WASHINGTON -- Political cracks are appearing in the Democrats' once-unified opposition to the war in Iraq, and a prominent independent pollster says it's not "a slam dunk" issue for them anymore.
One week before Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, gives his report to Congress, Republican leadership officials express new confidence that Americans are now far more willing to give President Bush's troop surge more time to work.
The mood shift is the result of reports from journalists, lawmakers and others returning from Iraq (including Democrats) who say progress is being made in terrorist-infested trouble spots and that levels of sectarian violence have fallen dramatically this summer.
At the same time, the grassroots message coming back from Republican lawmakers returning from their August recess is that "we're hearing less about Iraq" from voters, a senior House Republican leadership official told me.
From the beginning, the hope of the troop surge was not to say that it could fully stabilized Iraq and end the violence, something that isn't going to happen anytime soon. Rather, it was to show that at least progress was being made, that in key regions Al Qaeda terrorists could be driven out as a result of new alliances between Sunnis leaders and U.S. and Iraqi military forces.
Several weeks of positive reports from Iraq have not only divided the Democrats but have thrown them on the defensive on an issue that has clearly lost some of its antiwar potency with voters.
Independent pollster John Zogby reported last week that Republicans had indeed made gains last month among voters, with a clear 54 percent majority now saying they believe the war can be won.
Still, it's an issue on which Americans remain polarized. "When you look at the majorities, its overwhelmingly Republicans and underwhelmingly Democrats. So, in that sense, it's confusing for the candidates, especially in the general election, and it's not necessarily a slam-dunk issue for the Democrats," Zogby told me.
"Whatever it may take for the Democrats to appeal to their base, 'We've lost, let's get out now' is not necessarily what the general electorate wants to hear, particularly swing voters. It also means for Democrats that, unless they figure out an appealing answer to the question of how do we get out, this could spell trouble for them," he said.
Last month, conventional wisdom said the Democrats' antiwar base was breathing fire and expecting to ride the war issue all the way to the White House next year. However, Zogby's polls seem to show otherwise.