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Wars Emerge as 2012 Issue

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Rep. Christopher Murphy's Senate campaign is driven by the same anti-war sentiment that fueled his run for the House in 2006.

Murphy was among more than 80 Members (but the only Senate candidate) to sign a March 16 letter urging Obama to follow through on the summer drawdown plans.

“It is time to focus on securing a future of economic opportunity and prosperity for the American people and move swiftly to end America’s longest war in Afghanistan,” said the letter, which was signed largely by progressive House Democrats, with a prominent exception: tea party favorite Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Paul’s presence on the letter is not a complete surprise. Tea party conservatives across the nation have been reluctant to support continuing military action abroad, because of both cost and the traditional anti-intervention conservative philosophy.

And the recent action in Libya may have pushed some over the edge.

“We’re already at war, we’re broke, and we’re bombing a nation that’s at war with itself,” said Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party. 

On Afghanistan, she said there was some evidence of a growing frustration among grass-roots conservatives.

“I think there’s dissatisfaction with it being drawn out,” Varley said, noting that cost is always a concern. “The tea party has this aurora of patriotism, but also, we have to slash and burn our budget. If we had good stories coming out of Afghanistan, then we might feel a little less of that cut, cut, cut, feeling.”

If polling is any guide, the American public largely agrees.

Just 31 percent of respondents in a mid-March ABC/Washington Post poll said the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting “considering the costs to the United States versus the benefits.”

In that same poll, 73 percent of respondents said that Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. But just 39 percent said they believed that American leaders would do so.

Indeed, the politics of war in 2012 may ultimately depend on what happens this summer, according to Ashwin Madia, a former Marine who now serves as the interim chairman of the progressive organization Vote Vets.

“I take him at his word,” Madia said of Obama’s summer drawdown. “I assume that’s going to happen. But at the same time, I’m no fool. I recognize there’s going to be consequences if that happens, and it’s going to be driven by conditions on the ground. I don’t know what’s going to happen at this point.”

Regardless, Vote Vets, which spent more than $3.2 million to influence the 2010 midterm elections, will ensure the issue is not forgotten on Election Day.

“You bet we’re going to be doing our best to make sure that Afghanistan is front and center as we go into these elections,” he said.

Likely presidential candidate and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour may have already elevated the issue among Republican primary voters. He has been increasingly critical this month of action in Afghanistan and Libya.

“What is our mission?” Barbour said recently. “How many al-Qaida are in Afghanistan ... Is that a 100,000-man Army mission?”

And with the first GOP presidential debates scheduled to begin in early May, the war will almost certainly be a high-profile issue for much of the primaries given the timing of Obama’s decision.

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