Maryland Democrat Kweisi Mfume is making a play for the antiwar vote in his bid for the U.S. Senate with a fundraising solicitation this week that calls for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and with a major speech on the issue planned for next month.
In an e-mail solicitation, Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP leader, called the fighting in Iraq "a war without justification and apparently without end" and compared it to the Vietnam War. "It's time to get out," Mfume wrote, urging a timeframe for withdrawal.
In an interview, he said that by highlighting his views on Iraq, he is trying to draw the first in a series of contrasts with Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, another candidate for the Democratic nomination. The Baltimore area lawmaker has raised far more money than Mfume and racked up more endorsements in the race to succeed Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D), who is not seeking reelection.
Cardin voted against the 2002 resolution authorizing the war but has since voted for its continued funding and has stopped short of calling for a pullout. He contends that advertising a timeline for withdrawal would put troops in danger.
Mfume argued that their differences are significant.
"Ben Cardin is a friend of mine, but on this central issue of the war in Iraq, we disagree," he said. "I think it's time to be talking about an exit strategy."
Mfume's push on Iraq comes at a time of growing criticism of the Bush administration from members of both major parties. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) recently called on President Bush to bring the troops home by the end of next year. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is among those who have compared the situation to Vietnam.
Mfume said that his opposition to the war is deep-rooted and that his views probably will be the centerpiece of a Sept. 12 speech on his candidacy.