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Both Parties Play Up Issue on the Congressional Campaign Trail


WASHINGTON — The Iraq debate may be over in Congress, but it lives on in congressional campaigns across the country.

In tight Senate races in South Dakota, Missouri and Georgia, the name or image of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has popped up in recent days in political advertising. In these and other contests, Republicans and Democrats are arguing over which party is stronger in foreign affairs, national defense and homeland security.

The Senate's 77-23 vote early Friday approving the potential use of force against Iraq, following the House's 296-133 vote of approval hours earlier, forced many lawmakers to take a difficult stand less than a month before the November elections.

The roll calls yielded few surprises. Democrats in heavily contested races tended to vote for the resolution that President Bush sought. These included Sens. Jean Carnahan of Missouri, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Max Cleland of Georgia.

A notable exception was Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who opposed the resolution.

The measure won near unanimous GOP support. In the House, the six Republicans voting against it included two--Reps. James A. Leach of Iowa and Constance A. Morella of Maryland--whose reelection hopes hinge in part on attracting significant Democratic support. The lone Republican senator opposing the measure--Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island--represents a heavily Democratic state.

Still uncertain is whether the focus on Iraq will recede from the campaign trail.

Republicans, seeking to take back the Senate and keep the House, prefer to talk about national security issues. Democrats, seeking to expand their one-seat Senate majority and win the House, want to talk about the nation's economic problems instead.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said Democrats have "a chance" to change the subject before the Nov. 5 elections. "But have they done it so far? No."

In the Senate, 12 Democrats who voted against the Persian Gulf War resolution in 1991 voted for this year's resolution. Among them were Johnson of South Dakota and Tom Harkin of Iowa, who is favored in his reelection bid this year.

Harkin cited the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a major reason for backing the current resolution. He said Hussein and Al Qaeda terrorists "might find common cause in attacking us and our allies at any time," presenting an "unacceptable menace" to the United States.

Harkin's opponent, Republican Rep. Greg Ganske, voted for the resolution in the House.

Johnson, who was a House member when he opposed the 1991 resolution, cites Sept. 11 as a factor in his support for the current measure. He also has stressed his support of Bush on national defense and homeland security issues.

But his GOP opponent, Rep. John R. Thune, has not hesitated to mention Johnson's "no" vote in 1991. Thune has also run a television ad that includes a picture of Hussein and attacks Johnson as a frequent opponent of missile defense programs.

Johnson denies the charge. His spokesman, Dan Pfeiffer, said the tone of Thune's ad was "over the top." But Thune spokeswoman Christine Iverson called national security "a relevant issue."

In Missouri, Carnahan is facing a tough challenge from former Rep. Jim Talent. He recently launched a radio advertisement that claims Carnahan opposed an initiative to boost oil production and reduce U.S. dependence "on people like Saddam Hussein."

In the same ad, Talent accused Carnahan of helping to block Bush's proposal for a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Carnahan has stoutly defended her record on defense, Iraq and domestic security.

In Georgia, an ad sponsored by Rep. Saxby Chambliss, the GOP Senate nominee, shows photographs of Hussein and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and accuses Cleland of thwarting the Bush homeland security plan. Cleland said the ad represented a "vicious exploitation" of a national tragedy and an "attempt at character assassination."

In the House, about two dozen Democrats facing tough reelection fights were among those voting for the Iraq resolution.

One who voted against it was Rep. James H. Maloney of Connecticut. He is in a close battle with Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-Conn.), a head-to-head contest of incumbents created by newly drawn political boundaries. Johnson voted for the resolution.

Democratic senators viewed as potential presidential or vice presidential candidates in 2004 tended to vote for the resolution. These included John Edwards of North Carolina, John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Evan Bayh of Indiana, Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Another Democrat who backed Bush on the measure but may try to unseat him was House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.

Kerry, Biden, Dodd, Daschle and Gephardt all opposed the 1991 war resolution.

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