By BETH FOUHY
The Associated Press
Friday, May 4, 2007; 6:49 PM
NEW YORK -- Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's move to repeal President Bush's authority for the Iraq war amounts to a do-over _ an effort to rectify her most glaring vulnerability among presidential primary voters.
And this from a candidate who when pressed to explain her 2002 vote giving a green light to the invasion often says _ "There are no do-overs in life."
Clinton, D-N.Y., joined Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., on Thursday on legislation that would repeal congressional authorization for the war and require Bush to seek new authority from Congress to extend the conflict beyond Oct. 11, 2007 _ five years after the original permission was given.
For the Democratic front-runner, the bill represents her latest effort to step away from a vote for which she refuses to apologize but which has caused her no end of political headaches.
"For someone who voted for the authorization, she disappoints Democratic activist audiences by saying a different president would have used the authority better," Democratic strategist Erik Smith said. "This legislation shows she's exhibiting leadership and taking some action, which might answer a lot of activists' concerns."
Still, Smith said, "There will certainly be people who will say, 'Why didn't you do this years ago?'"
Anti-war activists and other Democrats routinely grill her about the vote on the campaign trail. It's also proven to be a valuable opening for her rivals, especially Sen. Barack Obama, who has made early opposition to the war a campaign centerpiece.
Obama's campaign issued a lukewarm response to what it called the "Byrd measure," noting the Illinois senator had introduced legislation to begin redeploying troops this month.
"As someone who opposed this war from the start, and opposed its authorization by those in Congress, Senator Obama would support this measure," spokesman Bill Burton said in a statement. "But he doesn't believe we should wait until October to begin bringing this war to a close."
Another top rival, John Edwards, criticized Clinton's bill as insufficient Friday but never referred to her by name.
A former North Carolina senator, Edwards voted for the 2002 war authorization but has since recanted his vote. At a campaign stop in New Orleans, he insisted Congress use its funding authority to end the war.
"Congress, right this minute, has the authority to stop this. All they have to do is use it instead of doing these other measures that are off in the future," he told The Associated Press.
Clinton aides have long insisted voters care more about how to end the war than revisiting how it started. But privately, they have fretted considerably about what the vote has cost her among primary voters.
As a result, Clinton has sharpened her anti-war rhetoric over the course of the campaign, even bringing delegates to their feet at the California Democratic Convention last weekend with a call to "End this war now!"
Her legislation takes her evolution a step farther, pairing her with a visible anti-war stalwart, Byrd, and offering a decisive end to a seemingly intractable conflict.
Bush vetoed legislation this week that would have tied funding for the war to a timetable for the withdrawal of troops. Clinton voted for the legislation, as did all the other Democratic contenders who are members of the Senate.
None has said what they will do if the next version they are asked to vote on drops the timetable for troop withdrawals.
Another 2008 contender, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, first broached the idea of deauthorizing the war at a speech to the Democratic National Committee in February.
In a telephone interview Friday, Richardson generally praised Clinton's bill but said it didn't go far enough. He advocated a binding resolution that would reinforce Congress's authority to start wars and end them _ a strategy that could require the Supreme Court to intervene.
"It has to be a war powers resolution, and it means fighting the administration on Constitutional grounds and foreign policy grounds," Richardson said. "The public would understand what that means, rather than all these convoluted timetables and benchmarks."
Another contender, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., has called publicly for congressional authorization for the war to be revoked but has not introduced legislation to do so.
For his part, Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd insisted that the legislation authored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., was the most effective vehicle to end the war. Dodd is the only Democratic presidential contender to support the legislation, which would end war funding and redeploy all troops by next March 31.
"I will continue to support Feingold-Reid ... and I urge the other candidates to do the same," Dodd said in an e-mail to supporters Friday.
Associated Press Writer Cain Burdeau in New Orleans contributed to this report.