Local Democratic and Republican Party leaders agree that the war in Iraq is the top issue in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District. However, the two parties' candidates have yet to acknowledge it as such, even as political tensions mount due to the increasing prospect of civil war in Iraq.
"I expect that (the Iraq War) will continue to be an issue," says Brad Greenberg, executive director of the Hamilton County Republican Party. "Most people in the 2nd District support our president and realize that this is difficult. People know that we need to continue to fight the war on terror wherever (it is)."
Top Democrats in the district also say the war is the primary concern.
"Number one on everybody's mind is the war," says Clermont County Democratic Chair David Lane.
Clermont County is notable as its votes put U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Miami Township) over the top in the 2005 special election.
The other top issues in the district are health care and "a toss-up" between preserving jobs, which means keeping companies such as the Ford plant in the district, and "people trying to make a fair-wage living," Lane says.
Schmidt and her Democratic opponent, Dr. Victoria Wulsin, have been guiding the issues to other topics.
When asked if the war were the top issue, Wulsin, a physician, responded that health care is.
Schmidt, who declined requests for an interview, preferred to tout her new ethanol-powered car instead of discussing the war in Iraq.
"I will be one of the first in line to buy ethanol this month," she recently told The Cincinnati Enquirer after announcing the purchase of a 2007 Chevy Tahoe. "I'd rather give my money to a farmer in Ohio than a Saudi sheik or an Iranian terrorist."
Schmidt's recent press statements have not specifically addressed Iraq. They've addressed the 2005 styrene leak in Cincinnati's East End and her hiring of an Iraq War veteran. Her campaign Web site says Schmidt is "committed to supporting our troops and a foreign policy that will protect our national interests at home and abroad." However, she doesn't provide much detail on what that means.
Wulsin's statements have recently ranged from an ongoing challenge to Schmidt for a debate; to challenging Schmidt, a marathon runner, to a 5K run before a debate; to unveiling a plan to improve U.S. defense against terrorism.
"Are we any safer today than we were five years ago?" Wulsin asks. "The do-nothing (Schmidt) has failed miserably at protecting our nation."
The Bush administration and its policy in Iraq face dwindling popularity. In fact, polls invoke memories of President Lyndon Johnson's waning years in the White House and the politics of the Vietnam War. Instead of Democrats, as it was in 1968, it is now Republicans who had once supported the war changing their minds because of growing evidence that Iraq is erupting into civil war.
Last year Schmidt received national attention for statements about the Iraq war, most notably her comments about a resolution by U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) that would have begun troop withdrawal from Iraq.
"Cowards cut and run; Marines never do," she said.
In her subsequent apology, Schmidt claimed she didn't know that Murtha was a retired, decorated Marine.
In a Sept. 11 statement, Schmidt said, "We can recommit ourselves not only to the fight against terror but also to the battle against complacency."
Barry Bennett, Schmidt's campaign manager, also declined questions about civil war in Iraq. In Schmidt's statement, however, she outlined her belief in the progress that the administration has made in Iraq and her intent to "continue to remain engaged" in Iraq.
"While our enemies are no less dangerous, our nation is safer today than before Sept. 11, thanks to national security legislation we've passed, the hard work of our intelligence community and the courage and dedication of our men and women in uniform," Schmidt's statement said. "We have made substantial progress in degrading the al Qaida network, killing or capturing key lieutenants, eliminating safe havens and disrupting existing lines of support.
Lane says Schmidt misses the point.
"American troops are sitting in the middle of a civil war and they don't know who the enemy is," he says. "They have done everything that we have asked them to do, and we should have learned 30 years ago (in Vietnam) not to intervene in a civil war."
Wulsin also says policy needs to change.
"The same old course that Schmidt is espousing and working for is not working," Wulsin says.
A July 12 poll paid for by the Wulsin campaign and conducted by Momentum Analysis had the candidates "dead even" at 47 percent. The poll was based on 403 interviews, with only 98 responding in the 2nd District, rendering it "inconclusive," according to a member of Schmidt's staff who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Wulsin has never held public office. In 2005 she finished second in a special Democratic primary behind Cincinnati attorney Paul Hackett, whom Schmidt beat to fill a seat left vacant by Rob Portman's resignation after being appointed trade representative by Bush. ©