- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Iraq war is sapping Republican voter enthusiasm and undermining the party’s candidates in races once thought safe, campaign observers say.

“The war has hurt many GOP candidates,” including Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio, said Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich, a leader in the conservative movement. “If they didn’t have to defend the war, Santorum and DeWine would likely win. But the war is a place too far.”

He said the House has plenty of examples, three in Indiana alone: Reps. John Hostettler, Chris Chocola and Mike Sodrel. “They are going down in blazes, but without the war, not a one of them would be in trouble,” Mr. Weyrich said.

Republican campaign pollster John McLaughlin said that in “typical battleground districts, four out of five voters overall and a third to a quarter of Republicans oppose the war. When we ask why, Democrats say because invading Iraq was a mistake in the first place, but Republicans say it’s because we’re not winning — we’re still there.”

“Our polling has shown that several key issues have benefited the Democrats heading into next week’s election, but the war, far and away, has been the most important,” said independent pollster John Zogby.

A spokesman for the Zogby firm said 57 percent of likely voters in its Oct. 20 to 23 survey “do not believe the war has been worth the loss of American lives,” and 35 percent of Republicans want U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq by the end of next year.

Brian Nienaber, an analyst for Ed Goeas’ Tarrance Group, a Republican polling firm, does not think the war will hurt Republican turnout Tuesday. He said the latest bipartisan Battleground poll, conducted jointly with Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, found that “lots of Republicans say the Iraq war is part of the global war on terror and want to stay the course there.”

The poll found that 76 percent of Republicans thought war was worth fighting, and 21 percent said it was not, with 3 percent undecided, Mr. Nienaber said.

Democrats have homed in on the Iraq war as a means of “nationalizing” the vote, although midterm congressional elections usually turn on local issues.

“Even in small places where you never hear this kind of talk, they are talking this year about national issues, and primarily Iraq,” said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. “It is unlike any off-year election I have ever seen.”

Most independent political analysts are predicting major Republican losses. Democrats are predicted to make a net gain of 15 to 40 seats in the House and as many as six seats in the Senate. Voter dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq is the major reason.

“All year long, the war in Iraq has been the biggest response by voters when asked why they think the country is on the wrong track,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Corruption runs a distant second.”

Some Republican campaign operatives agree, but only privately because they do not want to appear to undermine their clients.

“The Iraq war is an overwhelming presence in this election that dwarfs all other issues,” said one such Republican, who polls for his party’s candidates across the country. “It is the issue of this campaign, and it is draining all enthusiasm out of GOP partisans while motivating the Democrats.”

The war is not the only discouragement for some Republican voters, Mr. Weyrich said.

“The same things said of the war could be said of profligate spending. Without that albatross around the necks of those members of Congress who are in trouble, they would all be winning,” he said. “Some of these senators and House members might withstand one or two big issues, but the when it gets to be several in addition to the war — that is, corruption, immigration and spending — then only the very safe members will be re-elected.”

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