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Cantwell blasted for altering stance on Iraq

Matthew Daly Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The leader of Washington state Republicans is accusing Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of flip-flopping on the Iraq war.

Cantwell, who voted in favor of the war in 2002 and has supported all measures to fund it, was one of 38 Democratic senators who signed a letter to President Bush in October, urging him to “change the course” in Iraq. Last month, she voted in favor of a Democratic amendment calling for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops.

On Tuesday, Washington state GOP Chairman Chris Vance called Cantwell’s recent actions hypocritical and suggested she is reacting to liberal critics who are dissatisfied with her support for the war and have urged her to take a more partisan approach.

“I think this issue defines who Maria Cantwell is,” Vance said. “She is a politician with no real convictions, who will take whatever stance is popular at the time to get re-elected. She’s a phony.”

Cantwell declined to comment, despite repeated Associated Press attempts to contact her.

Her apparent change of heart came as two Washington state Democratic House members, who also supported the war, said they now regret their votes. Reps. Norm Dicks and Adam Smith said they would not have voted for the war if they had known that – contrary to what the Bush administration claimed – Saddam Hussein had not stockpiled weapons of mass destruction.

The comments follow remarks by Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a longtime defense hawk who called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq in six months. Since Murtha’s Nov. 17 speech, Democrats across the country have stepped up criticism of President Bush, although they are split on whether and how quickly to withdraw U.S. troops.

A political scientist said Cantwell’s stance is unlikely to hurt her in Washington state, where many Democrats and independents have long opposed the Iraq war. The state supported Democrat John Kerry for president in 2004.

“Whether you say she’s moving toward public opinion or trying to lead public opinion, that will be spun in different ways,” said Todd Donovan of Western Washington University in Bellingham.

But any remarks critical of the Iraq war “are not something that could hurt her, and it could possibly help her, given how much public opinion has changed” against the war, Donovan said.

At most, a potential Republican opponent could attack Cantwell for being inconsistent — hardly the most effective criticism of a politician, Donovan said.

“If she’s inconsistent but is adopting a position that is shared by more voters, it’s hard to see what damage that could do,” he said.

Vance has issued several news releases blistering Cantwell for “flip-flopping” on the war.

So convinced is Vance of Cantwell’s “hypocrisy” that he praises two Democrats who frequently are targets of his criticism: Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Jim McDermott.

“At least Patty Murray and Jim McDermott have the courage of their convictions,” Vance said, calling the two veteran Democrats “true-believing liberals.”

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