Four years ago at this time, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone was winning his campaign for re-election, despite having been targeted by Karl Rove and the most ruthless GOP political operation in history. The race had been tight until October, when the White House engineered House and Senate votes authorizing force in Iraq. Urged by fellow Democrats to take the safe way out, Wellstone instead voted no and declared: “I know the conventional wisdom among Republicans is that this is the issue that will do [me] in. But I think people want you to do what you think is right.” As it turned out, Wellstone was correct: He quickly opened a lead in the polls and was headed toward victory when a plane crash robbed the Democratic Party of its conscience.
Democrats have struggled ever since–with especially dire consequences in the 2004 presidential election–to articulate a smart and effective opposition to the war. As campaigning began for the 2006 Congressional elections, the need for more clarity and resolve led this magazine to declare: “We will not support any candidate for national office who does not make a speedy end to the war in Iraq a major issue of his or her campaign.”
New confirmation of the importance of ending the Iraq War has come recently with the release of two studies of its staggering costs. A September survey by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 78 percent of Iraqis believe the US military presence is “provoking more conflict than it is preventing.” Far from wanting American troops to “stay the course,” as George W. Bush and his circle of true believers assert, Iraqis recognize that the occupation is contributing to their country’s crisis. The extraordinary depth of that crisis was suggested by another study, this one from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, working with Al Mustansiriya University in Baghdad, which estimated the Iraqi death toll since the US invasion and occupation at 655,000–a dramatically higher figure than had been previously given.
The United States is in a different place now than it was when Wellstone cast his courageous vote: The war went forward, and the issue now is how to end it as quickly as possible. While far too many Democrats try to have it both ways, criticizing the President but not calling forthrightly for an end to hostilities, conscientious candidates in races across the country are demanding just such action. Over the months we have identified a number of these candidates. This past spring, for example, we noted the tough antiwar challenge that Californian Marcy Winograd was mounting to incumbent Jane Harman; we also applauded former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume’s strong antiwar position in a Maryland US Senate primary. These challenges weren’t successful, but others were.
Antiwar candidates on the ballot in November range from likely winners such as Keith Ellison in Minnesota and John Sarbanes in Maryland, both of whom won tight Democratic primaries for open House seats by promising to kick-start their party on the war issue, to the longest of long shots, like Wisconsin Green Rae Vogeler, who’s mounting an antiwar challenge to wishy-washy Democratic Senator Herb Kohl, and Maine Democrat Jean Hay Bright, who’s keeping the heat on supposedly moderate GOP Senator Olympia Snowe. Other antiwar candidates include Senate challengers Ned Lamont in Connecticut and Jon Tester in Montana and House challengers such as New Jersey’s Linda Stender, Pennsylvania’s Joe Sestak and Patrick Murphy, and Connecticut’s Diane Farrell, whose antiwar messages have helped them pull even with entrenched GOP incumbents. Their strong polls suggest that ending the war resonates not just with Democrats but also with swing voters, and even some Republicans.
As the election approaches, we will continue to bring attention to antiwar candidates on our website (www.thenation.com) and urge readers to support them. As we stated in our editorial of last year, “We firmly believe that antiwar candidates, with the other requisite credentials, can win the 2006 Congressional elections, the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries and the subsequent national election. But this fight, and our stand, must begin now.”
John Nichols: “No to Pro-War Democrats”
John Nichols: “Anti-War Primaries”
Bob Moser: “Virginia’s Rumbling Rebels”
John Nichols: “What Sherrod Brown Can Do for the Democrats”