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A political change of heart


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Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It's rare for a politician to have a change of heart.

When that change of heart sends a powerful political signal, it's also the Play of the Week.

Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina is a conservative Republican. In 2002, he voted for the war in Iraq. He demanded that the House cafeteria re-label its french fries."

Whenever anyone orders 'freedom fries,' I hope they think about our men and women who are serving this great nation," Jones said.

He thinks about those men and women a lot. He has three major military bases in his district. He has written more than 1,400 letters to families who have suffered losses. He displays photographs of fallen soldiers outside his congressional office.

And he has had a change of heart.

"After 1,700 deaths, over 12,000 wounded and $200 billion spent, we believe it is time to have this debate and this discussion on this resolution," Jones said Thursday.

The resolution -- co-sponsored by two Democrats and an anti-war Republican -- calls for the United States to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq by October 1, 2006.

The White House argues a timetable for withdrawal would send the wrong message to the insurgents.

Asked to respond on ABC News ``This Week,'' Jones said he disagrees.

"I believe that once we train the Iraqi people to defend their country, then it should be their fight," he said. "How much can we do?"

Jones is deeply religious and deeply humanitarian. Congressional staffers once voted him the kindest Member of Congress.

His change of heart was personal:

"When I attended Michael Bitts' funeral in April 2003 -- a Marine who left three children, twins he never saw -- and when his wife read the last letter word for word at his funeral, on the way back to my little town of Farmville, North Carolina, I was emotional for 72 miles."

But beyond the emotion, he said, "I began to start reading. I began to start researching. And now I am proud to stand with these three men and know that we have the courage to start the debate."

A powerful message. And the political Play of the Week

Will other Republicans follow Jones?

Last week, the House International Relations Committee voted 32 to 9 to call on President Bush to develop an exit strategy in Iraq. 13 Republicans on the committee voted for the resolution.

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