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Iraq: A Litmus Test for Democrats in 2008?

In the last ten days, two Democrats contemplating the 2008 presidential race -- Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle -- have called for a specific timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

In a speech Wednesday at Northwestern University, Daschle proposed a phased withdrawal of 80,000 of the roughly 150,000 American troops in Iraq beginning in January, a month after Iraq's December elections. Under Daschle's plan, all National Guard and Reserve units deployed to Iraq would be included in this withdrawal, which would be complete by the end of next year. The remaining 70,000 troops would be removed from the country by December 2007.

Kerry, in an address at Georgetown University on Oct. 26, proposed the removal of 20,000 U.S forces immediately following the December elections, with the "bulk" of American military forces out of the country by the end of 2006.

Both men follow in the footsteps of Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who proposed a similar timetable earlier this year and was the only one of the Democratic senators considering the 2008 presidential race not to have supported the 2002 use-of-force resolution that essentially authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

With public sentiment toward the war continuing to falter, we may see more potential Democratic presidential candidates coming out with their own proposals to get the United States out of Iraq.  Proposing a specific plan for exiting Iraq may be the best way for potential candidates, many of whom supported the war initially, to show the Democratic base that they would not have made that decision if they knew then what they know now.

Here's a look at what aspiring Democrats are saying on the issue:

* Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (NY): The consensus 2008 frontrunner has so far resisted calls to set a date for troop withdrawals. HRC spokesman Philippe Reines said Friday that Clinton "has said repeatedly that she disagrees with the way the president has used the authority granted to him, and has been very critical -- primarily through her role on Senate Armed Services -- of the way he has prosecuted the war."  Given her strength among party liberals, Clinton may have more leeway on the issue than some of the lesser-known possible Democratic candidates, but she runs the risk of being left out in the cold if a handful of her aspiring colleagues decide to follow the example of Feingold, Kerry and Daschle.

* Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.): "Senator Bayh believes that we need to get our troops home as soon as possible consistent with the national security interests of the country, but has not endorsed a specific timetable," said communications director Dan Pfeiffer. Bayh, a leading moderate voice in the party, has agitated of late for a number of reforms tangentially related to the Iraq conflict, including a study of alleged wasteful spending at the Pentagon.

* Former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.): Edwards believes the war was a mistake, a firm timetable is necessary for training Iraqi troops and that the U.S. cannot maintain a military force in the country in perpetuity, according to spokeswoman Kim Rubey.  Edwards has not established any specific parameters for a pullout, however.

* Virginia Gov. Mark Warner: During an taped appearance on C-SPAN's "Q&A" set to air the Sunday, Warner said he did not "believe an arbitrary deadline should be set. I think we, regardless of whether we like how we got there, we need to finish the task."

* Sen. Joe Biden (Del.): Biden has repeatedly rejected the idea of a timetable for withdrawal. In a recent interview he said that he did not expect a "Democratic stampede to set a firm date." A spokesman for the senator did not return an e-mail request for comment by press time.

* New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: Richardson told George Stephanopoulos in August that he opposed setting a timetable "because then that allows the terrorists to know when you're leaving." But Richardson added that he understood the frustration of Democrats who favor such a deadline. "You got to either do it right or get out," he said.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 4, 2005; 2:45 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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