Presidential Contenders Stake Out Iraq Positions

The 2008 election is still almost two years away, but already it is becoming clear that no issue will drive the campaign for the White House like the war in Iraq.

For those top contenders who are in Congress and will be part of the debate on what to do next in Iraq -- specifically whether or not to fund the president's requested troop surge -- the war could prove to be dangerous territory, with every vote under close scrutiny.

Today, former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina threw down the gauntlet and challenged his rivals in Congress to take definitive action in Iraq.

"It is a betrayal not to speak against an escalation of the war in Iraq," he said.

Edwards traveled to the famous Riverside Church in New York City to make his remarks. It is the same church where 40 years ago, Martin Luther King spoke out against Vietnam. He urged members of Congress to exercise the "power of the purse."

"You have the power to prohibit the president from spending any money to escalate the war," Edwards said. "Use it."

While in the Senate, Edwards voted to support the war in Iraq, a vote he now calls "a mistake." His choice of a church in the backyard of fellow Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., is sure not to go unnoticed.

Clinton also voted for the war, but has not backed away from that vote. However, while on a fact finding mission in Iraq Saturday, she expressed her doubts.

"I don't know that the American people or the Congress at this point believe this mission can work," she told ABC News.

Clinton's Democratic rival in the Senate, Barack Obama, today gave his strongest signal yet that he plans to throw his hat into the presidential ring.

"I've said that I've been considering it," the junior senator from Illinois said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And we'll be making an announcement fairly soon."

When interviewer Bob Schieffer asked, "Days or weeks?" Obama replied with a smile, "It will be fairly soon."

Obama was elected to the Senate after members voted to support the war in Iraq. In recent days, he has made his stance clear.

At this past week's foreign relations committee hearing, he had his five minutes to grill Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and said, "This administration took a gamble. … Each time that we've made an assessment of how that gamble has paid off, it appears that it has failed."

The top Republican contenders also are staking out their positions on the war in Iraq. But no potential candidate has tied his political fortunes more closely to the war than Sen John McCain, R-Ariz., who has been an outspoken supporter of the president's new strategy to send more troops to Iraq.

"I do have ambitions," McCain admitted, "but they pale in comparison to what I think is most important to our nation's security."

If the surge fails, many political analysts say so too will McCain's presidential bid.

"Republicans and Democrats are both referring to 'McCain's war,'" analyst Stuart Rothenberg said, "and if the war goes south, further south, he will take more criticism. And his road to the White House will become more difficult."

The surge has divided the other GOP candidates. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani support the surge while Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., do not.

Analysts predict the discourse will only grow louder as the war escalates and the race heats up.