Politicians of both political parties are interested in self-preservation or, more specifically, in re-election.In 2007, it's the Republicans, especially in the Senate, who are reading the tea leaves on the war in Iraq. Nerves are getting a little on edge.
The most noteworthy at this point are Sens. John Sununu of New Hampshire and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.
In 2006, the Republicans were routed in New Hampshire, a state usually regarded as safe for the GOP. Democrats won in both Congress and the New Hampshire legislature. Sununu, son of a former governor and White House chief of staff, is voting more often with the Democrats on Iraqi resolutions. But that may not save him against former Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
Coleman has been careful, too, in his votes in a state dominated for so long by the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar easily won election to an open seat over conservative Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy last year. Coleman got the message.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is another example. Along with her colleague from Maine, Sen. Olympia Snowe, Collins has been treading lightly. But she seems to be eager to play both sides with some tortured rhetoric, enough so that Democrats will not give her a free ride next year.
Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska are in a different category. Smith has voted with the Democrats consistently and is in little danger in 2008. Hagel has been the most outspoken critic of the White House's handling of the war. He is not seeking re-election, and his seat is in play in 2008.
Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the venerable 80-year-old lion of the party, seems to be going back and forth on Iraq. But he asks some tough questions in the Senate about the never-ending conflict. Warner, like Hagel, is not running next year, and former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, no relation, will be a heavy favorite to capture the seat in a state turning blue from bright red.
Of course, most other Republican incumbents are sticking with the president for now. But watch for changing votes in the Senate and House if the war takes a drastic turn. Allegiance to the lame-duck Bush will be dropped in rapid form.
By John W. Mashek