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Freshmen 42: A First Split on the Iraq War

For the first time since entering Congress on Jan. 3, the House's freshmen Democrats split into different camps last week on a key Iraq war vote.

Until last week, the "Freshmen 42" had voted in lock step with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on every major Iraq vote this year, repeatedly supporting a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops sometime next year.

Affectionately known as the "majority makers" by Democratic leaders, the freshmen split last week on a proposal offered by Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.) that called for redeploying troops from Iraq within 90 days and mandated complete withdrawal within 180 days -- the most aggressive anti-war vote of the year so far.

The amendment was generally considered a peace offering by Pelosi to her left flank within the caucus, allowing the most anti-war liberals to at least vote for a pull-out position in exchange for backing the leadership's latest version of a supplemental war spending bill, which would hold back some Iraq funds until President Bush issued a status report to Congress.

Yet all sides were stunned to see 171 "yea" votes on the rapid withdrawal plan, a total that included votes by two Republicans (Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and John Duncan of Tennessee).

Among the freshmen bloc, 15 Democrats opposed the nearly immediate withdrawal from Iraq offered by McGovern. As the chart below shows, that group represents some of the reddest districts in Democratic hands, such as those held by Christopher P. Carney (Pa.) and Health Shuler (N.C.). Carney and Shuler ousted GOP incumbents last year with 53 and 54 percent of the vote, respectively; both their districts were won handily by President Bush in 2004 (60 percent of the vote in Carney's district, 57 Shuler's).

The two lawmakers are near the top of the target list for Republicans heading into 2008, but that hadn't stopped them from casting anti-war votes earlier this year. They both voted with Pelosi in February on the non-binding resolution opposing the president's planned Iraq troop surge into Iraq, and they both supported previous versions of the Iraq spending bill that included less radical timelines for withdrawing U.S. troops. After opposing the McGovern amendment, Carney and Shuler supported final passage last Thursday of the new supplemental spending bill.

Of the freshmen supporting McGovern's measure, 11 sit on the official target list of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Those 11 generally hail from safer districts than the 15 who voted against McGovern, but a trio is worth noting.

Either courageous in their anti-war position or politically naive, Reps. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), John Hall (N.Y.) and Steve Kagen (Wisc.) voted for the McGovern amendment. They come from the most pro-Bush districts, in terms of the 2004 vote, of the 11 targeted freshmen Democrats who supported McGovern.

Bush took 54 percent in the two Empire State districts and a whopping 55 percent in Kagen's Green Bay-anchored district.

The charts below show the breakdown of 1) the freshmen Democrats who opposed the McGovern amendment compared with their 2006 vote and Bush's 2004 vote in their district; and 2) the 11 freshmen who voted for McGovern's measure and are on the Republican target list.

FRESHMAN DEMOCRATS WHO OPPOSED THE McGOVERN AMENDMENT:

                              2006 %          Bush '04%
* Jason Altmire (Pa.)          52                54
* Nancy E. Boyda (Kansas)      51                59
* Christopher P. Carney (Pa.)  53                60
* Joe Donnelly (Ind.)          54                56
* Brad Ellsworth (Ind.)        61                62
* Gabrielle Giffords (Ariz.)   54                53
* Baron Hill (Ind.)            50                59
* Nick Lampson (Texas)         52                64
* Tim Mahoney (Fla.)           50                54	
* Jerry McNerney (Calif.)      53                54
* Harry E. Mitchell (Ariz.)    50                54
* Ciro Rodriguez (Texas)       54                57
* Heath Shuler (N.C.)          54                57
* Zachary T. Space (Ohio)      62                57
* Charles A. Wilson (Ohio)     62                51

TARGETED FRESHMEN DEMOCRATS WHO SUPPORTED McGOVERN:

                              2006 %          Bush '04 %
* Michael Arcuri (N.Y.)        54                53
* Joe Courtney (Conn.)         50                44
* Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)    53                54
* John Hall (N.Y.)             51                54
* Steve Kagen (Wisc.)          51                55
* Ron Klein (Fla.)             51                48
* Dave Loebsack (Iowa)         51                44
* Patrick Murphy (Penn.)       50                48
* Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.)     51                51
* Tim Walz (Minn.)             53                51
* John Yarmuth (Ky.)           51                49

By Paul Kane  |  May 15, 2007; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  House , Iraq  
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