Sen. John McCain on Monday accused his Democratic presidential rival of flip-flopping on the war in Iraq, as a pair of new polls showed the Republican’s strategy of painting Sen. Barack Obama as politically expedient is beginning to take hold with voters.
As Mr. Obama repositions himself for the general election after exclusively targeting the Democratic base of committed liberals, it leaves some voters on the left feeling he is abandoning them on their top issue - Iraq - and has independents questioning his veracity.
“If a perception takes hold that a candidate is flip-flopping on core convictions, that will hurt,” pollster Scott Rasmussen said, noting that nearly a third of voters are “up for grabs” this fall.
A Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports poll shows 19 percent of voters classified as “other” - neither Republican nor Democrat - think that on the Iraq war, Mr. Obama is “abandoning voters that got him nominated.” (Eleven percent of Democrats agree.) About 20 percent of independents think Mr. Obama is “not really going to change his opinion” on a U.S. withdrawal within 16 months of taking office, a pledge he has made repeatedly.
A Newsweek poll found similar dissatisfaction among voters over Mr. Obama’s shifts in policy positions. In the survey, 53 percent of voters said he recalibrated his stances on key issues such as the war and President Bush’s new electronic surveillance law in order to gain political advantage.
Although the issue of Iraq had faded - replaced by skyrocketing gas prices and a weakened economy - Mr. Obama returned the spotlight to the war, now in its sixth year. He penned an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday, announced he will make a “major foreign policy address” on Iraq on Tuesday and accepted a challenge from Mr. McCain to visit Iraq, a trip he will take next month.
Whether the first-term senator from Illinois has changed his stance on the issue depends on nuanced rhetoric by the Democrat and a nonstop dialogue between the two campaigns. The McCain camp on Monday released about a dozen e-mails cataloging what it called “myth vs. fact” about its opponent’s Iraq stance, and Mr. Obama’s team followed with rapid-response rebuttals.
The Democrat has called for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by June 2010. His Web site says: “Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.”
But earlier this month, the candidate said he will “continue to refine my policies” on Iraq, and last month he said U.S. withdrawal will be predicated on ground conditions. “If … you’ve got a deteriorating situation for some reason, then that’s going to have to be taken into account.”
Mr. Obama also shifted his stance on the “surge” - President Bush’s decision to send about 20,000 additional combat troops into Iraq at the height of rising violence last year, a move even some top Democrats acknowledge has succeeded.
In his Times op-ed, Mr. Obama wrote that with the surge, “new tactics have protected the Iraqi population, and the Sunni tribes have rejected Al Qaeda - greatly weakening its effectiveness.” But the senator voted against the surge, and on the day it was announced he predicted it would fail.
“The major point here is that Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge that he was wrong,” Mr. McCain said Monday. “He said that the surge couldn’t succeed. He said he opposed the increase in troops. The surge has succeeded.”
The Obama campaign denied that he had flip-flopped on Iraq.
“The McCain campaign again repeated the same false attacks about Senator Obama’s position on Iraq, which independent observers have repeatedly corrected them on,” Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan said. “It’s clear that John McCain would rather offer thoroughly debunked, negative attacks in an effort to distract from his unwavering support of George Bush’s ill-conceived strategy, than offer a real plan to end the war in Iraq, redeploy our troops safely and responsibly, and refocus our efforts on finishing the job in Afghanistan.”
McCain surrogates also criticized the Democrat.