War at Forefront in Minn. Debate

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 16, 2006

Minnesota Senate candidates Mark Kennedy (R) and Amy Klobuchar (D) battled over the war in Iraq, North Korea's nuclear ambitions and taxes yesterday as Kennedy faced downdrafts in a new poll, national GOP support and President Bush's approval ratings, in a snapshot of Republican troubles nationwide.

In a nationally televised debate on NBC's "Meet the Press," Kennedy, a three-term congressman, stood by his House vote to authorize the war in Iraq when read his statements in 2003 that "the trend" there was "very positive," in 2005 that "progress was clear," and in February that he expected significant troop withdrawals within a year because of U.S. success.

"You can't really play TiVo and rewind in the real world," said Kennedy, 59. "I stand by my vote. . . . We acted on the information we knew at the time and acted correctly."

Klobuchar, the Hennepin County attorney, cited recent comments by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) and former secretary of state James A. Baker III, who is co-chairing a congressionally mandated commission to study options for Iraq, arguing that even some Republicans believe it will soon be time to change course.

"We cannot, as Congressman Kennedy and the president are talking about, just stay the course indefinitely with more troops dying, over $300 billion spent," said Klobuchar, 46, county prosecutor since 1999. "You cannot solve a problem that you don't admit exists."

The exchange summarized Republicans' predicament 23 days before the Nov. 7 elections: forced onto the defensive in prosecuting an unpopular war.

"I think Kennedy did as good as he can do," said a national GOP campaign official who watched the 40-minute debate and who lamented its initial focus on the Iraq war. "It is just a tough issue to be talking about it in mid-October in a state like Minnesota," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of critiquing an ongoing campaign and candidate.

The retirement of Minnesota's first-term Sen. Mark Dayton (D) was expected to give the Republicans one of their best chances to pick up a Democratic seat and bolster their 55-to-45-seat advantage.

The GOP announced in September that Minneapolis-St. Paul will host the 2008 Republican National Convention, as the party seeks to build on recent gains in the longtime Democratic bastion in the Midwest.

But Klobuchar is leading handily despite a barrage of attacks by her rival on immigration, fighting terrorism and her support for repealing Bush tax cuts on the richest 1 percent of Americans.

A new Star Tribune Minnesota Poll of 818 likely voters published yesterday showed Klobuchar leading Kennedy, 55 percent to 34 percent, although other recent surveys show a lower double-digit lead. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

President Bush's disapproval rating was 61 percent, his highest ever in the state.

At the same time, Republicans said the national party is focusing money for television time on states such as Tennessee, where outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's seat is open, and others, such as Missouri and Pennsylvania, with seats held by vulnerable incumbents.

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