Dem candidates back Obama on Iraq

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Democrats in tough Senate election fights aren’t running away from the White House on Iraq — at least not yet.

While many of the candidates have sought to distance themselves from President Obama on a host of issues, they have offered measured support for his escalating campaign of airstrikes in Iraq.

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“I think that the president is taking the right course to use air power to hold off these militant groups and to try to re-establish order,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said in a local TV interview.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat hoping to unseat Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), thinks “limited air strikes for humanitarian reasons and in support of our allies against terrorists are appropriate,” according to a campaign aide.

Other Democrats are hedging their support.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who along with Landrieu is considered one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats running for reelection, said airstrikes “provide short-term relief,” but warned a long-term solution must come from the Iraqi people.

"I don't think most Arkansans believe that we should be the world's policeman," Pryor said this week, according to The Baxter Bulletin.

“We need to work with our allies. We need to try to help and provide a stable situation, and certainly look out for the humanitarian concerns, but at the end of the day, a lot of these countries, they just have to take responsibility for their own countries,” he said.

Iraq hasn’t been a hot topic on the campaign trail, though that could change in the weeks ahead.

Democratic candidates have generally offered support for airstrikes but warned against putting ground troops in Iraq. Those opinions track well with polling that shows the public is wary of another entanglement in the Middle East.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this week found 54 percent of Americans backed the airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), while 39 percent opposed them.

A Pew Research poll produced similar numbers, with a majority of respondents also expressing concern that the U.S. could get bogged down in another long and costly conflict in the Middle East.

Republicans, for their part, have heavily criticized Obama’s leadership on foreign policy, as they aim to make the midterm elections a referendum on the relatively unpopular president.

A handful of members from both parties have argued that Congress should take action on Iraq when lawmakers return in September, though a vote so close to the election seems highly unlikely.

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who is trying to retain Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat for Democrats, sent a letter last week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requesting specifics on the deployment of military personnel to Iraq, noting one of his “primary concerns” was that Obama “had not sought congressional approval.”

But most Democrats in tough races are avoiding the issue of a vote in Congress, which political analysts say is a smart strategy.

Even if it is a way to show distance from the president, there’s little reason for candidates to stake out their positions before November, says Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

“The generic Democratic playbook in all of these states is that the Republican candidate is too extreme in some way,” he said. “How does an Iraq airstrike vote play into that strategy at all?”

“If they thought it was good to be talking about, they’d be talking about it,” Kondik said.

Press offices for Landrieu and Pryor didn’t return repeated requests for comment about whether Congress should have a vote on Iraq. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn, who hopes to pull off an upset for Democrats in Georgia, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Spokesmen for Sens. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) both passed along statements about Iraq that did not directly address whether Congress should hold a vote on the use of military force.

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