This despite widespread support for getting the hell out. When Rachel Maddow asked Matthew Continetti which presidential candidate was going to get the troops out and he said, more or less, both of them, then proceeded to equate Obama's reactionl force idea with McCain's slow, milestone based withdrawl. The quote is about 2:30 in.
Coincidentally, Continetti happens to have changed his assesment in the last 12 days.*
More significantly, people understand (by which I mean I'm trying to persuade you, people) that Obama and the Dems very much want to get troops out of Iraq, and that McCain and Bush don't so much want to get troops out of Iraq. What that wanting leads to is that in a case where Iraq is a mixed bag of good and not so good news, Barack Obama is going to be more likely to withdraw troops, and McCain will be more likely to not withdraw troops, or even to add more troops.*2
The reason I call this the Kerry Error is that in 2004, Kerry tried to sound exactly as hawkish as George W. Bush on Iraq. Because Kerry had previously been critical of the war, people didn't believe him.*3
I guess this means character counts, but not in the way that you think.
*: Washington Post, August 31, 2008 Sounds Nice, But Will It Get Votes?
BYLINE: Matthew Continetti
SECTION: OUTLOOK; Pg. B01
Relevant quote in context, bold italics mine:
The converts whom Obama has attracted to his cause? He has been endorsed by Jim Leach, a former liberal Republican congressman from Iowa; Lincoln Chafee, a former liberal Republican senator from Rhode Island; and Jim Whitaker, the mayor of Fairbanks, Alaska. Not exactly the Rat Pack.
But that doesn't matter. Postpartisanship makes for good headlines. It heightens the self-esteem of goo-goo sophisticates who want to be above disagreement. But the truth is that you can't have democratic politics without disagreement. The sharp differences between the two parties are there for a reason. Folks think differently about how much income you should take home, what sort of judges should sit on the bench, what type of light bulb you ought to use, how and when the troops should come home from Iraq, how great a role religion ought to play in public life, who was the greatest Beatle, etc. In this evenly divided nation, political success depends on motivating the groups that agree with you to go to the polls in greater numbers than the groups that don't.
And that is the postpartisan's dilemma. Partisans will happily pull the lever for one of their own. But how many will turn out for a maverick?
*2: Add more troops? Why not? The Army is constantly cycling brigades in and cycling them out. It would be simple to keep the cycling-out brigades a few weeks longer and bring in the cycling-in brigades a few weeks earlier. After all - that's how they pulled off the surge. And who would notice? When was the last time you checked the number of U.S. troops in Iraq?
*3: And with good reason. Would Kerry have done the SURGE, or would he have followed the Iraq Study Group recommendations? Obviously the latter, which is less hawkish, but arguably would have been better for the country.