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Area Democrats, but only one Republican, offer thoughts on Iraq

Pre-speech predictions that President Barack Obama's Iraq address Tuesday night was aimed primarily at his political base appeared to be borne out -- with area Democrats initially offering the only comments shortly before and after his speech.

The silence from most Republicans may have reflected their need to mull over his comments or a decision to continue their focus on other issues -- most notably, the continued troubled economy. The one GOP exception was U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield and Missouri's Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate.

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the state's Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, said in an interview earlier Tuesday, "I'm glad we've been able to wind down our combat troops in Iraq."

But Carnahan added that she expected a U.S. presence to remain in Iraq, and "we're going to have to watch very closely to make sure it doesn't fall back into the wrong hands."

That said, she emphasized, "I think it's appropriate that we refocus on Afghanistan. After all it's the place where those who attacked us on 9/11 were trained...Gen. (David) Petraus is the right person to have in charge there."

(Carnahan's brother, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, offered his observations on Iraq late Monday, along with a few area Vietnam veterans.)

Blunt said in a statement Tuesday night, "As American and allied combat troops leave Iraq, they can do so with pride in their service and with the knowledge that the people of the United States and Iraq are grateful for their service and their sacrifice.  Throughout what for many servicemen and women were extended and repeated deployments overseas, our troops kept their eyes on the ball, and they leave Iraq as heroes."

The Republican also tossed in his party's assertion that Obama should praise former President George W. Bush's handling of the war. "Despite the rhetoric of many high-level Washington Democrats and their efforts to establish artificial deadlines and cut off defense funding, the troop surge in Iraq worked, and tonight President Obama finally acknowledged as much,'' the congressman said.

"I am hopeful that all the president's future decisions on troop levels in Iraq and elsewhere are driven by the needs of the troops and their mission and not a political calendar."

Tommy Sowers, the Democratic candidate for Congress in southeast Missouri's 8th District and an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq, said he hoped that more attention would be paid to the needs of the veterans who served and that U.S. officials "take stock of where America stands."

"I served two tours in Iraq as a Green Beret, and was proud to stand with Iraqis during their first free and fair elections back in 2005. But we still have a long way to go, and 50,000 troops will stay in Iraq along with over 100,000 contractors," Sowers said.

He added that more attention needs to be paid to what happened to $5 billion in unaccounted-for military contracts to private contractors. And there is the matter of returning veterans' unmet medical and economic needs. Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan currently have unemployment rates 50 percent higher than other Americans, he said,.

After the president completed his speech, the state director of his political arm -- Organizing for America- Missouri -- offered her take by emphasizing that Obama had fulfilled his campaign pledge "to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end."

(OFA-MO) State Director Erin McCann released the following statement on Obama’s Oval Office address to the nation tonight on the drawdown of United States combat troops in Iraq:

"OFA volunteers in Missouri are proud to join with Americans across the country in recognizing this momentous occasion and in thanking the men and women of our armed forces for their exemplary service," said McCann. "Without question, the members of our armed forces performed courageously. Thanks to their efforts and sacrifice, the people of Iraq now have an opportunity to create a better future for themselves — and America is more secure."

McCann's comments then shifted to economic issues, where she also offered praise for the president -- reflecting, perhaps, a shared view that the economy appears to be a higher concern than Iraq among many Americans. Which also may explain why most area Republicans opted to remain silent Tuesday.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.