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GOP Pushes Back on Iraq

Seeking to counter increasingly hot rhetoric from congressional Democrats over the war in Iraq, Republicans have launched a public relations effort aimed at reclaiming the issue.

The GOP message is two-pronged: First, use past comments by Democrats in support of the Iraq invasion to highlight the alleged hypocrisy of their more recent comments; second, employ members of Congress and other party regulars to tout news of progress being made in Iraq.

A new RNC web video, which was sent to more than 15 million people yesterday, is aimed at accomplishing the first goal.  It features a series of comments made by a long list of Democrats over the past seven years concerning Saddam Hussein and Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction efforts. Former President Bill Clinton, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are among those Democrats shown making comments supportive of the invasion. Then footage is shown of Bush at a Nov. 11, 2005, speech in which he said that while it is "perfectly legitimate to criticize my decision or the conduct of the war , it is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began."

In a phone call with Republican bloggers yesterday, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman hammered home that point, arguing that Democratic criticism was designed to "weaken the commander in chief when American troops are still in combat."

Democrats immediately shot back, saying the quotes used in the RNC Web ad were taken of out context and contending that the latest GOP strategy was nothing more than a smoke-screen to cover up increasing doubts about the war in Iraq.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (Nev.), pointed to yesterday's Senate votes on Iraq as evidence that the support for the Administration's position on Iraq -- even among Republicans -- is eroding. "They can continue to distract, divide and distort but the reality is Democrats are going to continue to raise these questions," said Manley.

As for the second prong of the GOP strategy, a new organization known as the "Iraq Messaging Group" has been formed on Capitol Hill to serve as a clearinghouse for positive news on Iraq.  The group is comprised of roughly 20 chiefs of staff and communications directors from a handful of House and Senate offices. Among those participating are Sens. John Cornyn (Texas) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), as well as Reps. David Dreier (Calif.) and Eric Cantor (Va.).

Using the latest national public opinion polls as a guide, Republicans have an uphill climb to sway voters' view on Iraq.  In recent surveys conducted by the three big media polling partnerships --  Washington Post/ABC News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal and CNN/USA Today/Gallup -- the largest percent of voters who approved of the president's handling of Iraq was 36 percent; the smallest percent of voters disapproving of his handling of the conflict was 63 percent.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 16, 2005; 3:12 PM ET
Categories:  Republican Party  
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