Thursday, August 10, 2006
By LINDA SCHADE
Ned Lamont's win in Connecticut shows that being an anti-Bush Democrat is not enough. Peace voters inside the Democratic Party and beyond increasingly require candidates to take public and principled stands on the war.
For months, polls have revealed steadily increasing public opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. In a poll by Quinnipiac University last Thursday, 94 percent of Lamont backers cited Sen. Joe Lieberman's position on the war as a reason for backing the challenger.
In the final days, Lieberman futilely urged voters to put aside their top priority. "Look at the whole record," he pleaded. "Don't vote on one issue." Protests that he was a good Democrat and critical of Bush did not spare him. Peace voters flocked to donate to Lamont and even visit Connecticut to campaign for him, signaling they are dead serious about Iraq withdrawal and will work to defeat candidates who aren't.
A Gallup poll taken June 23-25 found that 55 percent of Americans -- including 59 percent of Democrats and 49 percent of Republicans -- say Iraq will be "extremely important" to their vote for Congress this year. Considering the 56 percent overall who say the war was a mistake and the 62 percent who think Bush is mishandling the war, there is a potent electoral bloc of voters that may prevail in numerous congressional races.
Democratic pollster Peter Hart has summed up the meaning of the Lieberman-Lamont race this way: "Iraq is the number one issue and the message is exceptionally simple: We cannot abide the status quo."
Sen. Hillary Clinton, an ear-to-the-ground politician running for re-election in New York and likely next for the presidency, reacted to Lamont's rising fortunes by making careful gestures to the increasingly mobilized anti-war bloc in her party. Although Clinton continues to support the war, she aggressively questioned Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then called for his resignation. Unlike Lieberman, she joined 38 fellow Democrats last month on a resolution calling for U.S. troops to begin exiting Iraq this year, though without a deadline. And last November, she supported a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops from Iraq; Lieberman opposed it.
Nevertheless, Clinton is faced with anti-war challengers such as fellow Democrat Jonathan Tasini, who now stands at 12 percent in the polls. It remains to be seen whether Tasini will get Lamont-like traction, but Clinton already is taking heavy hits for trying to play both sides. In the post-Lieberman world, waffling on the war is no longer on the menu.
Another way voters nationwide are organizing is by signing the Voters' Pledge at www.VotersForPeace.US, stating they will not support pro-war candidates. This expression of anti-war sentiment spans the political spectrum: Greens, Libertarians and Republicans are among nearly 100,000 signers so far, and millions are sought by 2008.
Beyond their primary opposition, the next challenge waiting in the wings for soft-on-peace incumbents will come from alternative party candidates on the ballot in November. Battered by anti-war candidates, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington is still expected to win the Democratic primary, but only after hiring her most vocal opponent. She will then face three peace candidates in November: Aaron Dixon, running as a Green; Bruce Guthrie, a Libertarian; and independent Robin Adair. Cantwell now talks about bringing the troops home.
For Maryland's open Senate seat, former Democratic front-runner Ben Cardin tried to address his pro-war congressional record by posting an anti-war petition on his campaign Web site. After months of pounding on the issue, he has lost his lead to Kwesi Mfume (previously head of the NAACP). In November the primary victor will face not only Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, but also attorney Kevin Zeese, an initial founder of VotersforPeace.US who is backed by three anti-war parties -- Green, Libertarian and Populist. Zeese vocally opposes the Iraq war, uncritical support for Israel and any U.S. war of aggression against Iran.
Incumbent politicians take note: If peace voters can oust a former vice presidential nominee and incumbent U.S. senator, what does that mean for the lesser among you?
Linda Schade is executive director of VotersForPeace.US, which educates, organizes and activates voters to end the occupation of Iraq.