In travels around his district during a congressional recess last week, Sodrel was asked often about Iraq. Though he supports the president -- and stood side-by-side with Bush at a public fundraiser Friday -- he emphasized not only progress but also his hopes for withdrawal.
"The goal isn't to have an Iraq that is bomb-free or incident-free before we can leave," Sodrel told students at Shawe Memorial High School in Madison, Ind. "We just have to have a government that is stable enough and a military that is trained enough and a society that is cohesive enough."
A few hours later, speaking at Hanover College in Hanover, Ind., his pitch was more direct: "I would like to see a serious withdrawal as soon as this government is formed."
The tone appeared to work with his audience. Some said it sounded as if Sodrel had changed his position on the war.
But Sodrel said that his support for the president and the war hadn't flagged and that he was not worried about Bush's sagging poll numbers. Sodrel faces a fierce rematch with Hill, who represented the district for three terms in Congress before Sodrel ousted him in 2004.
While in Congress, Hill voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He considers his vote -- and his story about how he believes he was misled by the administration -- to be an advantage with voters, he said.
Hill said he had planned to vote against the war resolution until he was invited to the Pentagon for a top-secret briefing from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. There, Hill said, he was shown intelligence that suggested Iraq had the ability to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction using unmanned aircraft.
That briefing "was a deliberate misrepresentation," Hill said, and his message to Indiana's independent-minded voters will be that "it's healthy for us to be skeptical."
Similar themes are cropping up in eastern Pennsylvania, where Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach is fighting for reelection in the state's 6th District.
Mindful that the district voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections, local GOP leaders are playing down their candidate's party loyalty and portraying him as a centrist who puts constituent interests ahead of party politics.
"This is going to be one of the interesting case studies nationally of how far he can run away from the president," said Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown, Pa. "One of the things he's going to have to do is make clear ... that he is not in lock step with the White House."
In the end, the biggest hurdle for incumbent Republicans across the country might not be their Democratic challengers but voter turnout. Fewer people vote in midterm elections at the best of times.
Former Seymour Mayor Bill Bailey predicted that many Republicans might not bother to vote this year.
"With this Iraq war, every month that goes by, it becomes tougher for Sodrel or any other Republican who rode in on Bush's coattails," Bailey said. "I think you'll see a lot of people stay home."
\o7Times staff writer Nick Timiraos contributed to this report.