Incumbents Beware: Peace Voters Mean Business

For months, polls revealed increasing opposition to the US occupation of Iraq.  Lamont’s victory shows clearly that Americans oppose the war and are willing to vote en mass against pro-war incumbents.  In Quinnipiac University’s Thursday poll, 94 percent of Lamont backers cited Lieberman’s position on the war as one reason they backed the challenger.

In the final days, Lieberman futilely urged voters to put aside their top priority.  “Look at the whole record,” he pleaded.  “Don’t vote on one issue.”  Protests that he was a ‘good Democrat’ and ‘critical of Bush’ did not spare him from the Peace Voters’ wrath.  Rather, anti-war voters across the country flocked to Lamont signaling that they are dead serious about Iraq withdrawal and will vote accordingly.

A Gallup poll (June 23-25) showed that 55 per cent  of Americans — including 59 per cent of Democrats and 49 per cent of Republicans — say that Iraq will be extremely important to their vote for Congress this year.  Add this to the 56 per cent who say the war was a mistake and the 62 per cent who think Bush is mishandling the war and you have a potent electoral bloc of voters which may prevail in numerous Congressional races.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart summed up the meaning of the Lieberman-Lamont race in Sunday’s Washington Post: “…[T]he status quo in Iraq … is unacceptable to Democratic primary voters, … to independents and … to a large minority of Republicans. Iraq is the number one issue and the message is exceptionally simple: We cannot abide the status quo.”

Senator Hillary Clinton, the ear-to-the-ground pol running for re-election in New York and likely for the presidency, reacted to Lamont’s rising fortunes by aggressively questioning Donald Rumsfeld and then calling for his resignation.  While unabashedly supporting the war, she’s made prudent gestures to the increasingly mobilized anti-war bloc in her party. Unlike Lieberman, she joined 38 fellow Democrats last month on a resolution calling for US troops to begin exiting Iraq this year, though without a deadline. And last November, Clinton supported a “phased redeployment” of U.S. troops from Iraq; Lieberman opposed that measure as well.

Clinton faces a challenge from anti-war Democrat Jonathan Tasini who stands at 12 per cent in the polls.  It remains to be seen whether he will get Lamont-like traction but Clinton is taking heavy hits for playing both sides.  New York Times columnist Bob Herbert lambasted Clinton as an “Iraq war enabler”: “Mrs. Clinton .. should have known better from the beginning, and [is] now (with the wheels falling off the Iraqi cart and public support for the war plummeting) engaged in the tricky ritual of rationalization.”  In the post-Lieberman world, waffling on the war is no longer on the menu.

Significantly, the Lamont win showed that being an anti-Bush Democrat is not enough.  Peace voters inside the Democratic Party and beyond increasingly require candidates to take public and principled stands on the war.  Another way voters are  organizing is by signing a Voters’ Pledge at stating that they will not support pro-war candidates.

Peace voters – some willing to dialogue and even vote across party lines – are coalescing into organized, reliable sources of votes and donations for peace candidates.  Anti-war sentiment spans the political spectrum; it would not be surprising to find Green, Libertarian, or Republican contributors to Lamont’s campaign.

Indeed, another problem for soft-on-peace incumbents are alternative party candidates.  Battered by anti-war challengers, Senator Maria Cantwell(D) is expected to win the primary but only after hiring her most vocal opponent.  She still faces three peace candidates in November: Aaron Dixon(G), Bruce Guthrie(L), and independent Robin Adair.  Cantwell now talks about bringing the troops home.

For Maryland’s open Senate seat, former frontrunner Ben Cardin(D) tried to correct his pro-war Congressional record by posting an anti-war petition on his campaign website.  After months of pounding by peace challengers, Kwesi Mfume overtook Cardin’s lead.  In November the victor will face attorney Kevin Zeese, backed by three anti-war parties – Green, Libertarian and Populist.  Raising the bar,’ Zeese vocally opposes a US war of aggression against Iran and uncritical support for Israel.

In 2004, the peace movement was swept up in an Anybody But Bush mindset.  However, Kerry lost that election leaving unanswered the question of whether a clear anti-war stance would have brought more peace voters to the polls.

Incumbent politicians take note.  If a former VP nominee and incumbent Senator can be ousted, what does that mean for the lesser among you?

LINDA SCHADE is Executive Director of VotersForPeace.US and former Director of TrueVoteMD, a non-partisan election integrity project working for voter-verified paper ballots.