GOP Defends Iraq Policy Ahead Of Elections

US Senator George Allen greets supporters in front of FedEx Field as he is dogged by a protester in a President Bush costume in Landover, Va., Sunday, Nov. 5, 2006. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The head of the Republican Senate campaigns sought Sunday to deflect growing criticism about the war in Iraq, saying her party will prevail in Tuesday's congressional elections partly because "Democrats appear to be content with losing" the war.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole acknowledged that Republicans face a tight race to maintain control of the Senate, but that voters will focus more narrowly on local issues.

"It's no question it's a very tough cycle," said Dole, noting that elections halfway through a president's term are historically rough for the same party as the president.

On Iraq, she said: "We need to win the war, and it would be disastrous to lose."

"To pull out and withdraw is losing. The Democrats appear to be content with losing," she said.

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, citing polls that show people increasingly are dissatisfied with President George W. Bush's war policy, rejected the notion that Democrats wished to "lose the war."

"What Senator Dole is saying is outrageous," said Schumer, who heads the Democratic Senate campaign committee. "Democrats want to win the war, which is why we want to change the strategy."

He said if Democrats gain the majority in the Senate, they will push for new policies including withdrawing troops for deployment elsewhere and adding forces for counterterrorism efforts such as pursuing Osama bin Laden.

"We're right on the edge on taking back the Senate," he added. "We are feeling very good. ... This election has evolved into a national referendum on change."

In other news from the campaign trail:

  • In Maryland, U.S. Rep. Ben Cardin and Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele are locked in a very tight and racially charged race to succeed retiring Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes.
  • Conservatives support for the war in Iraq continues to fade. Richard Perle – a leading neo-conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion – now says U.S. policy there has failed. The Army Times and other military-oriented periodicals will publish editorials calling for Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld.
  • Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill pulled an all-nighter in her campaign for the Senate. Scrambling for votes before Tuesday's election against Republican Sen. Jim Talent, she made more than 30 stops over 24 straight hours.

    In the Nov. 7 elections, all 435 House seats are on the ballot, as well as 33 of the 100 Senate seats. Democrats need a net gain of 15 in the House and six in the Senate to regain control.

    White House press secretary Tony Snow said he was confident the Republicans would keep their majorities in Congress even though he said Democrats have been going after the president personally and driving down his approval ratings. "It has had an effect in the public opinion polls," Snow said.

    But, he added, "You've got a lot of Democrats jeering on the sidelines. That's all they're doing. You got to ask yourself, if the war on terror is this important, shouldn't they say precisely what they want to do?"

    Last week, Richard Perle, a leading conservative proponent of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq said dysfunction within the Bush administration had turned U.S. policy there into a disaster.

    Perle, who led a committee of Pentagon policy advisers early in the Bush administration, said he would not have advocated an invasion to depose Saddam Hussein if he had known how events would develop afterward.

    Meanwhile, the Military Times Media Group, a Gannett Co. subsidiary that publishes Army Times and other military-oriented periodicals, said Friday it was calling for Bush to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

    Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who heads the House Democratic effort, said the growing criticism highlights Bush's failed policies and a need for a new direction. If House Democrats win a majority, they will step up oversight of Bush's foreign policies.

    Dole acknowledged some discontent with Rumsfeld among several Republican congressional candidates who have called for him to step down but said she did not think a change in defense secretary was necessary.

    "Candidates speak from their own views," Dole said.

    Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said Democrats want to redirect Bush's policies so the country is focused more on fighting terrorism.

    "My plan would be to focus on getting Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda ... and begin redeploying troops out of Iraq where they are fueling terrorists and return to fighting the war on terror," she said.

    Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, however, said he was worried that a premature U.S. withdrawal could create a political void amid the chaos that would allow radical Islamic groups in the Middle East to gain more control.

    "That would be a big victory for the terrorists," he said.

    Dole, Emanuel and Schumer appeared on NBC television's "Meet the Press." Boxer, Graham and Snow appeared on CNN's "Late Edition."