JOHN Sununu has reason to be irritated and concerned. Last week, television stations in his home state of New Hampshire began showing advertisements attacking the senator, nearly two full years before he is up for re-election next November.
Sununu's crime was to play a part in preventing the US Senate from debating a resolution that would have expressed disapproval of President George Bush's plan to deploy five more brigades of troops to Iraq.
The senator, who like the rest of his Republican colleagues has long been a reliable supporter of the president, faces a key test: repudiate his past backing for the war or risk being turfed out of office by the voters next year.
"It will be one of the litmus test issues for Senator Sununu," said Steven Marchand, mayor of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and a possible Democratic challenger for Sununu's Senate seat. "In New Hampshire, if you look at last November, it's pretty clear that people have made a statement with regard to the war in Iraq."
Fuelled by the war's growing unpopularity, Democrats made gains in New Hampshire at the mid-term elections, just as they did across the country.
Asked last week if he still stood by his 2002 vote authorising the use of force, Sununu, who has served just one term in the Senate, said: "I can't answer that question. I don't know what the answer to that question is or should be.
"I think in the long run the Iraqi people are better off for that, but that doesn't change the fact that very significant mistakes were made, bad choices were made, that have made the process of establishing security and bringing US troops home more difficult."
Sununu is not alone in doubting whether current policy can succeed.
The liberal online activist group, MoveOn.org, has bought advertising time to target eight Republican senators who face re-election next year. This is unprecedented: attack ads have never before been made this early in the political cycle.
The senators, however, deny that re-election is concentrating Republican minds. "This is not about the election, and a lot of us find that offensive," said Minnesota's Norm Coleman. "This is about the toughest decision you make in the Senate."
Sununu has expressed concern about increasing troop levels in Iraq and, unlike the president, supports the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Like colleagues such as Coleman, Virginia's John Warner and Gordon Smith from Oregon, Sununu has backed away from deserting his president and party. But for how much longer?
These "swing senators" will play the crucial role in determining the extent and timing of the Congressional revolt against the president. Privately, the White House believes it is merely a matter of time before open rebellion breaks out.
Washington's attention shifts to the House of Representatives this week as it introduces its own resolution condemning the president's plan to "escalate" the war. "We believe it is important for us to make our views known" said Steny Hoyer, the Democrats' leader, this week. The new Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has told colleagues that her goal is to "end the war".
While the minority party has the power to block legislation in the Senate, the House offers the opposition no such protection and Democrats are determined to step up their legislative efforts to pressure Bush into at least setting a timetable for troop withdrawal.
This week they will introduce a resolution condemning the president's new Iraq policy but explicitly expressing support for US troops. Democrats hope to make it as easy as possible for Republicans to support the resolution.
Despite this, the war will not be ended by Democrats. It will be left to the president's Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill to deliver the fatal blow.
Already the signs of Republican defection are there to be seen. It is an open secret in Washington that many more Republican senators are disillusioned with the war, even if they have not yet voiced their fears and regrets in public. Even those who remain on board the president's ship do so in large part because there is an absence of plausible and congenial alternatives.
Democrats themselves are divided on what to do. Hillary Clinton's proposal for a "cap" on the number of US troops in Iraq was ridiculed as meaningless by her rival for the Democratic party's presidential nomination, Joe Biden, For good measure Biden, who favours a form of partition in Iraq, slammed John Edwards' call for the immediate withdrawal of up to 50,000 troops.
Of the senators jostling for their party's favour next year, only Barack Obama has dared to suggest a complete withdrawal of troops by the end of March 2008. The rest of his party prefers to follow, rather than lead, public opinion.
"Democrats are not likely to cut off funds directly but to attach funding limits on the length of deployment of National Guard troops, or other measures that constrain the president's ability to increase and maintain the level of troops in Iraq," said John Fortier, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. "They may succeed, but the president and his allies in the Senate will not make this an easy task."
Senator Lindsay Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, warned: "The Democratic Party is making a huge mistake. We all embrace withdrawal at some point, but they will not talk in detail about what would happen in Iraq if we left in six months." Even Graham admits, however, that the US is down to its "last chance" in Iraq.
For the time being at least House Republicans are standing firmer than their colleagues in the Senate. "No credible person can doubt that, however we might try to disguise it, a withdrawal while Iraq is still in chaos would be regarded around the world as a victory by our enemies," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the senior Republican on the House foreign relations committee. "For we will have demonstrated that we will abandon allies, that we can in fact be forced to accept defeat and its consequences, however grave they may be."
But as the violence continues in Iraq, Washington's attention will increasingly shift to pivotal legislators such as Sununu, whose decisions will determine whether Bush retains any credibility or significant support on Capitol Hill.
The polls show nearly 70% of Americans already disapprove of the plan to increase troops. It may not be long before a similar percentage of senators reach the same conclusion.
Pledge to build 'hopeful America'
DEMOCRAT Barack Obama declared himself a candidate yesterday for the White House in 2008, evoking Abraham Lincoln's ability to unite a nation and promising to lead a new generation as the country's first black president.
The first-term senator announced his candidacy from Springfield, Illinois, the state capital where he began his elective career just 10 years ago, and in front of the building where - in another century - Lincoln served eight years in the Illinois legislature.
"We can build a more hopeful America," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery. "And that is why, in the shadow of the Old State Capitol, where Lincoln once called on a divided house to stand together, where common hopes and common dreams still live, I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the US."
Obama, 45, did not mention his family background, his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia or that, as a black American, he would make history if elected president.
He focused on his life in Illinois over the past two decades, beginning with a job as a community organiser with a 6,654 salary.
He said the struggles he saw people face inspired him to get a law degree and run for the legislature, where he served before becoming a US senator just two years ago.
"I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change," Obama said.