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Hillary, The War and Her Vote

Meet the Press yesterday:

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Hillary Clinton. She was in New Hampshire yesterday. Her first appearance there in 10 years. And it was quite striking how many times she was asked about her position on the war. Here she is being asked in Berlin, New Hampshire, by a voter, a very serious question. Let's watch that exchange.

Unidentified Man: And I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake. And the reason I want to ask is because a lot of other senators have already done so, including some Republicans and including one of your competitors, Senator Edwards. And the reason I ask personally is because I, and I think a lot of other Democratic primary voters, until we hear you say that, we're not going to hear all these other great things you're saying.

SEN: HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that, knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. But I also--and, I mean, obviously you have to weigh everything as you make your decision. I have taken responsibility for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.

MR. RUSSERT: Roger Simon, it's interesting. Reporters have been asking Hillary Clinton, "Was the war a mistake? Was the war a mistake?" because all the other Democratic candidates, major ones, have said that. Now, a voter, several voters have stepped forward. Is this simply "Gotcha" or is this something that's dead serious in the voters' minds?

MR. SIMON: It's dead serious. The questions come because she refuses to make Iraq part of her stump speech. And I think, and many disagree with me, that her current position not to apologize, not to say it was a mistake, is an untenable position for her. I think she will be pushed to say, before we get to the Iowa caucuses, "I was wrong," for two reasons. One, I think that's where the Democratic voters are in Iowa and New Hampshire; and two, it feeds the image that the critics have of her that she's a divisive figure. If this keeps going on week after week, people are going to say, "Why doesn't she just say she was wrong? Why does she keep this controversy growing--going on?" She doesn't want that, and I don't think she's going to be able to stick to that.

I think Roger Simon is correct that it will become untenable for Senator Clinton (as long as she wants to be the Democratic nominee for President in 2008) to not completely disavow her 2002 Iraq vote. With Barack Obama having been against the war from the very beginning and John Edwards having flat out recanted and admitted to being "wrong" on his war authorization vote, Senator Clinton will be at too much of a competitive disadvantage in the Democratic race if she continues to dissemble and not give the anti-war Democratic base what it wants to hear on Iraq.

To a majority of Democratic primary voters the questions "I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that war authorization vote was a mistake" has the simplest of answers and her refusal to provide that answer and admit she was wrong in 2002 only allows her rivals to gain increasing traction on the central issue of the war.