Thursday, July 5, 2007

YORK, Pa. — A summertime push by liberal political groups to turn selected Republican members of Congress against the war in Iraq has been slow to grab the attention of lawmakers on the hit list.

In states such as Pennsylvania, which the activists designate as a key battleground in the war debate, organizers say the effort is just getting under way two weeks after they deployed 10 full-time activists here.

The campaign singled out 41 Republicans nationwide — six of them in Pennsylvania, more than in any other state — whom organizers say are ripe to turn against President Bush.

Several Pennsylvania Republicans targeted in the “Iraq summer” campaign by Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, a coalition of groups including and Center for American Progress, report that so far there has been no increase in antiwar activity. It also is uncertain what the out-of-town activists will add to homegrown antiwar movements already present in most communities.

Rep. Todd R. Platts, a Pennsylvania Republican targeted in the campaign, spent three hours on a talk radio call-in show Monday in his York County district — as he does the first Monday of every month — and didn’t get any calls about Iraq.

Mr. Platts hasn’t seen more letters, phone calls or visits to his office by war opponents, he said in an interview at his district office in York, a slowly rebounding Rust Belt town of about 40,000 people.

“There is an understandable concern for the safety of our troops,” said Mr. Platts, who handily defeated antiwar Democratic and Green Party challengers in 2006. “The consensus feedback [from constituents] is overwhelmingly in support of the president and in support of the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

About a half-dozen local war protesters demonstrate at the square in York every Friday, but that has been going on since long before national antiwar groups said they were coming after Mr. Platts, a steadfast supporter of the war effort.

York City Council member Joseph Musso, a Democrat, said he didn’t think Mr. Platts was vulnerable to attacks from the left in the mostly rural, conservative district in the state’s southeast.

“People in York County are smarter than that,” he said. The activists “are going to have more than a one-issue attack” to threaten Mr. Platts.

Jeff Garis, the director of the liberal advocacy group Pennsylvania Action who is helping organize the state’s Iraq summer campaign, said he didn’t know about Mr. Platts’ monthly radio appearance and would not again miss such an opportunity to publicly confront the lawmaker.

“Part of the goal is to be more effective seizing those opportunities,” he said.

Mr. Garis said the campaign got going in earnest Tuesday when, according to Mr. Garis, about 30 protesters turned out at Republican Rep. Tim Murphy’s district office outside Pittsburgh.

But staffers at the office counted about a dozen protesters. They also reported seeing seven or eight cars parked nearby with Maryland or Virginia license plates, an unusual sight in the area that prompted speculation the protesters were imported.

Murphy spokesman Mark Carpenter said the representative listens to constituents and shares their frustration with the war.

“However, he will not be persuaded by the Washington-based political firm that staged today’s event in Pittsburgh whose issues also include higher taxes and abortion,” Mr. Carpenter said Tuesday.

Another demonstration is planned today at Republican Rep. Charlie Dent’s district office in Bethlehem, near the New Jersey state line.

Similar efforts are getting started in 13 other states, aimed at peeling away Mr. Bush’s support among Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico.

The campaign will be capped by simultaneous town-hall meetings Aug. 28, just before congressional debate on a Democratic troop-pullout plan and a September progress report form military commanders in Iraq.

Organizers hope to swing enough Republicans against the war to give the Democrat-led Congress the two-thirds majority vote required in both chambers to overturn the president’s veto. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California backed down in May, when Mr. Bush vetoed a $124 billion war-funding bill over its a troop-withdrawal timetable. Mrs. Pelosi couldn’t muster enough votes to override the veto.

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