ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The war in Iraq has cast a pall over the GOP and other states that vote early in 2008. A new poll for Pew Research shows that 53 percent of Americans want the U.S. to start bringing its troops home now. NPR's Linda Wertheimer has been talking to Republicans in Iowa.
LINDA WERTHEIMER: Once a week about 40 Des Moines businessmen gather at a local golf club for breakfast. They're friends, but part of the point of the group is doing business will fellow Morning Club members. They call it reciprocity.
Unidentified Man #1: Reciprocity. I know I worked with Kevin yesterday.
Unidentified Man #2: Brian Griffin(ph) did some stuff for us at Griffin's Storage and Transportation.
Unidentified Man #3: Jack Texter(ph), we were over at his house the other day and…
WERTHEIMER: All but two members of the Morning Club are Republicans, local businessmen, fiscal conservatives. They like tax cuts, small government and balanced budgets.
Pat McGoldrick(ph) is an investment adviser. He gives the president credit for a strong economy.
Mr. PAT MCGOLDRICK (Investment Adviser): You know, this is kind of a good news, bad news situation. I think our global presence has deteriorated, and that really bothers me. It disappoints me. But I think our economic position is strong and I think that's directly related to what he's doing.
WERTHEIMER: Leonard Ainsworth(ph) owns a graphics company. He'd plainly like to see Republicans in charge. He says he's had record year after record year during the Bush administration, but that may not matter.
Mr. LEONARD AINSWORTH: My big concern right now with the Republican party is the Iraq war. People want Bush to get the troops out of the war and he's just not going to budge. The president doesn't have the backing of the country.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think it will affect the election in 2008?
Mr. AINSWORTH: Absolutely. Absolutely it will, and that bothers me.
WERTHEIMER: The war hangs over everything, says Robert Wooten(ph), who's a contractor. He's built some of the glassed-in TV studios we see at caucus time. We're looking through his glass at snowy views of Iowa's capitol over the anchorman's shoulder.
Mr. ROBERT WOOTEN: Do I want to see the troops come home? Absolutely. But I don't want to see the troops come home until, you know, we feel reasonably certain that they can come home and it's not going to create a worse situation in Iraq or the Middle East, or even more importantly in this country.
WERTHEIMER: Do you think the president was right to take us into Iraq?
Mr. WOOTEN: Boy, that's a very difficult question.
WERTHEIMER: That was a long pause.
Mr. WOOTEN: Yeah, well, yes it was. Knowing what we know now, no. But we didn't know then.
WERTHEIMER: It was a colossal failure of intelligence, Wooten said. He agrees that because of the president and the war, Republican candidates will start their races way behind.
Carlton Peterson(ph) is in the funeral business. He says things he once admired are concerns.
Mr. CARLTON PETERSON: I've grown weary with his apparent inflexibility. I think I voted for him originally because he seemed to be opinionated and seemed to stick to his guns and his opinions about things. But I'm surprised at myself that now, six years later, I'm tired of that. I'm kind of like I've jumped over the fence and say to myself, can't you listen to the other side?
WERTHEIMER: But you still think of yourself as a Republican?
Mr. PETERSON: Yeah, I think I am.
WERTHEIMER: These businessmen expect the Republican Party to recover. Remember Watergate, one said. But they also appear to have written off the party's chances in the next election because of the war in Iraq.
Here's Robert Wooten again.
Mr. WOOTEN: I think history will look back and look at George W. Bush and say, clearly he was one of the controversial presidents that we've ever had in our country. And I think ultimately he will be judged by the outcome of what happens in the war in Iraq.
WERTHEIMER: The view is different from Pella, Iowa, about an hour away from Des Moines. Prosperous, conservative, settled by Dutch immigrants, it has an annual tulip festival, is famous for its windmills and bakeries and the high-quality doors and windows manufactured in Pella.
We met this group of Republican activists at the home of Irene Blum(ph).
Ms. IRENE BLUM (GOP Activist): This is just a butterscotch cookie. This is -just happens to be an oatmeal cake, but it's my family's favorite.
WERTHEIMER: The people we met over coffee and delicious pastries are the president's core supporters, social conservatives - abortion and gay marriage are their issues.
Lyle Herman(ph) works in I.T. at the Pella factory. He mostly supports the president, including the plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Mr. LYLE HERMAN (I.T. Professional, Pella Factory): At this point, I'm going to say that I am supporting what the president is doing because it is something different. The way things were going was not accomplishing the objective. Does there need to be a limited period of time before they decide whether that's working? I think so.
WERTHEIMER: Our hostess Irene Blum is a GOP activist. She is solidly behind the president, even though she thinks he's done some things wrong.
Ms. BLUM: I think the president is unduly picked on. They Blume him for everything that there is.
WERTHEIMER: For Irene Blum, the Democratic Party's positions on social issues are completely unacceptable. Voting Republican is the only option, but she's worried about some of the Republican candidates.
Ms. BLUM: This business of abortion, and we're concerned about all these soldiers that are being killed - and I am, too, don't get me wrong. But at the same time, how many millions of babies are we killing every year? We have to stick to the basic issues of the family. Do away with abortion and the gay business. We are one nation, founded on God.
WERTHEIMER: Blum worries that Republicans may not come out to vote. Lyle Herman shares that concern, but holds out the hope that if Republicans can't win, perhaps Democrats can lose.
Mr. HERMAN: I have to believe that the Democrats - because I think their candidates are so bad and so extreme - the Republicans could be helped. But yes, I think Republicans are going to have to, in some way, communicate to the public that they are going to do something different. And I would say not just on Iraq, but I think probably on the spending issue as well and affect a difference in the Bush administration.
WERTHEIMER: Harold Denbesten(ph) is 85, a lifelong Republican, retired from the wholesale grocery business. He originally joined, he says, a beautiful, conservative party. But now is the time for GOP candidates to be practical.
Mr. HAROLD DENBESTEN: I think, indeed, they'll have to look the other way a little bit, because to embrace the Bush administration at this point, who is taking a beating in the polls, is certainly not embracing a winner. And I think we have to kind of look away.
WERTHEIMER: Talking to Republicans in Iowa. Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.
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