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Rep. Christopher Murphy bet early — even before the protests and fighting exploded across the Middle East and Libya — that America’s wars would help drive voters to the polls in 2012.
The 37-year-old Connecticut Congressman’s Senate campaign is driven by the same anti-war sentiment that fueled his original run for the House in 2006. Both his Senate announcement video and early campaign advertisements prominently cite the need to end the decade-old conflict in Afghanistan.
Talk of war virtually disappeared during the 2010 midterm elections. But prolonged military action in Afghanistan, coupled with recent fighting in Libya, an unusual alliance between the tea party movement and liberal groups, and the looming presidential election, could soon re-establish war as a central force in the national political debate. Murphy hopes so, anyway.
“More political leaders should be talking about the war in Afghanistan,” he told Roll Call last week. “I understand the economy is still issue No. 1 in this country. But we need, both in Washington and in the context of political campaigns, to be highlighting the fact that this war has gone on too long and cost us too much both in terms of lives and financial resources. People here in Connecticut want this war to come to an end. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to talk about this issue in the context of this campaign.”
Murphy may be one of the most outspoken war critics among the top-tier Senate candidates, and it’s unclear whether the strategy will ultimately work given that his state’s unemployment rate, like the nation’s, is hovering around 9 percent. But Murphy and conservative groups alike have begun to argue that Americans cannot afford the financial cost, if nothing else, of continued military action.
“Obviously the economic crisis makes it more relevant to people than ever. It’s also a way to talk about the issue in non-partisan terms,” said Robert Greenwald, president of Brave New Foundation, the California-based liberal group behind a campaign called “Re-think Afghanistan,” which produces anti-war viral web videos and related petitions.
“The tea party folks have mostly been quiet on Afghanistan, but they have come out against the cost. You say to somebody, ‘One troop in Afghanistan, one year, $1 million dollars.’ It really does hit people. And we could wind up spending $1 billion in Libya.”
Beyond cost alone, timing could help propel the war into the national spotlight as well. President Barack Obama has outlined plans to begin a troop drawdown beginning in July, a move tied to conditions on the ground. But some elected officials aren’t so sure there will be a significant change come this summer.