- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Citizen-driven antiwar campaigns have intensified recently, timing their efforts so lawmakers returning home this week during a congressional recess will feel pressured by an increasingly restless electorate wanting to change course in Iraq.

Democratic leaders and campaign operatives think their party will pick up more seats in 2008 because of this growing antiwar sentiment and say it is impossible for Congress to withdraw troops from Iraq until Democrats achieve a larger majority.

Antiwar groups are angry that Democratic leaders allowed the passage of a $120 billion war funding bill last week, but lawmakers are defending themselves and singling out Republicans as deserving of criticism.

The American people understand that “there are really only two groups of people standing in the way of change in Iraq,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

“President Bush and the White House, and Republican members of Congress who continue to be a rubber stamp for the White House,” he said Friday, referring to Republicans who were unwilling to override a presidential veto of the Democratic troop-withdrawal bill. “The reason we haven’t gone as far as we would like to is because Republican members of Congress continue to do what they did before the election, which is just give the president a blank check.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, lauded by liberals for voting against the war funding bill, predicted Friday that “the president’s policy is going to begin to unravel now” and previewed several upcoming votes to limit his Iraq authority and attempt to change the war policy.

The DCCC plans to defend freshmen Democrats in conservative districts but also will try to build on the Democratic majority by targeting some of the same Republicans from last fall.

One is Rep. Heather A. Wilson in New Mexico. The antiwar group Americans United for Change has helped Democrats by running ads against her war stance and linking her to Mr. Bush. The group also is running radio ads in Ohio targeting Republican Sen. George V. Voinovich, and organizers say he is “feeling the heat” from the campaign.

In the ads, Iraq war mother Debbie Evans tells voters: “It’s a civil war over in Iraq; it’s not our war. Let’s bring our boys home, keep them home and protect our boundaries. They don’t want us there. And I don’t want my son there.”

Another lawmaker caught up in antiwar sentiment is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Democrats, still chafing at the Republicans’ successful ousting of their own minority leader, Tom Daschle, in 2004, have long wanted revenge. They are encouraged this year by antiwar groups, who blast Mr. McConnell for his role in preventing troop-withdrawal bills from passing the Senate.

“It’s a statement of the obvious that the Iraq war is not popular,” Mr. McConnell said when asked about the campaign against him. “The principal climate problem for our party remains Iraq. That’s what it was last November, and that’s what it is now.”

He said he hopes to avoid Republican retirements in 2008 because incumbency is a great advantage, but he acknowledged, “the odds are kind of tough.”

Democrats, with two independents, hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, where 12 Democrats and 21 Republicans are up for re-election in 2008.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has focused on seats held by Republican Sens. Susan Collins in Maine, John E. Sununu in New Hampshire and Norm Coleman in Minnesota.

“The GOP has shown no signs that they’ve gotten the message of change and progress that voters sent in 2006,” said a recent DSCC fundraising e-mail. “We will not stop until we expand the Democratic majority in 2008.”

In the Senate, 60 votes are needed to pass most tough legislation, and 66 votes are needed to override a presidential veto.

Ned Lamont, who beat Sen. Joe Lieberman last year in Connecticut’s Democratic primary but lost in the general election, is raising money to target vulnerable senators he labels “Roadblock Republicans” who provided “cover” for Mr. Bush’s war policy.

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