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Iraq not top issue in U.S. vote

By CNN's Wolf Blitzer

Bush has been campaigning on the issue of Iraq, but voters aren't biting
Bush has been campaigning on the issue of Iraq, but voters aren't biting

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CNN's Wolf Blitzer looks at the ramifications of the 'Iraq issue' on the current political landscape (November 5)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- To watch U.S. President George W. Bush on the campaign trail in recent weeks, one might think a possible U.S. war with Iraq was the top issue in Tuesday's midterm elections.

But as a point of debate among candidates, Iraq is falling flat.

"We don't sense that there's a pro-Iraq and an anti-Iraq side," says CNN political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

"There aren't the two traditional sides here in this race, in these races, so you don't get the normal partisan split. I just think it's going to be surprisingly unimportant, even though the issue itself is so significant for the country."

As Bush hit the campaign trail this autumn, hardly a stop was made where he didn't take the opportunity to assail Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"Saddam told the world he didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but he's got them," Bush said in South Dakota on Sunday.

"I view him as serious threat to America. I see him as a threat to our country because I understand his hatred toward America," the president told an Iowa rally on Monday.

Bush has been engaging in this public campaign for months, trying to build support among the American people -- and America's allies -- for attacking Iraq.

But the candidates, as always, have their eyes on the polls.

Americans are fairly evenly divided on the question of whether to take on Saddam militarily if he doesn't comply with U.N. weapons inspections.

CNN-USA TODAY-GALLUP POLL

Most important issue to your vote

Economy             25%

Education            17%

Iraq                       16%

Social Security   15%

Terrorism            13%

Health care         10%

October 31-November 3

Sampling error: +/-3% pts

The latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup Poll shows Iraq falling behind the economy and education when voters are asked to rank their most important issues heading into Tuesday's vote.

Of those polled, 16 percent said Iraq was the top issue, compared to 17 percent for education and 25 percent for the economy.

The issue already has been decided in the current Congress, where both houses voted overwhelmingly last month to authorize the president to remove Saddam by force if he believes it's necessary.

Many Democrats went along; several of them are in tough re-election campaigns and wanted to take the issue off the table.

"Many of the competitive races are in the South, the Midwest, in rural areas -- basically the more conservative and Republican districts," says Rothenberg.

"And I think the Democrats running there figured the best political strategy for them would be to support the president, so that that issue couldn't come back and destroy them on Election Day."

Some political analysts believe that members of Congress who voted against Bush on Iraq won't be hurt politically.

The late Sen. Paul Wellstone actually got a boost in the polls after voting against the Iraq resolution.

But former Vice President Walter Mondale -- the man tapped to take the Minnesota Democrat's place on Tuesday's ballot -- is finessing his position.

"You must have a policy in which we work with the world. That's what this president's father did," Mondale says.

War with Iraq may indeed become a bigger issue in the next major U.S. campaign in 2004 -- when a president seeking re-election might have to convince the American public that he did the right thing in dealing with a long-time American nemesis.



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