Democrats in Exeter, N.H., Weigh Iraq Exit Plans What do Democrats in the New Hampshire town of Exeter think about where their party should stand on efforts to end the war in Iraq? Most want national Democrats to keep pushing for a pullout. But the views are nuanced.
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Democrats in Exeter, N.H., Weigh Iraq Exit Plans

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Democrats in Exeter, N.H., Weigh Iraq Exit Plans

Democrats in Exeter, N.H., Weigh Iraq Exit Plans

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Just about everyone in our campaign focus town of Exeter, New Hampshire, supports the troops. But few Democratic voters support the war those troops are fighting. Many are monitoring their party's attempts to challenge President Bush's strategy in Iraq. The Democrats have tried and failed to legislate a cutoff of funding for the war and they're expected to try again. The general feeling among Exeter Democrats is that the party should not back down.

But New Hampshire Public Radio's Jon Greenberg found more nuance among the party's base.

JON GREENBERG: Exeter has many churches: Lutheran, Methodist, fundamentalist Christian, Catholic and more. If you want to find Democratic voters on a Sunday morning, your best bet is the Unitarian Universalist Church on Elm Street.

(Soundbite of church service)

GREENBERG: After the 9 a.m. service, members gather for a coffee hour in a large open room with bare wood floors. This is a group that, with few exceptions, holds a common view on the war.

Listen to Marian Mengert(ph), Jeremy James(ph) and Susan Gordon(ph).

Ms. MARIAN MENGERT (Member, Unitarian Universalist Church): I am against our being in Iraq. I've been against our being in Iraq from the beginning.

Mr. JEREMY JAMES (Member, Unitarian Universalist Church): I - from the beginning of the war, have been, you know, I'm very much against the war.

Ms. SUSAN GORDON (Member, Unitarian Universalist Church): We should never have started this war in the beginning.

GREENBERG: In this setting, it is no surprise to come across people like Pat Yosha(ph), a retired educator, who expects Democrats in Washington to dig in their heels and insist on a timetable for withdrawal.

Ms. PAT YOSHA (Retired English Teacher, Exeter, New Hampshire): I agree with John Edwards' approach, which is to keep sending the funding bills back and keep sending them back when the president vetoes them. Keep sending them back and not approve the funding.

GREENBERG: But Yosha's position is not shared across the board. Contrary to the rhetoric of war supporters, Democrats have a variety of opinions on what the U.S. should do next in Iraq. Last week's testimony by the top American officials in Iraq had an impact on Sarah James. She says it gave her a different picture of conditions on the ground.

Ms. SARAH JAMES (Member, Unitarian Universalist Church): I did appreciate hearing some of the positive things that were happening and some of the areas of stability that I had not heard as much about before. And I came out of the week feeling more positive about our presence there than I went into the week.

Mr. JAMES: I don't think my opinions were changed at all.

GREENBERG: That's Sarah's husband, Jeremy. But his desire to see the U.S. leave Iraq does not lead him to a clear view on how that should be done

Mr. JAMES: It's so complicated. It's really hard to really know an answer, to know what the Congress should be doing. But, you know, when I struggle with it's just trying to keep my anger about being in the war, trying to keep that out of the picture and just be more focused on - okay, we're in this horrible situation, how do we fix it.

GREENBERG: Members of his congregation see conflicting dimensions of America's role in Iraq. Marianne Manger(ph) takes part in a peace vigil every Thursday afternoon at five on the steps of the Exeter town hall. But even this ardent activist sees some benefit in the presence of American forces.

Ms. MARIANNE MANGER (Resident, Exeter): I don't think we're doing any good there, but I expect if we pull out, things will get worse. I'm more concerned about the Iraqi people suffering right now and the Iraqi people suffering when we pull out.

GREENBERG: Democratic activists to call for a quick and total withdrawal of American troops would understand Marianne's compassion. They would have a harder time with the views of John Morgantho(ph), an independent who votes Democratic. Morgantho, in some measure, accepts the argument that a quick withdrawal would come at the expense of America's honor.

Mr. JOHN MORGANTHO (Resident, Exeter): You want to extricate yourself with a least amount of shame. How to do that? That's the problem.

GREENBERG: So saving face is an important issue?

Mr. MORGANTHO: Oh, yes. Yes, absolutely.

GREENBERG: Liberal groups, such as, paint the upcoming Senate debate as a test of Democratic conviction. Clearly, some in this room agree. But more difficult is this comment from Marianne Manger, the peace activist.

Ms. MANGER: I feel that the Democrats' hands are tied by Bush's veto.

GREENBERG: When asked if she would think less of Democrats if the funding bill that emerges lacks a timetable, Marianne said she would not. Senate Democrats are looking at several compromised measures that they hope will attract sufficient Republican support.

In the eyes of some Exeter voters, that is simply playing politics. But in this Unitarian church, this fertile field for Democratic votes, there is great ambivalence over what America should do next. If Senate Democrats failed to take a hard line on war funding, it might not be because they aren't listening to the Democratic base, it might be because they are.

For NPR News, I'm Jon Greenberg.

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