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‘Iraq summer’ targets potential GOP votes

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A leading anti-war group yesterday dispatched nearly 100 trained activists to the hometowns of 41 Republican members of Congress to stir public pressure for an Iraq pullout.

The campaign, dubbed the "Iraq summer," targets Republicans who organizers say are ripe to turn against President Bush over the war.

"We really think we have a shot at changing their votes," said Moira Mack, spokeswoman for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition of liberal political groups including MoveOn.org and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The activists, who received three days of training on grass-roots campaigning and community outreach, plan to gather anti-war endorsements from state lawmakers and local officials, lead rallies and stage demonstrations at summertime events, including county fairs and Forth of July parades.

The campaign also will deploy a mix of paid ads, potentially including billboards, newspapers, radio and television.

The hometown offensive aims to pick off Mr. Bush's Republican allies on Capitol Hill, clearing the way for the Democrat-led Congress to force a troop withdrawal.

Republican unity last month prevented House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, from mustering the two-thirds majority vote needed to override a veto of a troop-withdrawal timetable tied to $124 billion war-funding bill.

Several Republican lawmakers said they thought more was at stake in the war in Iraq than electoral politics back home.

"Instead of working with Republicans who have a like goal of ending this war as soon as possible [but] recognizing political realities, they are going for cheap political stunt," said Chris Paulitz, spokesman for Sen. George V. Voinovich, an Ohio Republican targeted in the "Iraq summer" campaign.

Mr. Voinovich "is already working to find a solution to this war and that started long before these protests started," he said

Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, are still taking heat from the party's anti-war base for backing down from that confrontation and for sending the president war money with no strings attached.

They have repeatedly pledged to push for a troop pullout later this summer or in the fall, but Congress' job approval rating has plummeted to about 23 percent in several polls, about 10 percentage points lower than Mr. Bush's rating.

Mrs. Pelosi yesterday had to contend with anti-war hecklers shouting "be a leader" and "bring out troops home now," when she took the stage at the "Take Back America" conference of liberal activists in Washington.

"We'll get to that," Mrs. Pelosi said.

Mr. Reid sent his deputy chief of staff, Penny Lee, to send off the roughly 100 activists, telling them that the Senate leader supports their effort.

{bullet}Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article.

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