Iraq casts shadow on US election

Updated: 2006-11-07 06:43

WASHINGTON: With today's US national election overshadowed by discontent and division over the Iraq War, Republicans and Democrats sent thousands of volunteers to states with the most contested Congressional races to work phone banks and canvass neighborhoods to turn out voters.

President George W. Bush spent Monday urging Republicans in Southern states to get out and vote.

A Palestinian girl holds a poster during a rally in support of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the West Bank town of Jenin Monday, November 6, 2006. [Reuters]

Republicans repeated their assertion that Democrats would prematurely pull out of Iraq and raise taxes if they controlled Congress. Democrats pressed their case for change, arguing that Republicans on Capitol Hill have blindly followed Bush's "failed policy."

Iraq has dominated the campaign season, and Republicans and Democrats sparred over the war again following Saddam Hussein's conviction for crimes against humanity. On Sunday, he was sentenced to death by hanging; an appeal is planned.

White House spokesman Tony Snow on Sunday decried as "absolutely crazy" any notion that Saddam's death sentence was timed to produce positive news on the divisive, unpopular war two days before the US elections.

The United States has always denied direct involvement in the Iraqi trial, though suspicions persisted.

Bush hailed the Saddam verdict.

"My decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision and the world is better off for it," he said while campaigning.

He called the judgment "a milestone in the Iraqi people's effort to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law."

"To pull out, to withdraw from this war is losing. The Democrats appear to be content with losing," said Senator Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who leads the Senate Republican campaign efforts.

Representative Rahm Emanuel, the Democrat in charge of the party's House campaign, shot back, "We want to win and we want a new direction to Iraq."

The greatest obstacle for both parties is the historical tendency for voter turnout to be mediocre in off-year elections. For those who do vote, both parties have put together legal teams for possible challenges.

Polls showed a mixed picture of the electorate. A CNN poll released yesterday said 58 per cent of likely voters would cast their ballots for Democrats running for Congress and 38 per cent for Republicans. A Pew survey put the split at four percentage points.

Up for grabs are 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats, governorships in 36 states, and thousands of state legislative and local races. In 37 states, voters also will determine the fate of ballot initiatives, including whether to ban gay marriage, raise the minimum wage, endorse expanded embryonic stem cell research and in South Dakota impose the country's most stringent abortion restrictions.

Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi, hoping to become the first female House speaker, campaigned for Democratic challengers in the Northeast on Sunday.

She was cautiously optimistic about her party's chances in today's election. "We are thankful for where we are today, to be poised for success," she said in Colchester, Connecticut.

Her party appears increasingly confident it can ride a wave of public disenchantment with the Bush administration and Congress to victory in the House and, possibly, the Senate.

The number of ballots cast historically is low in nonpresidential year elections, with only about 40 per cent of US citizens of voting age population going to the polls.

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