WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Barack Obama's call for a troop surge in Afghanistan is shaping up as a dividing line in Kentucky's 2010 race for the U.S. Senate.
The two leading Democrats in the race — Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and state Attorney General Jack Conway — gave strikingly different responses to the policy on Wednesday.
Among Republican candidates, Trey Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, supported the call for more troops but resisted the idea of setting a timeline for withdrawal, while Rand Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, did not return a message seeking comment that was left with a spokesman.
Obama plans to send more than 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Those now scheduled for deployment include soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.
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"I know our military men and women will serve valiantly, but I have reservations about the president's position to send more troops," Conway said in a statement. "I do not feel President Obama has adequately explained how he will get Pakistan involved in the effort to combat al-Qaida. At its core, we are dealing with a regional issue which requires the cooperation of regional partners to ensure success."
In contrast, Mongiardo said he favors Obama's policy.
"I believe the president clearly defined the mission, how he intends to accomplish that mission and, equally important, a reasonable time frame for when we can expect to bring the war in Afghanistan to a close," Mongiardo said.
The divergent stances are quickly becoming a theme nationally as Democrats running for Congress wrestle with how to best appeal to and represent war-weary voters who have little appetite for prolonged combat in that region, while still supporting a Democrat's administration.
It is also a theme echoed on Capitol Hill, where Obama's biggest challenge will be convincing his fellow Democrats, who control both the House and Senate.
As polls show the public turning against Democrats and the war in Afghanistan, they are worried about retaining their majority in next November's elections.
"Right now for Democrats, this is more about the base than general election voters," said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report. "The Democratic base right now is not particularly motivated; that might not help in 2010. But it's going to depend a lot on how (the Afghanistan surge) is going."
If the president achieves his goals, Duffy said, Conway might have a problem, but if the goals aren't met, "Conway could say 'see, I told you,'" Duffy said.
With the additional troops, the United States will have nearly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Republicans have largely supported the president's plans to increase the U.S. presence in that country, but many balk at the idea of setting timetables for withdrawing troops.
"I support the president's decision to finally accept the recommendations of commanders on the ground and order a surge of forces in Afghanistan," Grayson said. "I disagree with those who believe we should set a date certain for withdrawal from Afghanistan and believe that we must show the necessary commitment to success for the Afghan people, for our allies and to our enemies."
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire blog last month, Paul said he would have voted "yes" on going to war in Afghanistan, but said the mission needed to be better defined.