Democrats aim to use corruption, war issues in midterm campaigns

? First gradually, now quickly, the war in Iraq and a congressional corruption scandal are shaping the midterm elections, with Democrats working to harness both as campaign issues for the fall.

That leaves Republicans on the defensive, not defeated.

In Ohio, they succeeded Monday in talking scandal-scarred Rep. Bob Ney off the fall ballot.

In the process, they likely improved their chances of retaining his seat, previously considered one of the two or three most likely to fall to the Democrats.

No matter the outcome of the primary between Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and anti-war challenger Ned Lamont today, the unpopular conflict in Iraq is emboldening and even unifying normally fractious Democrats.

“In the interests of American national security, our troops, and our taxpayers, the open-ended commitment in Iraq that you have embraced cannot and should not be sustained,” the party’s leading lawmakers wrote President Bush recently.

“… We believe that a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq should begin before the end of 2006.”

Politically, the letter brought together lawmakers of varying views on the issue.

On the eve of the fall campaign, it also sought a middle course between the Bush administration’s refusal to set a withdrawal timetable and the demand from Democratic activists for a swift pullout of U.S. forces.

Republicans responded dismissively.

“Waving a white flag in Iraq may appeal to the net roots,” said Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman, referring to Internet activists, “but it will embolden the enemy, encourage more terrorism and make America less secure.”

At the same time, Republican lawmakers are increasingly outspoken about the political impact of an unpopular conflict.

“The first thing I’d do is acknowledge that there have been mistakes made,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said recently.