Family Holidays

Guide to planning seasonal celebrations

Voters' Voices

Jobs, the economy and the 2004 presidential election

Holiday Movie Preview 2004

Multimedia slide show with capsule previews of upcoming films

Standardized Testing 101

A primer for parents

Deadly Weapons in Dangerous Hands

Special report about weapons of mass destruction

Losing Ground

Special report: Wetlands' demise ripples across nation

Iraq: After Saddam

Continuing coverage of the conflict in Iraq

Too much money, attention spent on Iraq, many voters say

By Mike Madden | Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — Bob Blahnik is a good Republican, but that doesn’t mean he’s made up his mind to vote for President Bush again next year.

To Blahnik, 44, of Rockford, Ill., Bush is spending too much time on the war in Iraq and not enough time on the economy.

“As a veteran, I support our president and the military,” said Blahnik, who was laid off from his job a year ago. “But I believe President Bush needs to concentrate more on the situation here at home. There are far too many people at home unemployed while we are spending billions of dollars in Iraq.”

Ask voters what they think about the economy, and many of them start to talk about the war. Occupying and rebuilding Iraq has cost about $1 billion a week so far. Bush just signed into law an $87 billion package to pay for continuing costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gannett News Service and reporters from 53 Gannett newspapers talked with people across the nation about their economic concerns. Iraq was a frequent topic.

As casualties mount in Iraq, public support for the administration’s policies there has dropped. A recent Gallup Poll showed 54 percent of Americans disapproved of how Bush was handling the war, the first time a majority has doubted U.S. actions there since the war began in March.

Even those voters who support the war say they wonder if it’s costing too much money and drawing too much attention.

“Is (Bush) trying to make (the economy) better? I don’t really know, but it doesn’t seem like he is,” said Tanya Bowen, 23, of Lafayette, Ind. “I understand the war thing is a big thing that needs to get resolved and done with. But again, he needs to take care of his people before he goes over there and destroys everything, spending government money over there.”

The cost of the war is already shaping up as another political flash point as the 2004 campaign season begins. Democrats in Congress and the nine Democratic presidential candidates blasted the administration’s refusal to use loans instead of grants for some of the reconstruction money in the new aid package for Iraq.

But Republicans say it’s essential to stay in Iraq and help the country emerge from war, even if it costs U.S. tax money.

“We're pursuing long-term victory in this war by promoting democracy in the Middle East so that the nations of that region no longer breed hatred and terror,” Bush said. “The American people accept these responsibilities now, in our time, so that we will not face far greater dangers in the future.”

Many voters, though, raised questions about the wisdom of spending so much money on Iraq when the economy here is still recovering.

“This war is just too much, I don’t see where he’s done a lot for the economy yet,” said Linda Montello, 54, of Green Bay, Wis., who voted for Bush in 2000 but isn’t sure whether she’ll vote for him again. “He’s been more of a war leader.”

Most of the money used to pay for the war and the reconstruction in Iraq will have to be borrowed, adding to a federal budget deficit that’s expected to hit $5 trillion over the next decade. That upsets some voters, who asked why spending at home has been constrained for fear of running up debt.

“If we can spend so much money to help out Iraq, I would think they could come up with some money to fuel some new economic growth,” said Fatmata Kabia, a 22-year-old student from Pine Hill, N.J.