- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Online exclusive | 2:26 p.m.

John Edwards, using a citizen-driven Internet movement and loads of cash to slam his Democratic rivals for the presidential nomination, has positioned himself as the most antiwar top-tier candidate in the 2008 race, but his efforts have not yielded any bump in national polls.

Mr. Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, was sharply criticized at that time because he had voted for the Iraq war authorization as a senator. Now that he has the luxury of being a Washington outsider, the former senator from North Carolina is saying Democrats in Congress should have the guts to stand up to President Bush and pass legislation to withdraw troops from Iraq.

“As patriots, we must use our power and the responsibility that comes with it to push our government to support our troops in the most important way it can — by ending this war and bringing them home,” Mr. Edwards says. “We support our troops. End the war. Bring them home. Because it is possible to stop a president who believes he can do no wrong — it just takes people with the courage to do what’s right.”

The message — and the full-page newspaper ad featuring 115,000 names of voters who want to withdraw troops from Iraq — is just the latest example of Mr. Edwards ratcheting up the political pressure on his former congressional colleagues. He also is running TV ads in Iowa and in the expensive Washington metropolitan area urging Congress to send Mr. Bush a withdrawal bill “again and again.”

The antiwar efforts most starkly highlight Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, the two Democratic front-runners who have voted to approve supplemental war funding for the war. In a testament to this pressure, both candidates are expected to vote for a procedural motion today to begin troop withdrawal by March 31.

While Mr. Edwards’ tough talk has won him plaudits from antiwar bloggers and some liberal voters, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama remain atop national polls. Mr. Edwards in some polls even trails former Vice President Al Gore, who has said he has no intention of running for president but gets about 15 percent of the vote.

Tom Andrews, national director of the antiwar coalition Win Without War, which does not endorse for 2008, thinks it is only a matter of time before the Edwards strategy pays off in the polls.

“He is in very fertile ground politically because the American people as a whole are opposed to the current policy,” said Mr. Andrews, a former Democratic congressman. “Edwards is pressing the issues that people most likely to cast votes in the caucus and early primary elections care most about.”

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama hold double-digit advantages over Mr. Edwards in national polls. The former North Carolina senator captures between 12 percent and 20 percent of the vote, behind the two front-runners.

Mr. Edwards’ lackluster national appeal could have little bearing on his finish in the Jan. 14 Iowa caucus, where he aims to outflank the front-runners for an early win and momentum heading into the primaries.

“The sense among Iowa politicians is that if the Iowa caucus were held today, Edwards would win,” said Gordon R. Fischer, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, noting the candidate’s superior organization in Iowa, which he has kept intact since his surprise second-place there behind John Kerry in 2004.

“The other candidates are playing catch-up. But there’s a lot of time to catch up, and I suspect they will,” he said.

Hoping to further bolster his four-point lead over his rivals in Iowa, Mr. Edwards is running TV ads featuring Iowans fed up with the war who tell Congress to “stand firm” and not to “back down” from Mr. Bush.

“Send him the same bill that you sent him before,” the ads say. “Iowans support our troops, and we have a responsibility to bring them home.”

That message resonates among Iowa voters.

“It’s in all of our minds and hearts. It’s not going to be dismissed in our thought process leading up to the caucus,” said Dixie L. McAllister, a Democratic voter from Mount Pleasant.

Elaine B. Baxter of Burlington said ending the war “is very high on the agenda of Iowa caucus-goers.”

“The biggest applause they all get is when they talk about how to end the war. Each one has a different take on exactly what we need to do to get out of Iraq, but they all are united in saying we need to end this,” she said.

Many voters like the idea that Mr. Obama was a vocal war opponent from the beginning but also are aware that he didn’t have to take that vote because he was not yet serving in the Senate, she added.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a 2008 hopeful and co-sponsor of the withdrawal measure on the Senate floor today, said Mr. Edwards shouldn’t be “blaming” Democratic leaders who are “wrestling” with a tough issue.

“I don’t think lecturing them from the outside during a difficult time is necessarily helpful,” the Connecticut Democrat said. “These are people who are no less concerned about this issue than he is.”

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Monday called on Congress to establish a clear troop-withdrawal timeline “and force the president to respect it.”

“We must stop this war, and Congress has the power to do it,” he said, adding that Congress should pass a bill funding withdrawal, and if Mr. Bush refuses to sign the legislation, he should be taken to the Supreme Court and charged with contempt.

S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

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