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GOP dismisses Iraq war protesters

- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2007

Congressional Republicans, still leery of an abrupt pullout from Iraq, are not swayed by out-of-state protesters bused in to criticize the lawmakers' support of the war.

Republicans targeted by a blitz of ads and protests by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI) say the effort is blatantly partisan because Democrats opposed to a withdrawal are not in the liberal protesters' line of fire.

"My position is fundamentally the same as it was going into the [August] break," said Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, who weathered protests outside his Wilmington district office, TV ads and a march by about 30 demonstrators on his home — although he was not there at the time.

"I never believed in setting a date for withdrawal," Mr. Castle said, echoing others who await a mid-September progress report by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to decide how to proceed with the war.

The Republicans' resolve confounds the 10-week Iraq Summer campaign, a $12 million onslaught of TV, radio and billboard ads; picket-line protests; and petition drives paid for by AAEI, a coalition of liberal groups including MoveOn.org and Americans United for Change.

"It is obviously a partisan political organization," said Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican. "It kind of fizzled."

Rep. Tom Latham, Iowa Republican, said a top Iraq Summer organizer in his district is a paid campaign staffer for his Democratic rival, Selden Spencer.

"A group like that is basically just political operatives," he said.

The activists say they have more impact than the lawmakers admit, citing the July criticism of the war strategy by Republican Sens. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico and George V. Voinovich of Ohio.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and Iraq Summer target, Thursday called on President Bush to bring some troops home by Christmas.

He also said he would not support troop-withdrawal legislation because it is the president's job as commander in chief to conduct the war.

The antiwar group also takes credit for decisions this month by two Republicans — Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois and Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio — not to seek re-election.

Moira Mack, spokeswoman for AAEI, said the group's 100 paid organizers work with local activists to pressure the Republicans. However, she said the campaign isn't trying to unseat them unless they continue to back the war.

"The goal of the Iraq Summer campaign is to bring an end to the Iraq war, and we are doing that [by] breaking off the president's support for his war," Miss Mack said.

Mr. Domenici and Mr. Voinovich, who doubted the war strategy but still voted against pullout deadlines, say the group has not affected their stance.

"The senator's shift in position on Iraq came due to studying reports," Domenici spokeswoman Courtney M. Sanders said. "He will not vote for an automatic or immediate pullout."

Mr. LaHood, 61, and Mrs. Pryce, 56, both said they are leaving Congress to spend more time with their families.

Pryce spokesman Rob Nichols said the activists' claims are "absolute rubbish" and characterized the group as "partisan hacks using gimmicky PR stunts to politicize what should be a very serious discussion about America's future in the war on terror."

"Two paid liberal activists bused in from Vegas and Minnesota trying to make political hay in Ohio is nothing new," he said. "Ohio is a battleground state. We've withstood the vitriol and lies from Moveon.org and its brethren. ... Ohio voters see through this kind of stuff."

Miss Mack said the campaign's results will become clear when lawmakers return to Washington next month.

"They will face political consequences if they continue to stand with the president," she said. "The vast majority of Americans want the troops brought home."

Other targeted Republicans standing firm on the war include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Reps. Vernon J. Ehlers of Michigan, Timothy V. Johnson of Illinois and John R. "Randy" Kuhl Jr. of New York.

Democrats hoped mounting pressure on Republicans during the August recess and a bleak report from Gen. Petraeus would erode Mr. Bush's support on Capitol Hill. However, recent military success in Iraq blunted the antiwar momentum.

Many of the same states and districts targeted in the antiwar campaign see competing TV ads by Freedom's Watch, a conservative group with ties to the White House that is shoring up war support ahead of the September report.

The report by Gen. Petraeus and Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, likely will be a mixed bag of promising military advances and ominous setbacks for a fledgling Iraqi government unable to forge national reconciliation.

Similar findings appeared in a National Intelligence Estimate this week that also advised that changing the military mission "would erode security gains achieved thus far."

Democrats — including the party's 2008 presidential hopefuls — recently began acknowledging military successes in Iraq while bemoaning the Iraqi government's failures. It allows them to avoid criticism for naysaying U.S. military achievements while still advocating a speedy pullout.