No top-tier Democratic presidential candidate has been clearer than former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina in pushing for an aggressive confrontation with President Bush over his veto of an Iraq spending bill that included a timeline for U.S. troop withdrawal.
His latest move has been to create a television ad to pressure members of Congress to send Bush "the same bill again and again" until the president relents on a timetable for withdrawal.
Having already gotten to the left of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., by publicly apologizing for his 2002 vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq, the post-veto showdown with Bush is central to Edwards' efforts to get to the left of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.
"The more clarity you have on the war and where you stand, the better it is," Edwards senior adviser Joe Trippi tells ABC News.
Obama began the race against Edwards with the most sterling anti-war credentials, having spoken out against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq before it began, but he drew criticism from some in the liberal blogosphere earlier this spring for suggesting that Bush could get a clean bill with no timetable for withdrawal by vetoing the initial war spending measure.
"Nobody wants to play chicken with our troops on the ground," Obama told The Associated Press. Shortly thereafter, Obama was accused of caving in to Bush by Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, a prominent liberal blogger.
Shortly after Obama raised hackles on the left with his comments, Edwards seemed to counter the Illinois senator by telling members of MoveOn.org, a liberal anti-Iraq War advocacy group, "This is not a game of chicken, this is not about making friends or keeping Joe Lieberman happy, this is about life and death."
After yesterday's veto, Obama issued a statement urging Republicans in Congress to "help override" Bush's veto. But like Clinton, Obama has not yet committed to a course of action if the override effort fails as expected.
Freed from the need to cast actual votes in the Senate, Edwards' new television ad urges members of Congress to stand firm.
"President Bush isn't listening to us," says one person in the Edwards ad, which airs in the D.C. market on broadcast and cable perhaps as soon as Thursday. Another person says in the ad, "Don't back down to President Bush."
In addition to the traditional television ad, the Edwards campaign is also making it possible for people to create their own messages to Congress and Bush on the war and to post them to Edwards' campaign Web Site and YouTube.
"We're out there doing everything we can to send that bill back," Trippi tells ABC News. "Clearly that's not where Clinton or Obama are at. They are talking about finding the 16 Republican votes for an override. I don't think there is anybody on the Republican or the Democratic side who believes that's possible. There's no reality to that position."
Speaking to a candidates' forum sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund on May 9, 2003, the same day that Saddam Hussein's statue came down in Baghdad, Edwards said, "I support the cause in Iraq. I have always supported the cause in Iraq. I think it is a just cause. I think that what we're doing is right. I think it is a fight, among other things, for the liberation of the Iraqi people."
A year and a half later, in December 2005, after running for vice president as Sen. John Kerry's, D-Mass., running mate, Edwards penned a Washington Post op-ed apologizing for his pro-war vote and the apologies have kept coming.
"I was wrong to vote for this war," Edwards said last week during a Democratic debate in South Carolina. "Unfortunately, I'll have to live with that forever. And the lesson I learned form it is to put more faith in my own judgment."
In a memoir set to be published in June, former Edwards consultant Bob Shrum expresses regret for advising the former North Carolina senator to give Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. Shrum writes in his book, according to excerpts obtained by The Associated Press, that Edwards would have been a stronger presidential candidate in 2004 if he had followed his own instincts rather than the advice of political professionals.
Edwards has not spoken in-depth about Shrum's comments, when questioned about it after speaking to the International Association of Fire Fighters he simply said that political people "talk to you all the time" and that the ultimate responsibility lies with him.
Edwards is also moving away from his earlier invocations of a global war on terror.
In an interview with Mike Allen for Time magazine, Edwards explained that he is moving away from the "war on terror" terminology because he considers it a "Bush-created political phrase."
Edwards first disavowed the phrase at last week's MSNBC debate in South Carolina when debate moderator Brian Williams of NBC News asked the eight Democratic candidates to indicate by a show of hands whether they believe there is "such a thing as a global war on terror."
Edwards did not put up his hand while Obama and Clinton did.
Edwards had used the phrase himself before, but he decided to stop using it because he believes this "political language" has "created a frame that is "not accurate.
"It's been used to justify a whole series of things that are not justifiable," Edwards told Time in an interview published Wednesday, "ranging from the war in Iraq, to torture, to violation of the civil liberties of Americans, to illegal spying on Americans. Anyone who speaks out against these things is treated as unpatriotic. I also think it suggests that there's a fixed enemy that we can defeat with just a military campaign. I just don't think that's true."
While Edwards' sharp turn to the left may ingratiate him with the more liberal voters who dominate the Democratic caucuses and primaries that select the party's nominee, it may also call his consistency into question.
"I think that John Edwards and a lot of Democrats running for president are going to regret the ridiculous pandering they have done to the far left on an issue of such importance," said Republican National Committee spokesman Dan Ronayne. "Advocating a strategy that they used to say is irresponsible before political calculations changed their tune is not something that will be rewarded."
During his speech accepting the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nomination, the former North Carolina senator engaged in some serious saber-rattling in the war on terror. "John and I . . . will have one clear unmistakable message for al Qaeda and these terrorists," Edwards said in 2004. "You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you."
Asked whether his new opposition to speaking in terms of a "war on terror" would open him up to the flip-flop charge, Trippi said the former North Carolina senator still believes that there are terrorists out there who must be stopped.
He added, however, that the "war on terror" terminology misses the point that when dealing with people out there who are "sitting on the fence," the United States has "a lot more weapons than bombs."