Exorcising the ghosts of campaigns past (Dems and McGovern)

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Democrats have spent three decades trying to exorcise the ghost of Senator George McGovern, whose unsuccessful 1972 presidential campaign calling for a withdrawal from Vietnam crystallized his party's image as soft on national defense.
But surveying the midterm elections last week, McGovern, 84, said he sees an opportunity for an anti-war campaign in the 2008 presidential race. "I would love to be running again if I were 25 years younger," he said in an interview from his Montana home. "I think I would win."

On the eve of the midterms, dismay over the Iraq war has propelled the Democrats to a political status they have not enjoyed since before McGovern: For the first time in decades, polls show that the public trusts Democrats as much as Republicans to handle foreign affairs.

But as they look ahead, Democrats are torn between two visions of their history. Some potential candidates in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries and many liberal activists argue that the Republican responsibility for the Iraq war has freed the Democrats from McGovern's legacy. They say the 2006 elections will provide a mandate for a new anti-war argument: Troops can be pulled from Iraq to shore up U.S. security elsewhere.

Other strategists and political scientists argue that the Iraq war has given the Democrats a different opportunity to lay to rest their McGovernite image, in part by rejecting calls for a quick withdrawal in Iraq.

"All voters are doing is giving Democrats a chance, and we better not blow it," said Gary Hart, the former senator and presidential candidate.

A younger McGovern could probably win the Democratic primary, Hart said, but he would still lose the general election: "Just running on a platform of 'Get us out of Iraq' is not going to solve the Democrats' problem on the issue of national security."

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