- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

Al Gore's sharp attack on the administration's plan to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction marginalizes him in the public debate over going to war with Iraq.
Mr. Gore's attack also threatens to deeply divide the Democratic Party, now in the midst of a pivotal midterm election, when it needs all the unity it can muster to repel the Republican's major assault to win back the Senate.
Mr. Gore has reignited the Democrats' old intraparty battle between the leftist, antiwar protest movement of the 1960s and the party's more hawkish, national security wing. In a sudden, about-face switch on Iraq, the former Democratic presidential nominee has signaled his intention to join his party's and the news media's antiwar clique.
Addressing the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Mr. Gore argued that going to war in Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein would "severely damage" the war on terrorism and weaken U.S. leadership in the world.
Until now, Mr. Gore has generally supported getting tougher with Iraq, calling for a "final reckoning" with Saddam. He was one of a handful of Democrats who broke with his party in 1991 to vote for a resolution giving Mr. Bush's father authority to war against Iraq.
But his sledgehammer attack on President Bush's war plans not only represented a break with his previous position, it has moved him into the minority of his own party on national security policy.
One by one, Democratic leaders have been quickly lining up behind Mr. Bush's war policy. Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (Mr. Gore's former running-mate), John Edwards of North Carolina (who may challenge Mr. Gore in 2004 for the presidential nomination) and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri all have voiced support for the president on Iraq.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has been slowly inching closer to Mr. Bush's side in the debate and now nearly five weeks before Election Day Mr. Daschle wants a vote on a war resolution sooner rather than later. Notably, Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and a critic of Mr. Bush's war policy, has not ruled out a vote for a resolution to take military action.
Even the Democratic National Committee has begun putting out a much friendlier message of support for Mr. Bush on Iraq:
"We are unified with the administration on the war on terrorism, and we want to support this president and we want to move forward in a way that shows some support on the war in Iraq, and that's why you've seen Daschle and Gephardt and a lot of Democrats supporting him on this," DNC spokeswoman Maria Cardona told me this week.
So why is Mr. Gore, who has been largely silent in the debate over Iraq, separating himself from the rest of his party's leadership on what is now the election's central national security issue?
Many Democrats think Mr. Gore does not have the fire in his belly to run again for president and has decided to speak out, regardless of the political fallout. He told supporters earlier this year that he does not plan to listen to his political advisers anymore, as he did in 2000, but from now on will speak "straight from the gut."
His opposition to a war against Iraq will certainly earn him new respect at the New York Times and among the rest of the liberal news media elites where there is deep nostalgia for the old antiwar protest days of the 1960s and 1970s. But not with the electorate at large. The latest Pew poll finds 6-in-10 voters (64 percent) favor military action against Iraq, and nearly half (48 percent) say they would support military action "even if it means significant U.S. casualties."
Surprisingly, a nationwide USA Today poll last week reported that 58 percent of women now back taking pre-emptive action against Saddam, a voting bloc that tends to vote more Democratic than men.
There is little doubt that going to war against Iraq, as part of the larger war against terrorism, is going to be a key issue in this fall's campaigns.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Minnesota's Senate race where former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, a Democrat turned Republican, is running against Sen. Paul Wellstone, a 1960s, antiwar activist who has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate, and who opposes war against Iraq.
In a major address Monday, Mr. Coleman called for military action to stop Saddam from acquiring even more dangerous weapons, including nuclear capabilities "that could kill not thousands, but tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or God forbid millions of our people."
Karl Rove, the president's political adviser, believes Mr. Bush and the GOP will strengthen their hold on the House and retake the Senate in November because of their handling of the war against terrorism, including Iraq, which harbors and supports terrorists. Mr. Rove has urged Mr. Coleman to challenge Mr. Wellstone on Iraq where their differences are sharpest. A Zogby poll for MSNBC now shows Mr. Coleman holding a 47 percent to 41 percent lead, well outside the 4.5 percent margin of error.
Al Gore take note.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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