- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

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 market 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. Mrs. Clinton, who voted for the war, and Mr. Obama, who opposed the war from the start before he was elected to the Senate, both voted yesterday for a procedural troop-withdrawal motion.

While Mr. Edwards’ tough talk has won him plaudits from antiwar bloggers and some liberal voters, he polls in third or fourth place, in some cases trailing former Vice President Al Gore, who is not currently running for president.

Tom Andrews, national director of the antiwar coalition Win Without War, which does not endorse candidates 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 from Maine.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama hold double-digit advantages over Mr. Edwards in national polls, with the former North Carolina senator capturing between 12 percent and 20 percent.

Mr. Edwards’ lackluster national appeal could have little bearing, however, on his finish in the Iowa caucus, where an early win could yield him crucial momentum.

“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 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.

“Iowans support our troops, and we have a responsibility to bring them home,” the ads say.

That message resonates among Iowa Democratic 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.

Ending the war “is very high on the agenda of Iowa caucus-goers,” Elaine B. Baxter of Burlington said. “The biggest applause … is when they talk about how to end the war.”

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, a 2008 hopeful and co-sponsor of the withdrawal measure on the Senate floor yesterday, 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.

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

S.A. Miller contributed to this article.

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