ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (search), a Republican ally of President Bush, says Iraq is "a mess" and voters are rattled. He ought to know: He's attending two funerals this week of servicemen killed in the Persian Gulf nation.
"People are becoming unnerved by it," said Pawlenty, who also is co-chairman of Bush's state campaign. "Minnesota communities are strong and tough, but people do want to know, 'What's the end game here?"'
Pawlenty discussed the political implications of Iraq hours after attending the Tuesday funeral of Cpl. Tyler Fey of Eden Prairie, Minn., who was killed April 4 in Iraq's Al Anbar province. Two other soldiers from Minnesota died in Iraq last week.
At Fey's funeral, his brother, Ryan, told hundreds of mourners, "I have so much anger for the politicians in Washington." Their policies "sent my brother on a second tour of Iraq after I thought he'd done his part in the initial invasion," Fey said.
Pawlenty, who will attend a second soldier's funeral later this week, urged Bush to keep making the case that much has been accomplished in Iraq for a good cause.
"But, at the same time, it's a mess. You've got people there who, based on religious backgrounds, hate each other. They've got all kinds of agendas and sub-agendas and I think it's confusing to Americans because they don't understand why Iraqis don't like us. They don't get it," the governor said.
"They're starting to ask this question, 'Is this thing really going to work?"'
Laura Hemler, a mother of three in the politically crucial Minneapolis suburb of Edina, said her neighbors are growing uneasy about Iraq. Hemler, co-chair of Bush's campaign in the state's most populous and wealthiest county, Hennepin, said suburban women once comforted by Bush's fight against terrorism may have second thoughts if he doesn't adequately explain his goals in Iraq.
She said Bush did a good job explaining himself during a prime-time news conference Tuesday.
But questions persist. Several undecided voters in this key state — Democrat Al Gore narrowly won Minnesota in 2000 — said they're troubled by events in Iraq.
Amanda Svobodny, a suburban mother who voted for Bush in 2000, said she regrets her choice.
"I'm going to vote Democrat in this election," said the Maple Grove, Minn., resident. "I don't think we were ever made aware of what's going on in Iraq. His administration has not told the truth."
Another young mother from Maple Grove, a city full of ticket-splitters, said she once favored the Iraq war. Now, Michele Rapinac thinks "it was a big mistake to trust him."
The percentage of people who trust Bush has fallen since the Iraq war, though his personal approval ratings are still relatively high. An AP poll last week found that an increasing number of people — about half — say the military action in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism, not decreased it. And more people now see the possibility that Iraq could become like Vietnam, a lengthy military struggle with no clear resolution.
Pawlenty, who visited Iraq with several other governors last year, said the world is better with Saddam Hussein out of power, and will be better when peace is brought to Iraq. But Bush has a political problem on his hands, at least in the short term.
"The economy is likely to continue to stabilize between now and November," the governor said. "If that happens — and he stabilizes Iraq, I think he'll be re-elected — not by a lot, but I think he's going to get re-elected."