Losing the Support of the Heartland

Opposition to Iraq war simmers in America’s heartland
By Steven Thomma
McClatchy Newspapers

TOPEKA, Kan. – President Bush is losing the heartland.

Conservative Kansas – home to the Army’s Fort Riley, the U.S. Cavalry Museum, Republican icons Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole, and the place that gave Bush back to back landslide majorities – is turning against the Iraq war.

Kansas Democrats are quicker to oppose Bush, but growing numbers of Kansas Republicans also are rejecting his plan to send more troops to Iraq and the war itself. That threatens Bush’s hope to maintain a solid base of support for his war policies and undermines White House efforts to portray war opposition as partisan Democratic politics.

“The president’s war ideas are not very popular here,” said Tim Shallenburger, the chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. “Even good Republicans are getting frustrated and believe the president is being stubborn. … Seven out of 10 good conservative Republicans may not want to say it, but they oppose the war.”

If true, that would be a far more negative vote on the war than registered by Republicans nationally. Although Americans overwhelmingly oppose the Iraq war, 61 percent of Republicans still approve of Bush’s handling of it, according to the Gallup poll.

Their opposition is almost whispered among friends, largely under the surface in a state where Republicans are reluctant to protest or criticize the commander in chief, the title many use in discussing Bush.

But it’s there and it’s growing, say locals from small prairie towns to the suburbs of Kansas City, a simmering opposition in the heart of conservative country that explains why some Republicans in Congress increasingly feel free to turn against the president over the war.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., raised barely an eyebrow at home when he came out against Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq. Other Midwest Republicans also opposed Bush’s troop plan, including Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

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