Wisconsin Residents Vote to Withdraw Troops From Iraq

April 5, 2006 — -- Voters in 32 Wisconsin communities had their say on the Iraq War in a referendum Tuesday, and they decreed that enough is enough. Residents in 24 of the 32 towns and villages voted to start bringing the troops home now, a greater victory than supporters of the referendum had hoped to get.

The vote has no legal power, but it could be seen as indicating increasing discontent with the toll of the Iraq War, both in lives and money. Supporters of the referendum see it as a signal to Congress as the 2006 midterm election approaches.

Steve Burns, program coordinator of the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, which organized the referendum, said the results are "yet more evidence of a new anti-war majority in Wisconsin." Burns pointed out that 12 of the 32 communities that voted against the war also voted for President Bush in 2004.

Supporters say the referendums passed by a statewide margin of more than 14,000 votes. The "out now" measures garnered 68 percent of the vote in liberal Madison, and 55 percent in LaCrosse. But in other areas the vote was much closer.

In Evansville voters had a choice of two referendums, one to bring the troops home now and the other to keep the troops in Iraq until "victory is clearly won." In a very tight vote, the measure to bring the troops home now won with 51 percent while 49 percent voted to keep them there.

Bill Richardson of the anti-referendum group Vote No to Cut and Run believes many residents had not thought about the implications of the vote. He believed the vote numbers did not show a mandate for supporters and says it was an effort to embarrass President Bush.

An Unlikely Hotbed

In conservative Watertown, voters gave a resounding "no" to any attempt to pull out of Iraq. Three out of four residents turned the proposal down.

Backers of the referendum canvassed dozens of small towns in Wisconsin, going door-to-door to end the war by distributing anti-war literature.

"You gotta know when to hold them and know when to fold them," Penny Eiler, an anti-war referendum organizer, said. "Well, it's time to cut our losses and walk away."

Watertown was one of 32 communities that weighed in, and the town of 23,000 seemed an unlikely hotbed of opposition. After all, it voted overwhelmingly for President Bush the past two elections.

However, more and more folks there are fed up with the fighting -- including National Guardsman Rustin Wittenburg, a 25-year-old father of two who will head to Iraq for the first time later this month.

"I didn't disagree with it in the beginning," Wittenburg said, "And I kind of do now because I see it going down hill."

Stay Until the Job is Done

But Richard Petarius Jr., a cobbler and Watertown resident, feels strongly the other way.

"I'm going to vote to keep them there to finish the job that was done," Petarius said before the vote.

Watertown's local paper had been flooded with letters to the editor, often pitting neighbor against neighbor, even veteran against veteran.

"I feel that if enough people at the grass roots level make a statement, the government has to listen," said Lyle Lidholm, who fought in the Korean War.

But the troops are listening, too, says Louis Checkai, who spent four decades in the National Guard.

"The big danger is that morale of the troops is going to go down," Checkai said. "That's what the big danger is."

As divisive as this referendum was, both sides agreed on one thing: they need to support the troops no matter how long they are in Iraq.

ABC News' Geoff Morrell and Tom Giusto reported this story for "World News Tonight." Giusto updated the results.