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Dems face dilemma with Iraq

Stance on war resolution emerges as issue

From Dana Bash (CNN Washington)

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The prospect of voting to approve military action against Iraq has put many Democrats who are in tight races this election year in a tough position, especially those from states where the president's positions are popular.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, is one of them.

But the two-term Democrat, a self-described liberal, told CNN he will follow his conscience, regardless of the political consequences.

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"I really tried to never do anything I don't believe in, so I don't want to change it now. I really don't," Wellstone said Monday.

"I'm emotional about it because if it's the issue -- I love being here and I love the chance at being a senator -- but it's not worth it to me," said Wellstone.

A few weeks ago, Wellstone said he was feeling great about his prospects in his neck-and-neck race with GOP challenger Norm Coleman.

But now, the Iraq question is center stage, and Wellstone is getting pounded and taunted back home by his rival. And the Minnesota media, like the national media, is focused on Iraq rather than health care and jobs -- issues he prefers talking about.

Sens. Max Cleland, of Georgia, and Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, other Democratic incumbents in tight races, have made it clear in the last few days that, with a few minor changes in wording, they will likely support a resolution giving Bush the power to use force against Iraq, even if it means doing so unilaterally.

Though following his colleagues' lead would benefit him politically, Wellstone said he cannot bring himself to do it.

"I have tried to the best of my life to do what I think is intellectually and personally honest," said Wellstone, "No matter what happens."

"I'm emotional about that -- and I mean that -- and I think, we'll see what happens, I'll put it in the hands of Minnesotans, but I'm not going to vote, certainly can't vote [for Bush's resolution]. It would be such a profound mistake I cannot sign my name onto that written resolution," he said.

The former political science professor tops the endangered Democrats' list in an evenly split Senate, where the loss of a single seat would tip the balance of power back to the Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, is trying to work with the White House to make the language less broad and less focused on unilateral action so that more of his caucus, especially those in tough political spots like Wellstone, can support it.

Wellstone said he can't see a scenario where Daschle can win enough changes.

"Ultimately, the nice way for me to put it is that [the] administration knows full well they can get a huge vote for what will basically be a blank check for unilateral military action ... I don't believe they will change the wording in such a way that that won't be the bottom line," he said.

He and a small group of Senate Democrats - including Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Carl Levin of Michigan -- are working on language that could be offered as an amendment, but Wellstone said he is unsure where that effort will lead.

The Minnesotan said he believes the kind of action the Bush administration is contemplating would result in a rise of "radical elements" in the Mideast.

"If I actually voted to authorize this and we actually did this, I think the consequences would be cataclysmic," said Wellstone.

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