Fergus Cullen, chairman of the Republican Party in New Hampshire, which will hold the first-in-the-nation primary January 8, says that Iraq has proved to be a difficult issue. "One of the challenges in a primary is that with the exception of Ron Paul, who wants to bring the troops home, there is not a big difference among the Republican candidates on Iraq," he says. "You can't create a contrast." McCain, a strong war supporter who is banking on a credible showing in New Hampshire to keep his run alive, has found little traction on the war issue, and the independents who helped him win in the Granite State in 2000 are expected to mark Democratic ballots this time around, Cullen says.
So, while the war may have been shunted to the sidelines for now, Iraq remains unstable—three car bombs on a single day killed and injured scores of Iraqis last week. And nobody is fooling himself into believing that it won't re-emerge as a major issue once the nominees take their battle into the fall—or sooner, if the casualty count starts creeping back up.