MADELEINE BRAND, host:
First, no candidate has gone straight from the United States Senate to the presidency since John Kennedy back in 1960. One reason: senators cast votes on hundreds of issues, votes that can then be used against them in a presidential campaign.
ALEX COHEN, host:
We saw that in 2004 when President Bush took aim at how Democrat John Kerry voted on funding the war in Iraq.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: My opponent and his running mate voted against this money for bullets and fuel and vehicles and body armor.
(Soundbite of people booing)
Pres. BUSH: When asked to explain his vote, the senator said I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
BRAND: Yes. Flip flop. Remember that? This year at least six members of the Senate are running for president and that means close scrutiny of each and every one of their votes, including this week's vote on funding for the Iraq war.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA: Among the squadron of current senators seeking the White House in 2008 are four Democrats: frontrunners Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama and longtime Senate veterans Joe Biden and Chris Dodd. They are not likely to find Iraq war-related votes nearly as perilous as 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry did.
Polls now show most Americans opposing the war. Still, there are choices to be made. Take the amendment offered this week by Senator Russ Feingold that would have cut off funding for combat operations in Iraq on April 1st of 2008. The presidential campaign of Senator Dodd got out ahead on the issue, making it clear where he stood while also applying pressure on other Democrats.
(Soundbite of campaign ad)
Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): Half measures won't stop this president from continuing our involvement in Iraq's civil war. That's why I'm fighting for the only responsible measure in Congress that would take away the president's blank check instead of timetables to bring our troops home. Unfortunately my colleagues running for president have not joined me. I'm Chris Dodd.
GONYEA: When the vote came on the Feingold measure, Dodd was joined by all three of his Democratic colleagues running for president. The measure lost but all the presidential hopefuls seem to recognize the symbolic importance of this vote for the anti-War activists all are courting. Biden spoke on the Senate floor during debate.
Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware): This is all about keeping pressure so every single day the public picks up the paper and sees that we're trying to change the president's course of action in Iraq.
GONYEA: Senators Clinton and Obama issued statements describing their votes for the Feingold proposal as a strong challenge to the Iraqi government and to President Bush. For Republicans, it's a different equation. There are two GOP presidential hopefuls in the Senate, John McCain and the much less well-known Sam Brownback of Kansas.
Both have long records in support of President Bush on the war. Those records may stand them in good stead in the primaries but become a liability in a general election, given the disapproval of the war by the public at large. McCain missed this week's funding vote. He was out campaigning and didn't come back to Washington. Brownback voted no on the amendment to cut off funding, saying he opposes timelines for troop withdrawals or funding cut-offs. He added this...
Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas): It's difficult for a democracy, particularly the United States, for us to win with one party for the war and one party against the war. And I condemn the statements of Harry Reid, the majority leader of the Senate, saying we've already lost. We haven't lost. That's his declaration. But we've got to pull people together here.
GONYEA: It was just one week and one vote. There will be many more in the months before the primaries and caucuses begin. But tallies and scorecards are being kept and if the past is any predictor, the attack ads won't be far behind.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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