When John Kerry, Barbara Boxer and Russ Feingold offer an amendment to the defense spending bill Wednesday calling on US troops to leave Iraq by July 1, 2007, only a handful of Senators voted with them.
If the American people had a say, the outcome would be different. A majority of the public supports setting a timetable for giving Iraq back to Iraqis. And the issue is particularly salient in Congressional districts in play this November.
MoveOn.org, with the help of the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, recently surveyed voters in the country's top 68 swing districts, two-thirds held by Republicans.
By 50 to 42 percent, these voters want Democrats to control Congress. Roughly half of the respondents are more likely to vote for Democrats, and against a Republican, because of the war. When Democrats embrace Kerry and Feingold's position, their lead increases to 54 to 41 percent over a stay-the-course Republican.
What's more, battleground voters prefer a Democrat who supports the Kerry-Feingold amendment over one who does not. A candidate who advocates bringing the troops home within a year polls three percentage points better than one who says the US needs a "new direction," but stops short of calling for an exit date.
A "New Direction for America," you may recall, is the latest slogan unveiled by Democrats last week. But the public wants specifics, not slogans.
And as election time approaches, the war is by far the most important issue to the Democratic base. Half of Democrats cite the war as their top concern in these swing districts, 20 points ahead of the next issue, jobs and the economy. Key constituencies, such as African-Americans and women, respond very favorably to candidates who favor an exit strategy.
If Democrats ignore the war, voters may ignore them come November.