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Newcomers may have edge
Media General News Service


November 29, 2005

WASHINGTON - Shouted epithets echo in the House. The word "coward" pierces the air. A brief scuffle. Members ordered to take their seats.

The president makes a calming statement from overseas that seems to cool things down. But his vice president continues to lash out at war critics. And the war critics bitterly charge that they were deceived into voting for a war that has now gone wrong.

This all occurred in the days before Thanksgiving. How the voters are digesting it is interesting to behold.

The polls are indicating a big second term drop in confidence for the Bush administration, but the old, familiar faces of the Democratic Party aren't attracting much attention either.

Chances are voters may be looking for something different around the bend. The spectacular entrance last week of Virginia's Democratic Gov. Mark Warner after his protege's victory to succeed him in Richmond seemed to expose a yearning for fresh talent.

Other newcomers who have been mentioned as live presidential contenders - Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Republican Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts -have begun to catch the imagination of a few people. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., emerged as an early conservatives favorite.

Warner seems to have won some extra attention because he was able to carry someone else on his shoulders. After his lieutenant governor, Timothy M. Kaine, won Virginia's governorship, Warner caught on as a presidential possibility because he demonstrated rare Democratic clout in Republican "red state" territory.

In this election, Warner's popularity was transferable, whereas Bush - whose poll ratings continue to sink - couldn't do anything for Republican Jerry Kilgore. Also, Kilgore's negative advertisements against Kaine may have backfired and the Republican didn't have a solid anti-tax message.

The 2008 election could start to resemble the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate election of 1976, in which an unknown Democratic governor, Jimmy Carter of Georgia, topped the field.

Voters turned against not just corruption in the Nixon administration ,but the war that had yielded no benefit. Experience wasn't what people were looking for. In fact it may have been a negative for President Gerald Ford, an old and trusted face in Washington up to the time of his pardon of the former president.

Whether anyone in Washington is being looked on with much trust after the kind of withering exchanges the country has witnessed - particularly the one last week on the floor of the House - is questionable. In that exchange, which nearly brought a couple of members to blows, a congressman who had demanded withdrawal was at first accused of committing an act of cowardice and then the words were withdrawn.

Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., had proposed immediate withdrawal from Iraq under a specific timetable. He was not the first to do so, but his background as a decorated Marine with a hawkish voting record attracted immediate attention, but little support from either party.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., who usually speaks for his party on foreign policy questions, led a parade of Democrats praising Murtha for his courage in standing up to the abuse from the Republicans. But Biden, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., refused to go along with Murtha's call for specific withdrawal dates, fearing it would tip off the enemy to the U.S. strategy.

Obama, although he was not in the Senate at the time of the Iraq war votes, has been a longtime opponent of the war, in contrast to Clinton, Kerry and Biden. But he refused last week, in a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, to back Murtha's call for an immediate withdrawal. He called instead for leaving sufficient force in Iraq to prevent Iraq from exploding into civil war or ethnic cleansing or becoming "a haven for terrorism."

Another contender for the 2008 nomination, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is a critic of the administration's strategy, but in contrast to Biden, Clinton, Obama and Kerry, he seeks additional manpower to shorten and provide a quicker exit.

All of this legislative strategizing was Vietnam era deja vu - almost a repeat of the agonizing debates of that war.

Is the nation looking for a knight with a clean slate on Iraq? Maybe so, but the knight had better have some answers about the war.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)
Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service.

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