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Democrats to Launch PR Blitz on Iraq Vote

Following Republicans’ successful filibuster of a resolution opposing President Bush’s handling of the Iraq War, Senate Democrats are launching a national public relations campaign aimed at tying GOP moderates and incumbents facing difficult 2008 re-election races to Bush in the public’s mind, Democratic leadership aides said Monday.

As expected, Reid failed Monday to overcome the GOP filibuster. However, the final vote was something of a surprise, with 49 Members — including GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Norm Coleman (Minn.) — voting to begin debate. Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) joined 46 Republicans in filibustering the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said a vote against beginning debate was a “green light to George Bush to continue down the same failed course. A no vote is an endorsement of escalation. … We must heed the results of the November elections and the wishes of the American people. We must change course. That starts with this next vote.”

With neither Reid nor Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) inclined to give in on the issue, the Senate likely will remain at a standstill at least until Wednesday when Reid has said he will take up a continuing resolution to fund the government through fiscal 2007.

The defections of Collins and Coleman could represent a major setback for McConnell, who, just a few hours before, had confidently predicted at a press conference that all 49 Republicans would vote to block the debate. A Democratic aide said Democrats had not targeted either lawmaker prior to the vote, adding, “We’re not going to now, either.”

Hoping to increase defections, a senior leadership aide said Reid is closely coordinating his counteroffensive with other national leaders and Democratic Party organs, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the 50 state-party chairmen.

Specifically, this aide said, Democrats will look to cast the filibuster not only as a blocking tactic against debating the Iraq War, but also as an endorsement of Bush’s policies.

Reid lambasted Republicans following the vote Monday evening, arguing that “the minority can’t rubber-stamp the White House so they’ve decided to stamp out debate,” while DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) warned that “Sen. McConnell today led his troops off a cliff … it was lack of debate that got us in to this huge mess.”

Likewise, Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) warned that “these [GOP] Senators will have to answer for their votes.” Democrats will target both the 20 Members up for re-election in 2008 as well as Republicans like Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) who has backed a resolution opposing the troop “surge” proposal but who voted to filibuster the start of the debate, Democrats said.

A Senate Democratic aide said Pelosi has arranged to have Members use their one-minute morning speeches today to criticize Republican opposition to the resolution, and that Reid and the DSCC will be working with Democratic Party leaders in states of vulnerable Republican incumbents.

Additionally, leaders in the Senate are pushing their members to “amplify the issue” by doing radio and television interviews in their home states, while Reid and other leaders are working with the party’s network of independent blogs, one source said.

And, although neither Reid’s operation nor the DSCC is planning to delve into the paid media world at this point, one source noted that the activist group VoteVets ran an ad opposing the war during the Super Bowl and that also is expected to play a role in the debate.

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