wilson (R) for refusing to stand up to Bush on the war. Madrid does not mention her own views on the war in the ad, which her spokeswoman said reflects a strategic decision to put the focus on Wilson.

"Heather Wilson is on the Intelligence Committee, but she never questioned George Bush on the war," the new ad says.

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