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Poll: Most Doubt Dems Have Plan for Iraq

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

WASHINGTON —  More Americans rank Iraq as the top priority of the new Democratic-controlled Congress, but nearly three out of five say the party does not have a plan to deal with the war.

In the aftermath of an anti-Republican wave, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed lingering uncertainty about the country's direction and the ability of Democrats and President Bush to work together. Underscoring the country's political divisions, Democrats expressed more confidence and optimism than Republicans.

The poll was conducted Nov. 10-12 as the public adjusted to Washington's new division of labor, with President Bush in the White House and Democrats holding the reins of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

While voters in Election Day surveys said corruption and scandal in Congress was one of the most important factors in their vote, the postelection poll showed that 37 percent of all adults said the war in Iraq should be at the top of the congressional agenda during the next two years. The issue of terrorism, the second most mentioned priority, was ranked highest by 15 percent of those polled.

Though voters apparently embraced the Democratic mantra of changing course in Iraq, a majority of the public did not detect a clear Democratic blueprint for ending the war. Fifty-seven percent of all adults in the AP-Ipsos poll said Democrats do not have a plan for Iraq; 29 percent said they do. The poll of 1,002 adults has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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That finding strikes at the heart of a Democratic dilemma. The party hasbeen of one voice in criticizing President Bush's strategy for the war but has been more equivocal on how to move in a different direction.

Democrats such as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania want a fixed deadline to pull all troops out of the country. Other Democrats, including some party leaders, have voiced support for a staggered withdrawal that demands greater responsibility from the Iraqis.

The public's perception was reinforced during the campaign, when President Bush time and again told voters that the Democrats had little to offer on the war.

"Everyone agrees that we're going to have to begin redeployment,"Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said of the Democratic position. Skelton, in line to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has proposed withdrawing a U.S. brigade for every three Iraqi combat brigades rated fully capable. Skelton opposes setting a timetable for withdrawal but said at least one U.S. battalion or brigade should pull out promptly.

"It should send a clear message to the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people and the American people that we're not there to stay,"he said.

No doubt, the election results have put Democrats in something of a box, said Stephen Biddle, a defense policy expert at the Council of Foreign Relations.

"It's a very, very awkward thing to run a war from the Congress,"he said."The public wants them to do something. And they don't want to go into 2008 and be accused of being the do-nothing 110th Congress."

In separate interviews, some voters appeared sympathetic.

John Rodon, a retiree from Green Bay, Wis., said the situation in Iraq is"a big mistake"and voted for a Democrat for Congress. He doubted, however, that the Democrats would solve the war.

"I don't think anybody has an answer for this,"he said.

Francis Curran, a 43-year-old carpenter from Jupiter, Fla., said he thinks Democrats would approach Iraq with a better lens.

"You can't solve that problem without involving the other players in the region. I think Democrats might be more willing to at least not call (Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) the Axis of Evil,"Curran said."I don't know if the president would go with this, but this administration has to involve other nations in that region."

For now, Democrats appear willing to wait for the recommendations of a bipartisan Iraq study group led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton. The group's findings are expected within the next few weeks. The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, also wants a bipartisan congressional summit to debate Iraq.

"Iraq has to be done on a bipartisan basis,"Reid said Tuesday."This is not a time for threatening the president with anything. We're going to see how we can work with him to change course in Iraq."

Though uncertain about the Democrats'plan for Iraq, many Americans are upbeat about Democratic control of Congress. For every 10 adults surveyed, four said the country will be better off, three said it would not make much difference and two said the country will be worse off. Most Democrats shared that optimism. Republicans tended to be pessimistic or anticipated no discernible change.

Overall, Americans tended to hold Bush responsible for Republicans losses last week. Forty-five percent of adults surveyed said Bush deserves all or a great deal of the blame. But only 22 percent of Republican voters attributed the losses to Bush.

Americans were split when asked if the president and Democrats in Congress could work together. Forty-seven percent said they were confident that two could cooperate and 51 percent said they were not.

In the wake of the election, Democrats as well as the president and his Republican allies have emphasized the need for bipartisanship on the war and on a number of other legislative fronts. Democrats and Bush have said they see an opportunity to pass comprehensive legislation on immigration that had been blocked in the House.


AP Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and Associated Press Writers Philip Elliott and Will Lester contributed to this report.


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Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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