ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
October has been the deadliest month in more than a year and a half for American troops in Iraq. One hundred three have lost their lives. Yesterday Vice President Cheney said he believes the increase in violence in Iraq is aimed at influencing next week's Congressional elections. Whether or not that's true, the war has been having political effects for some time.
Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The Pentagon has long barred news photographers when coffins are being unloaded at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and the White House has worked to minimize the sense of American losses in the conflict. But Americans have been getting enough information to decide they aren't happy about the war and that feeling has been growing for some time. Polls show a plurality of Americans disapprove of the war, feel that it was a mistake in the first place, disapprove of the president's handling of it and believe Democrats would do a better job.
Asked specifically today about the death toll in October, White House Spokesman Tony Snow said President Bush was aware of the number.
Mr. TONY SNOW (Spokesman, White House): The president understands that it is difficult and this is a man who signs each and every condolence note. He is absolutely aware of the human cost, and he grieves for every family and every person that we've lost.
NAYLOR: However the climbing death toll in Iraq is not the only reason most Americans are unhappy with the war. Duke University Professor Christopher Gelpi, who studies public opinion, says it's the popular sense that progress is not being made in Iraq that's led to the decline in public support.
Professor CHRISTOPHER GELPI (Duke University): I don't actually think it's U.S. casualties that are really driving things as much as the ongoing perception that there is, you know, this civil war that, for which we have no solution.
NAYLOR: Republican candidates are broaching Iraq in a wide variety of ways. Matt Collins, who's running for a seat in Georgia and for whom President Bush is campaigning today, says the problem is not the policy.
Mr. MATT COLLINS (Republican candidate): The media seems to like to harp on the war. And I say harp because that's actually what they're doing. They're tring to, it seems as though the media is trying to drive a wedge between the administration, the war and the people. And you know, that's a tactic of the al-Qaida. They've already said that a year or two ago.
NAYLOR: Moderate Republican Chris Shayes, in a tough battle for reelection in Connecticut, generate headlines this summer when he said he'd changed his mind about Iraq and now believes it's wise to require a timeline of goals for the Iraqi government to meet. Interviewed on his campaign RV, Shayes said he now regrets his vote to authorize sending troops to Iraq.
Representative CHRIS SHAYES (Republican, Connecticut): If I knew that this administration would have made the decisions it would make to disband the army, the police, the border patrol, allow the looting and set up a government that wasn't an Iraqi government, I never would have voted to send our troops there.
NAYLOR: And in the closing days of the campaign, even some of the most conservative Republicans in the House, such as John Hostettler of Indiana, have joined the chorus.
(Soundbite of political ad)
Representative JOHN HOSTETTLER (Republican, Indiana): In October 2002, when America was clamoring to go to war in Iraq, I voted against sending American sons and daughters into harm's way because the intelligence did not support the claim that there were weapons of mass destruction there. It wasn't a popular vote, especially with members of my own party.
NAYLOR: So while President Bush is campaigning in Republican districts this week with the message that, quote, “America loses under the Democrats' approach to Iraq,” Republican candidates in more competitive districts are telling an altogether different story.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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