Political Capital with John Harwood

Economy Story Replaces Iraq--But That's Not Good News For GOP


When the 2008 presidential race began in earnest last year, no one could have imagined the Iraq war as a change of subject.

But that’s what it was when Congressional testimony took John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama away from the top campaign issue--the slumping economy.

Each potential president used the chance to drive home important messages to voters.

McCain reminded Americans of the dangers posed by al Qaeda in Iraq, and said “success is within reach.” To head off the idea that he’s unrealistically optimistic about the unpopular war, he made clear he was troubled by the Iraqi Army’s recent setbacks in Basra. Then he headed to a White House ceremony honoring a Navy hero, underscoring his theme of service and sacrifice.

Hillary Clinton, in an uphill fight to overtake Obama for the Democratic nomination, reiterated her support for an orderly troop withdrawal from a conflict she voted to authorize in 2002.

And Democratic front-runner Obama emphasized that he had opposed what he called a “massive strategic blunder” –-a stance he has used to build support on Clinton’s left. But Obama’s measured tones seemed designed to calm questions about his experience. He told Petraeus and Crocker that he too wants Iraq resolved successfully, and suggested their goals for success may simply be too high.

It’s unlikely any of this will shift the Democratic nomination race or the general election. By mostly receding from recent headlines, Iraq has reduced one big political headache for Republicans.

Unfortunately for President Bush’s party, a bad economy is hardly a more helpful preoccupation.

Harwood's Political Capital

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