Last month, Katharine Q. Seelye of the New York Times live-blogged the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. As the discussion bounced from subject to subject, she marked the topic and the time, then gave her thoughts. At 8:34 p.m., it was driver’s licenses; 8:55, Pakistan; 9:57, the Supreme Court. By night’s end she had 17 entries totaling almost 1,500 words. And she hadn’t typed “Iraq” once.
The candidates mentioned the war, to be sure. But it never took center stage. And with the first primaries just weeks away, that’s become the norm: Iraq wasn’t a major focus at last week’s Republican YouTube debate either. In the biggest surprise of the campaign so far, the election that almost everyone thought would be about Iraq is turning out not to be. And that explains a lot about which candidates are on the rise and which ones are starting to fall.
The reason Iraq is fading is simple: Not as many people are dying there. Fewer deaths mean fewer front-page stories, and fewer front-page stories mean less discussion on the cable shows, which were pretty sick of the topic already. Turn on the television these days, and you’re more likely to think America is at war with illegal immigrants than with insurgents in the heart of the Middle East.
And that’s showing up in the polls. Between June and November, according to NBC and the Wall Street Journal, the percentage of Americans citing Iraq as their top priority fell eight points. A Post survey recently reported a six-point decline since September. When a CNN/WMUR news poll asked the same question of likely New Hampshire voters last month, it found that the percentage of Republicans citing Iraq had dropped 14 points since June. Among Democrats, the drop was 16 points.