The issue of whether to set a timetable for withdrawing American troops from Iraq has emerged as the main difference between incumbent U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and challenger Chip DeNure in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary.

A CNN poll, conducted Aug. 2 and 3, found 57 percent of Americans favor setting a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, which is DeNure’s position. Like Kind, 40 percent oppose a timetable. Four percent were unsure.

But the issue of whether to set a timetable doesn’t fully capture the range of opinions on Iraq.

About 20 percent to 25 percent of Americans favor immediate withdrawal, while 33 percent favor getting out in one year, said Carl Conetta of the Project on Defense Alternatives, which tracks public opinion on the war. Between 42 percent and 45 percent favor “stay the course,” which includes less than 10 percent who favor more troops in Iraq.

President Bush opposes a timetable, but so do many mainstream Democrats, who like Kind want to see a transition in Iraq this year.

Democrats in the 3rd District who have supported Kind since 1996 but oppose the war will have to decide whether to cast a protest vote for DeNure, who may be more in the mainstream on the Iraq issue but outside the mainstream on other issues, especially when it comes to conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I believe it was an inside job by terrorists within the U.S. government,” DeNure said.

And there’s the question of how well DeNure can get his message out beyond his home county of La Crosse to the 18 other 3rd District counties. He has spent about $11,000 on 13 billboards and his Web site, www.protectthetroops.com. He has only raised $600 to $700 from supporters.

DeNure said he agrees with Kind on most issues, though with some significant differences on issues such as abortion, immigration and national single-payer health care.

The winner of the Sept. 12 primary will face Republican Paul R. Nelson of Woodville, which is in the northern part of the district.

Looking forward

DeNure, a state probation agent and political activist, said the only reason he’s running is because of Kind’s position on Iraq. “I don’t really want to go to Congress,” he said, but because he couldn’t find anyone else to run against Kind, he decided to do it himself.

“In December 2005, Ron Kind joined with Wisconsin’s congressional Republicans and voted for our military to remain in Iraq until victory is achieved,” DeNure said. “Wisconsin’s congressional Democrats all voted ‘no’ to this. It’s my belief that Representative Kind is out of touch with his constituents on this issue, the most crucial one facing the nation.”

DeNure said he’s with U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, “a man with more experience and wisdom than Ron Kind,” who has proposed redeploying U.S. troops by July 2007.

Kind said he’s not philosophically far from Feingold on Iraq. “The big difference I basically have with Senator Feingold at this point is just the certain date that he’s calling for,” Kind said.

Kind’s position, like that of many centrist Democrats, is that 2006 should be a year of transition. The U.S. should transfer responsibility for most fighting to the Iraq military while focusing on tasks such as counter-terrorism training as a step toward redeployment.

Redeployment, Kind said, “could happen before July of next year, which is the Feingold timetable that I envision. So much of this will be dictated by conditions on the ground and what our military command feels comfortable in doing and how they set up a redeployment.”

Kind said military leaders say the “worst thing you can do is telegraph what you’re going to be doing. That just gives the enemy your playbook.”

“My thinking is least like the current administration’s,” Kind said. “They’re calling for stay the course, more of the same: ‘Nothing’s going to change under my watch.’”

DeNure said he doesn’t believe setting a date will help the insurgents, saying that if Feingold doesn’t believe it will, he doesn’t either.

“I would continue to support our efforts in Iraq,” Nelson said. “I’d like to suggest to you that if Saddam Hussein were still in Iraq right now we’d be dealing with Scud missiles in Israel. We are in the process in the Middle East of a massive transformation for the better.”

Looking back

For DeNure, the critical point isn’t just about how Kind would get us out of Iraq but how he got us into Iraq.

He cites the September 2002 town meeting Kind held in La Crosse about Iraq.

“(I)n my opinion, about 85 percent of the people in the packed room told Kind not to give the president authorization,” DeNure said. “But that’s precisely what Kind did.”

Kind acknowledges the mistake of taking the administration at its word. “I admit I think I underestimated the rush to war that existed in the administration at the time,” Kind said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have read the resolution. Maybe I should have just looked at the administration and tried to make a gut judgment call, which I think a lot of people did at the time.

“Knowing what we know today, knowing what the facts are, I clearly wouldn’t have supported it, and I can’t imagine anyone in Congress would have supported a comparable resolution, knowing Saddam didn’t have (weapons of mass destruction),” Kind said.

Kind’s regret about supporting the war is tempered by the sacrifices made by the troops and their families.

“The last thing you want is the family to believe it was in vain, that it was a wasted life,” Kind said. “And that’s what makes Iraq policy so difficult today, too, because you don’t want to send a message that this has all been a waste and that the sacrifice has all been a waste.”

Ron Kind

  • Age: 43
  • Home: French Island
  • Background: The Logan High School graduate received a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University, master’s from the London School of Economics and juris doctorate from the University of Minnesota Law School. The attorney and current U.S. representative previously worked for U.S. Sen. William Proxmire, D-Wis., and was a La Crosse County assistant district attorney. He was first elected to Congress in 1996.
  • Family: Wife, Tawni; two sons, Johnny and Matthew.

Charles ‘Chip’ DeNure

  • Age: 57
  • Home: La Crosse
  • Background: The Wisconsin Department of Corrections probation/parole agent graduated from Platteville High School and received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and a bachelor’s in communications from UW-Platteville. As a member of Livable Neighborhoods, DeNure was active in efforts to stop the north-south corridor and helped write the 1998 referendum question that was endorsed by the voters that fall. In 2001, he ran for mayor of La Crosse.
  • Family: Divorced, no children

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