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Analysis: Candidates won't risk votes as troops risk lives

  • Story Highlights
  • Candidates' talk of the war has gone from a rage to a whisper, Foreman says
  • McCain, Edwards are exceptions; they still talk about the war extensively
  • Republicans avoid it because of general distaste for the war, Foreman says
  • Foreman: Democrats don't mention it because things are going better in Iraq
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By Tom Foreman
CNN Washington Bureau
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"Raw Politics" on "Anderson Cooper 360" delivers the latest political news with a wry sense of a humor and without spin. Tom Foreman anchors CNN's "This Week at War" at 7 p.m. on Saturdays.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Whatever happened to the war?

CNN's Tom Foreman reports from the Iowa caucuses earlier this month.

For months, it was all the rage on the campaign trail. Democratic contenders never missed a chance to pound on the Bush administration, rip the Republicans and remind voters over and over how badly things were going in Iraq.

Republicans, as often as not, staunchly insisted that distant battles and homeland security went hand-in-hand. Day after day, stop after stop, the war was the focus of all things presidential.

Now, the war is little more than a distant echo in most stump speeches. The Democrats are generally saying little more than "We should get out as soon as we can." The Republicans are hardly mentioning it.

Why?

Here's a theory: Republicans know that a defining characteristic of the electorate now is widespread distaste for the war that Bush launched and has continued with the help of the Republican Party. Video Watch why candidates are keeping quiet on the war »

They know that voters want out, and so most of the GOP campaigners are like kids who got bad grades in school last week: Although they need to address the issue, for the moment they'd rather not mention it, for fear of further punishment.

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The biggest exception of course, is Arizona Sen. John McCain. He is still talking about the war extensively and still trying to make the case for a continued U.S. presence in Iraq for years to come.

But why aren't the Democrats talking it up so much anymore?

Simple: The war is going much, much better than it was a year ago -- even a few months ago. You might even say we are winning. I fully accept that anytime our young people are dying and civilians are being killed in the midst of combat, it is difficult to even talk about winning or losing. But fatalities for troops and civilians alike are way down.

The Iraqis, no matter how much they have stumbled and failed in the political process, are finally reopening their shops, their schools, and their neighborhoods. They are taking more control of their own country, and long-awaited reconciliation between warring factions is slowly, haltingly getting under way.

Iraq is certainly not at peace, but it is undeniably much more peaceful than it was.

And Democrats, it appears, desperately hope that American voters will not notice. Because if voters accept that Iraq is improving, perhaps they will no longer accept the idea that the Republicans need to be driven out of Washington.

The only top-tier Democratic candidate still talking extensively and insistently about the need to get out of Iraq quickly is former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Much can still go wrong in Iraq: civil war, a resurgent insurgency, interlopers from Iran, Syria, al Qaeda. The truth is that neither party knows what is going to happen there.

It's easy, however, to see what is happening here.

On the whole, both parties are shelving the issue because it contains too many uncertainties that could upset their plans for political power.

Most Americans -- and all the politicians -- have insisted that no matter how we feel about the war, we should support our troops while they are there.

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It is hard to imagine how ignoring something for political expedience translates into support.

Here's an inconvenient truth: Our fellow citizens are risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan to carry out a difficult scheme, which was approved by both Republicans and Democrats; yet our political leaders will not even risk even their careers to talk about it now. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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