Concerns Over Iraq Growing on Homefront

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
By RON FOURNIER - AP Political Writer
MEDIA, Pa. - (AP) Bob Simpson dips his brush in a jar of black
paint and starts scrawling two numbers on a sign he hangs outside his home _ totals for U.S. soldiers killed and wounded in Iraq.
"The reason I do this is it reminds people of what's going on so they don't forget," the nursing home worker says as cars zip past the grim tote board he updates every few days.
Simpson, 50, is a Navy veteran and a Republican opposed to the war in Iraq, one of a growing number of people who believe President Bush made the wrong decision to attack Saddam Hussein and then bungled the occupation.

Recent polling by The Associated Press-Ipsos shows sharp declines in support for the war and for Bush's performance as commander in chief since his re-election a year ago. Some of the steepest declines are among evangelicals, Southerners, white men and other critical cogs of the GOP coalition.
As the U.S. death toll climbed toward 2,000, AP reporters interviewed people in nine politically divided communities to examine the public's mood and gauge how the war could affect next year's congressional elections.
This is an anxious homefront. Whether for or against the war, people say Iraq is part of an odious mix of events weighing down their spirits.
Rising gas prices, the government's slow-footed response to Hurricane Katrina, a spate of political scandals, job losses, pension forfeitures and inflation _ all these and more contribute to the malaise.
It's no wonder that nearly two-thirds of people tell pollsters the country is headed in the wrong direction.
"We're in a funk," says Connie Paolino, 50, a shop owner in this Philadelphia suburb who voted for Bush but now wonders about his stewardship in Iraq. "The fact that our boys are dying doesn't help things."
Kneeling over a shingle painted white to cover the outdated count, Simpson carefully brushes a black "1,9" while bemoaning what he sees as a lack of attention given to the war. He says he's neither an activist nor a partisan _ just a guy paying homage to the troops _ though he did change his registration from Republican to Democrat last year because of concerns about the war.
"As soon as it's out of the news, people don't give it much thought," he says. "Whatever the current problem is, that's what people are thinking about. Like we just got through Katrina. Now with the earthquake ... people are watching that on the news and you'll see the war in Iraq getting thrown on the back burner."
He starts to paint a "7."
Will the growing discontent spill over to the 2006 elections? Most people don't think it will affect their votes for Congress _ at least not yet.
AP reporters conducted interviews in competitive districts in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and South Dakota. They generally fell into three categories:
_ Partisans whose say their votes will not be affected.
_ Moderates who say they may be less inclined to back Republicans, though most had kind words for their own representatives.
_ Those who cited the war as yet another reason to dislike major-party politics, or those who worried about the direction of the nation.
"Nobody looks good with this mess," said Jim Stevens, 43, of Malvern, Pa.
In this suburban district southwest of Philadelphia, war and politics intersect. Republican Rep. Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has been a popular lawmaker for two decades, but now faces a challenge from a political newcomer, Democrat Bryan Lentz, an Iraq war veteran.
Staunch anti-war Democrats like Debbie Krull, a local council member in Weldon's district, give the incumbent the edge. "He will be tough to beat," she says.
Still, Republicans are worried judging by the growing number of GOP candidates across the country who are distancing themselves from the president and the war. Weldon is one. He mentions Iraq and Vietnam in the same breath, and accuses the Bush administration of misleading the public about progress.
"The American people are saying, 'Hey, their credibility is no good here,'" Weldon says.
Republican Jack McAvoy is choking back tears, his eyes swollen and red.
"We were lied to by the president and his administration," says the 51-year-old convenience store manager. "I'm angry."
Over breakfast at the Court Diner a few blocks from Simpson's home, McAvoy explains that he is a Vietnam-era veteran who fears history is repeating itself in Iraq.
"It's Vietnam all over again, less the jungle," he says.
Is that why he's so emotional?
"I lost an uncle in Vietnam," McAvoy replies.
He accepts condolences and stares into his coffee. And stares.
Finally, the awkward silence is broken when he coughs up another memory of Vietnam. "My brother was sent home in a casket."
Only four in 10 suburban men approve of Bush's handling of Iraq, according to AP-Ipsos polling. A year ago, Bush's rating was 55 percent among suburban men.
"I don't think we went about it right," says Richard Blackburn, 66, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., whose support for the war is waning.
Seven in 10 suburban men thought going to war was a good idea in December 2003. Now, less than half do.
"It hasn't been worth it," says John Brees, a self-described conservative from Iowa.
Simpson is bald, with a neatly trimmed red beard speckled with gray.
He talks in a soothing monotone, like the nightshift nurse he is.
Brush in hand, he paints the last digit on the first set of numbers _ "1,970."
"That's the death toll right now. Now, I'm doing the wounded, which is 14,362," Simpson. His eyes trained on the sign, Simpson pauses before he adds, "They're coming back with missing limbs."
That was last week, and the totals have continued to rise.
Many people are frustrated, not just by the bloodshed but by a sense of helplessness.
Victory seems elusive. Defeat is unthinkable in a time of terror.
Withdraw U.S. troops? Even some of the president's harshest critics are reluctant to advocate that.
"It's like we're stuck and we can't move," says Jina Hopkins, 21, an Albuquerque, N.M., fragrance sales clerk. She supported the war at first.
"But now that everybody has died. ..."
Pat Kinnane, 49, a laid-off baggage supervisor from suburban Chicago, stopped supporting the war when weapons of mass destruction didn't turn up.
"It's a war I don't think that we can win," Kinnane says.
She and other suburban women rallied behind Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks but gradually saw Iraq as a threat to their sons and daughters. The number of suburban women approving of Bush's handling of Iraq has dropped 14 percentage points since November 2004 and a whopping 26 points since May 2004.
Colleen Kutek, a 32-year-old Medicaid case manager from suburban Denver, had favored the war but now considers it a waste. "It hasn't done anything. It hasn't proven anything. It hasn't helped America at all," she says.
Angie Sanchez, a 23-year-old bagel shop manager from Jasper, Ind., said she has a number of friends who served in Iraq.
"I felt that Bush kind of twisted the truth and made it into something it was not," she says.
Pulling back the slide of a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, William Crawford, a gun store manager in Albuquerque, says to list him as a war supporter.
"Whether we should be there or shouldn't be there is not a decision for any of us to make," he says. "We are there, so we should support whatever our government or troops are doing, and in that region of the world a free and independent country would not be a bad thing."
However, even some pro-war people question Bush's performance, accusing him of using too few troops.
"He wants to half-bake this situation," groused Harry Friel, 35, at the pizza-and-beer shop he helps run in Malvern, Pa.
Five Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing in September, pushing the state's death toll above 100. California
(214) and Texas (172) have the highest death tolls, in a recent count.
The war has touched every community, especially with the National Guard and Reserve suffering a strikingly higher share of casualties.
"Weekend warriors" have accounted for one-quarter of all U.S. deaths since the war began, and the percentage has been rising.
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says he calls victims' families soon after they get the news.
"You can see in their eyes and hear in their voices (questions
about) whether there's value to the loss they've sustained," the Democrat says.
In a cold drizzle, Simpson attaches the newly painted shingles to the sign that hangs on his backyard fence. "Support our Troops. USA" reads the sign with the fresh set of grim numbers: 1,970 dead and 14,362 injured _ and climbing.
He talks about plans to add another flag and a few flourishes when the death toll hits 2,000.
"It's not that I have a cause. ... I'm just trying to make people remember that they shouldn't forget the war," he says as a truck rattles past. "Don't forget the troops. The troops are what I'm concerned about.
"Nothing we can do about the war now."