In Minnesota Senate race, GOP's Kennedy holds to Iraq message

A screen grab from an ad from Rep. Mark Kennedy urging support for the war in Iraq.
Kennedy commercial

(AP) As his fellow Republicans around the country try to distance themselves from the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, Minnesota Senate candidate Mark Kennedy is trying to turn the issue on its head with a new TV ad where he squarely states his support - "even though I know it may not be what you want to hear," he tells voters.

The 30-second ad, running statewide for at least a week, is the latest attempt by the Republican to catch Democratic frontrunner Amy Klobuchar, and may be the only ad of its kind in the country. Staring into the camera, Kennedy acknowledges that "we've made some mistakes in Iraq" but says that "leaving Iraq now will create a breeding ground for new attacks on America."

Political observers said Tuesday they've not seen an ad like it anywhere this election cycle, with the Bush administration and Republicans on the defensive over Iraq. Just a day earlier, the White House acknowledged President Bush had dropped his familiar "stay the course" phrase in talking about the war.

Vin Weber, a former Minnesota congressman with close ties to national GOP leadership, said he believed Kennedy's ad was unique.

"I'd say the desire of most Republicans is to talk about something else," he said.

As a House member the last six years, Kennedy has been a vocal supporter of the Bush administration's foreign policy. He's visited Iraq each of the last three years, and used his support for U.S. policy toward Iraq and terrorism as a signature issue of his successful reelection campaigns in 2002 and 2004.

In resurrecting the issue now, Kennedy is trying to draw a distinction between himself and Klobuchar, whom he criticizes as offering no alternatives to current policy other than an undefined "change of course," as she put it in a new TV ad of her own that mentions Iraq among a litany of campaign issues.

"And this election is about all the sons and daughters of Minnesota serving in Iraq who deserve a change in course," Klobuchar says in her ad. Klobuchar has said invading Iraq was the wrong decision and that the U.S. should begin reducing troop levels. She doesn't support a timed, rapid withdrawal like some Democrats.

Weber, who has advised Kennedy but has no formal role in his campaign, said he hoped voters would respond to Kennedy's forthrightness. "We tend to think you can't tell voters what you really think and you have to treat them like spoiled children who demand to be told what they want to hear," he said.

Kennedy, on a campaign swing Tuesday through southwestern Minnesota, said the U.S. erred in not earlier cracking down on armed militias now causing havoc throughout Iraq. He also said more should be done to block shipments of money and weapons from across the border in Iran.

"Getting rid of the militias is going to be a difficult task," Kennedy said. "I don't want to set some sort of arbitrary deadline that is going to do nothing but give the enemy reason to hope."

Kennedy said the administration has at times faltered in how it characterizes the war on terrorism. He said it should be viewed as more long-term, similar to the Cold War, "not a short war." Still, he does not call for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as some prominent Republicans have. "That's the president's decision, not mine," he said.

Ben Goldfarb, Klobuchar's campaign manager, said that support for Kennedy is still a vote to "stay the course in Iraq. Amy Klobuchar will do what Kennedy won't: ask tough questions, demand accountability and push for change."

Joel Rivlin, the deputy director of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, which tracks political advertising, said Kennedy's approach is an unusual one - but worth a try.

"It's increasingly clear that the Iraq war is going to be at the top of most voters' minds," Rivlin said. "What he seems to be trying to do is reframe the issue in a way that helps voters realize maybe there is another way to think about this - even if they don't see it that way themselves."

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