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Running to the Left

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), a critic of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, is facing an opponent in this year's Democratic primary who says he's merely paying lip service to the anti-war movement.

Since being elected in 2002, Van Hollen has consistently said the war was a mistake. Last year, Van Hollen supported an amendment calling on Bush to develop a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq.

But because Van Hollen has voted to fund the war, Deborah Vollmer has decided to run against him this year. "He continues to be an enabler to the Bush administration," said Vollmer, a Democratic activist who lives in Chevy Chase.

"I just think it is time for members of Congress to develop some spine and vote against funding for the war. "
Van Hollen was unavailable to comment last week. Since the incumbent remains popular, Vollmer will probably be little more than an annoyance as Van Hollen seeks a third term.

But Vollmer's candidacy could serve as a barometer of how far Democratic primary voters want Congress to go to stop the war. It also underscores a national trend in which Democrats are being forced to justify their stance on the war.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), both of whom voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq, are facing aggressive primary challenges this year from anti-war Democrats.

Van Hollen, who represents parts of heavily Democratic Montgomery and Prince George's Counties, has opposed the war since the beginning. But Vollmer says he should be doing more to put a stop to it, especially because sentiment against the war runs high in the 8th district.

Van Hollen, Vollmer notes, has refused to join the "Out of Iraq Caucus," a group of 72 House members who want an immediate withdrawal of troops.

Vollmer, a longtime peace activist, also had hoped that Van Hollen would send a message to the Bush administration by voting against it's request for more money to pay for the war. In March, Van Hollen voted to allocate an additional $68 billion to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Van Hollen has also fielded questions in recent weeks from constituents over his acceptance of campaign contributions from defense contractors.

Vollmer isn't a newcomer to politics, either. In 1992 and 1996, when she lived in California, she was the Democratic nominee against Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Ca). After moving to Maryland, she was an unsuccessful candidate in the Democratic primary in 1998, 2000 and 2002--when Van Hollen won the nomination.

Tim Craig

By Phyllis Jordan  |  May 14, 2006; 7:28 AM ET
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