Editor Roundtable: Iraq's Impact on U.S. Elections

How is Bush administration policy on Iraq affecting local U.S. election campaigns? Liane Hansen asks Bob Kittle, editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial page; Denver Post Editor Gregory Moore; and David Wells, editor of The Cincinnati Enquirer editorial page.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

President Bush went out on the road to defend his administration's policies in Iraq this past week. During appearances in Ohio and West Virginia, as well as at a news conference in the White House, Mr. Bush remained optimistic about the way things are going.

To gauge how the President's message was received around the country, Bob Kittle, the editorial page editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Denver Post editor Greg Moore, and editorial page editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer, David Wells join us now.

And David, I want to start with you because the President began in the State of Ohio. What's been the response in your community to the President's message?

Mr. DAVID WELLS (Cincinnati Enquirer): In my community here in Cincinnati, is a little different than it was up in Cleveland, where the President actually made his stop. Cincinnati has been a stronghold of Bush support and it generally supports the President. In Cleveland, up in the northern part of the state, which has more of a Democratic tinge, he didn't go over quite as well.

And I think there are signs, even down here in southwestern Ohio, that his support is not what it was, given particularly some of our local congressional races and sort of the reticence of some of our local candidates, don't want to stand on the same platform with him.

HANSEN: I wanted to follow up on that. Is it having an effect on local politics? The President's policies?

Mr. WELLS: I think it is. In the congressional races here in Cincinnati the first congressional district and the second district, I can start with the second district first. We had a special election in that district last summer, because Rob Portman, who had long held that seat, became the U.S. Trade Representative. And this was the district in which Paul Hackett, the recently-returned Marine from Iraq, challenged a Republican, and this was a Republican seat that usually went 60 to 70% Republican, and went that high for Bush in the last Presidential election, and yet Hackett just lost that race, in that special election. He came very close to unseating the Republican nominee.

In the first district, the incumbent, Steve Chabot, who's been there for about ten years, did very well. But President Bush only carried the district by a few thousand votes; and particularly within the city of Cincinnati's part of the district he actually lost to John Kerry, which was pretty unusual.

HANSEN: Bob Kittle, this week there was an editorial in your paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and it said unless there's improvement on the ground, more Americans will turn against the war. Do you see that already happening in Southern California?

Mr. BOB KITTLE (San Diego Union-Tribune): I don't see a lot of opposition to the, that is support for immediate pullout. But I think we are seeing, even in San Diego, which is very much a military town, a town where people support the war, a growing impatience with it and a growing concern that there is a drift going on and that there is no clear way out.

I think in San Diego and throughout Southern California, there is still a great deal of support for the war, but again, I think time is running out. I think people are beginning to take a more critical look at it and I think it's really a matter of whether we can see enough improvement in the near term to prevent this further erosion of support for the war.

HANSEN: Are the administration's policies having an effect on local politics where you are?

Mr. KITTLE: Ironically, no, Liane. We have a special election, congressional election, going on right now to fill the seat that was vacated when Randy Duke Cunningham pleaded guilty to bribery charges. That election is just a couple of weeks away. It's a Republican district, all of the Republican candidates support the war. The Democratic candidates do not espouse an immediate pullout, while saying the war was a mistake. But it is not a serious issue in that race.

The lobbying scandal in Washington is much more of an issue and also illegal immigration is really the big issue in that special election.

HANSEN: Greg Moore of the Denver Post, there was also an editorial in your paper and the headline was Bush Should Finish What he Started. Talk a little bit about the president's message and how it's being received in Denver.

Mr. GREG MOORE (Denver Post): Well, Denver's a little bit different than the rest of Colorado; but speaking statewide, I think the President still retains considerable support here. There's a huge military presence here; the President carried the state. You know, I do believe there is some concern that, over time, as Bob said, if things continue to deteriorate in Iraq, it could have some impact on politics here. But there continues to be support, you know, support for the President's position. I think there's a lot of sentiment that, you know, that we're in for a dime, in for a dollar, that we need to finish what we've started.

HANSEN: And elaborate a little on the effect that the policies may be having on your local politics.

Mr. MOORE: Well, the legislature, which have been controlled by Republicans for a number of years, went Democratic in the last election. The governor is term limited here. He's a Republican, the first elected in 25 years. And there's real concern that the Executive Branch could be turned over to Democrats and the war would play a significant role in the outcome of that election, as well as the Democrats' ability to retain control of the House and Senate. So the politics of the war are significant in the local political atmosphere.

HANSEN: Greg Moore is the editor of the Denver Post. Bob Kittle is the editorial page editor for the San Diego Union Tribune and David Wells is the editorial page editor for The Cincinnati Enquirer. Thank you all for your time.

Mr. KITTLE: Thank you, Liane.

Mr. WELLS: Thank you.

Mr. MOORE: You're welcome.

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