One month after a coalition of liberal groups announced its intention to blitz Republican moderates in their districts in an effort to get them to abandon President Bush’s Iraq War policy, the groups’ leaders already are chalking up symbolic victories.
And with Members just days away from their summer recess, the coalition is refining its strategy and gearing up to apply more pressure in advance of the next Congressional votes on Iraq, which are scheduled for September.
“The political collapse of support for Bush’s policy is not complete,” said Tom Matzzie, campaign manager for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, who doubles as Washington, D.C., director for the group MoveOn.org. “It’s under way, but it’s not complete.”
When the coalition first announced its “Iraq Summer Campaign” in mid-June, it targeted GOP Sens. Norm Coleman (Minn.), Susan Collins (Maine), Pete Domenici (N.M.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), John Sununu (N.H.), George Voinovich (Ohio) and John Warner (Va.).
Since then, Domenici, Specter, Snowe, Sununu, Voinovich and Warner have expressed varying degrees of skepticism about the U.S. course in Iraq. And leaders of the coalition confidently expect more Senators and House Members to follow “out of fear for their own political survival,” Matzzie said.
It’s no coincidence that many of the Members the groups are trying to persuade are potentially vulnerable heading into their 2008 re-election contests.
“Democratic performance is the biggest indication of where we’re going to target,” Matzzie said. Republican officials rejected the idea that the groups’ efforts had any impact on the GOP Senators’ position on Iraq.
The Iraq Summer Campaign has a $9 million budget that is about to be boosted to $12 million, coalition leaders said. From now to Labor Day, more than 130 organizers are on the ground in 27 states, staging events, earning free media coverage, running phone banks and door-to-door campaigns, and paying for print, TV and radio ads.
The groups put a premium on getting veterans and military families to carry their message. For example, in Iowa, the chief organizer is a mother of two Marines who is on leave from her job in the business world.
Leaders also aren’t shying away from an in-your-face approach. Neighbors of Coleman’s in St. Paul, Minn., have put “Norm, Support the Troops, End the War” signs in their yards.
“On a daily basis, we see a difference when a Member is targeted like that,” said Tara McGinnis, the deputy campaign manager of Americans Against Escalation in Iraq. “Norm Coleman’s seen anti-war protests since the war started, but when the attention is focused on him … it’s a different response.”
Coalition leaders said they plan to add GOP Sens. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Mel Martinez (Fla.) to their target list.
The House GOP targets are Illinois Reps. Timothy Johnson, Mark Kirk and Ray LaHood; Michigan Reps. Vernon Ehlers, Thaddeus McCotter, Candice Miller, Mike Rogers, Fred Upton and Tim Walberg; Minnesota Reps. Michele Bachmann and Jim Ramstad; New Jersey Reps. Mike Ferguson and Chris Smith; New York Reps. Randy Kuhl and Jim Walsh; Ohio Reps. Steven
LaTourette and Deborah Pryce; Pennsylvania Reps. Charlie Dent, Phil English, Jim Gerlach, Tim Murphy and Todd Platts; Virginia Reps. Tom Davis, Thelma Drake and Frank Wolf; Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi; Iowa Rep. Tom Latham; New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson; Nevada Reps. Dean Heller and Jon Porter; and Delaware Rep. Mike Castle.
McGinnis said House moderates have been under much less scrutiny than their Senate counterparts, and the coalition is hoping to change that this summer.
Matzzie said the groups have an array of tactics in the works if Congress does not change Iraq policy in September, but he declined to name them. But he warned Republican moderates that they will be in political jeopardy if they don’t divorce themselves from Bush in September.
“If there is no change in policy, this becomes all about the 2008 elections,” he said. “No one becomes right after September.”