Party tensions rise as 2008 race nears

Al Gore's election at Sunday night's Oscars being beyond Supreme Court review, we are left with an all-too- premature presidential race as the main subject for national controversy.

Actually, there are two contests in progress. Among Republicans, the issue of troops in Iraq is muted by the pressure to stand behind their president in his dark hour, when even very good friend Tony Blair has unexpectedly announced the withdrawal of 1,600 British troops from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the president's approval rating in a USA Today poll has sunk to 37 percent, and a Washington Post poll said that 53 percent of Americans favor setting a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

For Democrats, especially presidential candidates, the problem is twofold: how to explain past votes and what to vote for now. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who voted for the authorization to use force in October 2002, has apparently not explained that vote to the complete satisfaction of some Democrats, with the result that some big-money givers are giving their support to Sen. Barack Obama, who was not in Congress in 2002.

For aspirants to the Oval Office, the bigger problem is how to tie the president's hands on withdrawal of troops. Or, failing that, how to exploit the perception that the president is dragging out this sanguinary war.

Efforts until last weekend to debate the issue in the Senate ran afoul of GOP filibusters. Presidential candidates John Edwards, Senator Obama, and Senator Clinton all have plans calling for phased and conditional redeployment.

One tactic that some Democrats are considering is to withhold funding to finance the surge. That is not likely to survive filibusters and vetoes. But Democrats hope the fight will generate some headlines representing Republicans as the war party.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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