Iraq war vote could hinge on few GOP senators up for re-election

Saturday, February 3rd 2007, 5:46 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A few senators from President Bush's own party may determine the outcome of an Iraq war vote this week that would deal a blow to him. These Republicans, up for re-election in 2008, are faced with balancing party loyalty against voters' anger at a war that is generally unpopular in their states.

On the table is a resolution by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that would put the Senate on record as opposing President Bush's decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

With Republicans ready to use parliamentary delays that would take 60 votes to force a vote on the Warner measure _ and some Democrats opposing the resolution _ a handful of the GOP lawmakers who face voters soon are likely to play a crucial role.

Democrats hold a 51-49 working majority in the Senate for organizational purposes _ with backing from two independents _ but all 51 don't necessarily vote the same way on a particular issue.

``What's important is that people in New Hampshire know the concerns I've raised, my position on the issue, my support for the Iraq Study Group recommendations and my concern about the increase in troop levels,'' said Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H.

He faces a potentially tough fight next year in a state that dumped its Republican politicians last election in favor of Democratic challengers.

A vote on Warner's resolution ``doesn't change that position,'' he said. Sununu declined to say how he will vote.

But Sununu and colleagues in his position are in a difficult spot.

``I'm unhappy about the conduct of the war in Iraq and I would like to express my support for the troops at the same time,'' said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. He, too, is up for re-election next year and would not say how he would vote. ``I want to find an appropriate way to express that.''

So far, six Republicans _ including Warner _ support his measure. Five are among the 21 GOP senators whose terms are up in 2008: Warner, Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Gordon Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Hagel, who could opt to retire, is considering a run for the White House.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who won re-election in November, also supports Warner's resolution.

Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sam Brownback of Kansas are considered the other GOP wild cards in the vote. None is heading into a re-election year, although Brownback is a 2008 presidential contender. They have said they lean toward Warner's proposal.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is a potential supporter. He said he is skeptical the additional troops would work and has challenged Bush's assertion that it is the president who must decide whether to send in more soldiers.

The vote would be the first on Iraq since the Nov. 7 elections, where voters unseated six Republican senators and put Democrats in charge.

Passage of the resolution would be a blow for the White House, which says sending more troops to Baghdad is the best shot at winning the war. Bush and other White House officials repeatedly have met in private with lawmakers to try to shore up support for his plan.

Republicans on Friday acted to block a vote on Warner's resolution. They insisted that several proposals be considered and each be subject to 60 votes _ a strategy that could dilute support for Warner's proposal and make it tougher for any measure to pass.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters that all 49 Republicans, including Warner, have agreed to block a vote unless Democrats allow consideration of their other measures.

Democrats have agreed to the 60-vote threshold but want to limit debate to Warner's resolution and one by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that indicates support for the president's plan.

As the two sides negotiated, Sununu and other members _ including some Democrats _ said they were reviewing Warner's legislation to see how they would vote.

To win, Warner will need 14 Republican votes, possibly more, to exceed the 60-vote threshold.

Of the 51 members who caucus with the Democrats, Warner has lost at least four votes. One of the Senate's two independent, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, is opposed to Warner's resolution. The other independent, Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, has not taken a position.

Warner also has lost support from Democrats Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. They say a provision to protect money for troops might preclude Congress from taking stronger measures to end the war.

Other Democrats, including Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Barbara Boxer of California, said they had similar concerns and were unsure how they might vote.

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., hospitalized after suffering a brain hemorrhage shortly after the elections, is recovering and will not vote this week, a spokeswoman said.