- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Democratic congressional leaders and the party’s presidential candidates yesterday refused to repudiate a liberal group’s ad questioning Gen. David H. Petraeus‘ character.

Capitol Hill Democrats rejected a call for votes in both chambers to condemn the attack newspaper ad (pdf download), run by MoveOn.org, saying Republicans are trying to take attention off what they call the president’s failed Iraq policy.

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the California Democrat “wished [MoveOn.org] wouldn’t have done that ad,” but declined to comment further.

A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, also declined to comment on the ad.

The MoveOn.org ad that ran in the New York Times on Monday features a photo of the general, who is giving testimony on Iraq to Congress this week, and the headline “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?”

Republicans had hoped to force Democrats into the uncomfortable position of voting for a measure to officially denounce an organization that has helped raise millions for party candidates in recent elections.

“This smear campaign consisted of entirely unwarranted and fallacious attacks, and sought to impugn the name of a highly respected man of integrity,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

Mr. Cornyn introduced the Senate resolution yesterday condemning the attacks that was rejected by Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, called on senators to “go on record in opposition to this outrageous … and unacceptable ad.”

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, introduced a similar measure Monday. But Democratic leaders say they won’t allow a vote on the nonbinding resolution.

MoveOn.org is a leader in the antiwar movement and has helped force the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates to shift toward their position. The group has also directly aided some of the candidates, running ads on their behalf.

A spokesman for former Sen. John Edwards, a Democratic presidential candidate who has benefited from full-page ads MoveOn.org ran on his behalf, said Mr. Edwards “honors General Petraeus’ service and patriotism,” but he did not disavow the MoveOn.org ad.

“The general is wrong to believe that the American people or Congress should give President Bush’s failed Iraq strategy more time,” said Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz.

In July, MoveOn.org ran newspaper ads for Mr. Edwards in Iowa and New Hampshire after their members chose him as the winner of an online forum about global warming.

Sen. Barack Obama’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted that the candidate is not questioning the general’s patriotism but rather his “logic,” because the Illinois Democrat sees “no evidence that this surge is producing the political progress needed to resolve the civil war in Iraq, or that it will be accomplished through more of the same.”

After Mr. Obama won an online MoveOn.org forum about Iraq, the group set up a page directing its members to make direct financial contributions to whichever candidate they felt gave the strongest performance.

Phil Singer, a spokesman for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, said his boss would “keep her focus where it should be, on ending the war.”

Leading up to this week’s testimony, several Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill had questioned Gen. Petraeus’ integrity and his independence from the Bush administration.

But even Democrats who have criticized the ad, such as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a decorated Vietnam War veteran and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, who on Monday called the ad “over the top,” said Republicans are using it as a distraction.

MoveOn.org, which stands by the ad, yesterday sent an e-mail to its members accusing Gen. Petraeus of misleading Congress with “faulty statistics and cherry-picked intelligence to argue that American troops should stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future.”

c Christina Bellantoni contributed to this article.

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