GOP base”s support erodes over Iraq war

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Republican Party officials say there has been some erosion in the base because of the Iraq war but that overall, grass-roots support remains strong for President Bush’s latest efforts to defeat the terrorists there — at least for now.

Some Republican officials also are concerned about the political fallout for their party if the president’s troop escalation has not eased violence in Iraq enough for a reduction of U.S. combat troops before the elections next year.

“There is clearly concern. People are worried about how this will play out, both in the short term and the long term, but most party activists I have talked with feel we should at least wait until General David Petraeus [the U.S. military commander in Iraq] comes back with his first report in September before making any decisions,” Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis said.

Randy Pullen, the Arizona Republican Party chairman, echoed Mr. Anuzis.

“I think the base of the party is very concerned about the war. I hear a lot of talk about it at party meetings around the state,” Mr. Pullen said.

“Despite the Democrats’ best efforts to retreat and surrender to the terrorists in Iraq, it’s become clear that the troop surge is basically working,” he said. “The talk here is very supportive of the troops, and quite a few are very supportive of the president’s efforts in general.

“Seventy percent of the party here is supporting getting closure in the war in Iraq that will enable us to withdraw in an orderly fashion and not abruptly leave,” Mr. Pullen said.

Support for Mr. Bush’s war policies is strongest in the South — in heavily Republican states, such as South Carolina. That state’s party chairman, Katan Dawson, said he has “not seen that much slippage in the party over the war. I’ve heard a lot of angst over the immigration debate, but in general, Republicans understand the war on terror.

“I have not seen a lot of angst in the party about the president’s troop surge. If anything, I think they are supporting his position and think he is doing the right thing in Iraq,” Mr. Dawson said.

In neighboring North Carolina, however, a Republican official, who declined to speak for the record, said: “We have a lot of military people in the state, folks who were supportive of the war at first, but patience is wearing thin. I’m hearing ‘enough is enough.’ ”

That growing unease within the party about the war was reflected in a statement by North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole last week that made headlines across the state.

“Our commitment in Iraq is not indefinite, nor should the Iraqi government perceive it to be. It is my firm hope and belief that we can start bringing our troops home in 2008,” Mrs. Dole said.

There is greater unease about the political fallout for Republicans if the surge strategy does not work, party members said.

“I think it will be a cause for concern to our elected officials if there is a feeling that nothing is going right next year,” said former Republican Party Chairwoman Diane Tebelius of Washington state.

“Clearly, the war hurt us last time around [in the midterm elections] and would hurt us again in the upcoming election,” Mr. Anuzis said. “I think there is clearly a desire [in the party] to see some kind of resolution and some kind of progress. That’s where everybody here is right now.”

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