- The Washington Times - Monday, June 5, 2006

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Democrats here love to bash President Bush, and cheered wildly for their prominent political visitors over the weekend, when they took aim at the administration.

But while Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold fired up the crowd by urging his party to stand up and fight against the Iraq war, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner gave a broad speech focused mostly on domestic issues, prompting some Democrats to say the Virginian seemed a more likely contender to make it all the way to the White House.

“Senator Feingold spoke to the Democrats, and I felt that Governor Warner spoke to everybody,” said Kermit Williams of Wilton, one of about 800 at the New Hampshire Democratic Convention. “It’s great to be very focused on a philosophy, but winning in the end is the important thing.”

Mr. Feingold and Mr. Warner advised the crowd Saturday on how the party can regain congressional majority and win back the presidency in 2008.

Mr. Feingold, who has called for censuring Mr. Bush, threw the audience political red meat with lines like: “The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were not repealed on 9/11” and “We have got to show that we will stand up to the mistakes of this administration.” He also called for universal health care.

Mr. Warner kept the Bush-bashing to a minimum and instead espoused centrist themes of deficit reduction, better math and science education, and ensuring localities have adequate infrastructure to avoid catastrophes like the flooding during Hurricane Katrina.

“We have an administration and Congress that is more interested in building a bridge to nowhere than it is about laying any kind of foundation for future success,” he said.

He called for funding alternative-energy research, adding the applause line: “Of course, that would require an administration that believes in science.”

The starkest contrast between the Wisconsin senator and the former Virginia governor was their positions on the war in Iraq.

“Why are so many Democrats too timid to say what everybody in America wants? It’s time to redeploy the troops. … I say bring them home by the end of 2006,” Mr. Feingold said, bringing most in the crowd to their feet.

Mr. Warner opposes a fixed timetable for troop withdrawal, but said the Bush administration has created a haven for al Qaeda and a frightening situation in Iran with its botched foreign-policy decisions.

“Going out without a plan is just as bad as going in without a plan,” Mr. Warner said. “This government has months, not years, to demonstrate its willingness to step up, eliminate the militias and stabilize the country.”

Judging by applause and standing ovations, the Democrats were more excited by Mr. Feingold’s breakfast keynote than Mr. Warner’s lunch speech, but the differing impressions the two men left behind were clear, with most saying the former governor had a better shot at winning the Democratic nomination.

State Sen. Joe Foster of Nashua said Mr. Warner has an impressive record and his speech was well-received by delegates.

Patty Giguere of Goffstown liked both men, but thinks Mr. Warner “is going to go a little farther, that he is maybe a stronger leader.”

State Rep. Jackie Cilley of Strafford said many Democrats will say Mr. Feingold is not “electable” because he is outspoken, but rejects that notion.

“It is well past the time that we should be settling for mediocrity in this country, the lowest common denominator, the safest bet, the candidate that won’t get us into trouble,” said Mrs. Cilley, 54. “Senator Feingold challenges me. He makes me want to be a better Democrat. He makes me want to be a better citizen of this country.”

Both men made their records known — Mr. Feingold proudly outlined his votes against the Iraq war, USA Patriot Act and NAFTA, while Mr. Warner showed a slick video outlining how he worked with Virginia’s Republican legislature to improve education and the state budget.

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