Liberal group targets GOP vulnerables

A liberal-leaning coalition formed to prod lawmakers on withdrawal from Iraq kicks off an advertising and grassroots campaign today, aiming more at forcing Republicans to break from President Bush than at gaining support for the contentious war supplemental.

The anti-war coalition will turn its fire from Kentucky, where Americans United for Change continues its $200,000 ad buy blasting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), to Maine and New Hampshire, home of GOP Sens. Susan Collins and John Sununu. Both Collins and Sununu face reelection challenges next year in blue states where voter frustration runs high.

The ad buys in the New England states, topping the McConnell push’s price tag, will “call on [Collins and Sununu], when they have another opportunity, to vote to end the war in Iraq … and make sure the Bush administration is held accountable in the process,” Americans United President Brad Woodhouse said yesterday.

While the supplemental consumes much of the oxygen in the war debate, the anti-war campaign is focused on the long haul. The coalition’s tactics vary widely, from veterans’ meetings on Capitol Hill to a planned display in front of the district office of Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio). But its goal is the same: convince Republicans of a new political reality and isolate Bush in the process.

“We’re not running a legislative campaign, we’re running a campaign about changing what sorts of positions members of Congress are taking,” Tom Mattzzie, MoveOn.org Washington director, said. “The next two weeks are about the president and whether he’s going to sign the bill.”

Yet Bush yesterday closed the door to negotiating with Democrats on the supplemental’s timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. “They need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back,” Bush told reporters. “I’ll veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.”

Jon Soltz, chairman of anti-war coalition member VoteVets.org, dismissed the White House argument that the supplemental’s nearly $100 billion in war funds must be approved by April 15: “This is about supporting the war, not necessarily funding for the troops per se.”

The Congressional Research Service told lawmakers last week that the Army would be able to maintain operations until July under current funding levels.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that the Democrats would not back down during conference talks on the supplemental. He further ratcheted up his party’s commitment to withdrawal this week by signing on to legislation cutting off war funds by March 2008.

“Democrats will send President Bush a bill that gives our troops the resources they need and a strategy in Iraq worthy of their sacrifices,” Reid said in a statement. “If the president vetoes this bill, he will have delayed funding for our troops and kept in place his strategy of failure.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) yesterday became the first Democratic presidential hopeful to join Reid in cosponsoring Sen. Russ Feingold’s (D-Wis.) war-funding plan. Dodd released a statement calling the withdrawal bill “the strongest congressional measure to get the U.S. out of Bush’s failed policy in Iraq.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), likewise vying for the nomination, used her campaign’s megaphone to start an online petition telling Bush not to veto the supplemental when it hits his desk, which will likely come by the end of the month.