PORTLAND – After four years of war and the number of dead soldiers climbing, a large majority of Mainers disapprove of President Bush’s troop surge and how he’s handling the war, a poll released earlier this week shows.

When asked if they approve or disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation with Iraq, 73 percent said they disapproved, 22 approved, and 5 percent were undecided, a Critical Insights poll showed.

When asked if they support or oppose Bush sending 22,000 more troops to Iraq, 70 percent said they were opposed, 22 percent supported, 8 percent were unsure.

National results for both questions were similar, except more Mainers oppose more soldiers in Iraq.

The poll shows that Mainers’ support for the war “is at the lowest level,” said MaryEllen FitzGerald of Critical Insights in Portland.

In most polling, Mainers don’t show such extremes. “Mainers typically tend to be less exuberant and slightly less negative than national polls,” FitzGerald said. With Iraq, “there’s no polarization. Mainers are against the war. It’s not a stretch to conclude Mainers want the war to be over and the troops to be home.”

Danny Muller of Peace Action Maine said poll results “show that the state, like the nation, has recognized the true cost of war, the daily reminders of Maine soldiers dying and the economic impact.” Across party lines people are not just against the war, “they’re publicly stating their opposition to it.”

That’s different than a few years ago when some opposed the war, but stayed silent out of fear of being called unpatriotic, Muller said. “And for the first time I’m seeing broad Republican opposition to the war.”

Like their constituents, Maine’s Republican U.S. senators aren’t happy about Iraq. Both have voted against legislation to tie war funding to a withdrawal timetable.

Mainers’ frustrations expressed in the poll mirror what Sen. Olympia Snowe has been arguing for months, her spokesman David Snepp said Friday.

On Monday when Olympia Snowe returned from Iraq, “she found the good news mixed and the bad news downright troubling,” Snepp said. “After her visit, Senator Snowe is more convinced than ever before that the Iraqi government doesn’t understand our commitment is not infinite, and that Americans are losing patience.”

Sen. Susan Collins “has stated that our troop commitment to Iraq cannot be open-ended nor unconditional.” Collins insists that ending violence in Iraq requires a political, not a military, solution in which the Sunni minority is more integrated into power structures, and oil revenue is more fairly distributed among Iraq’s citizens, spokeswoman Jen Burito said.

If Bush’s strategy does not demonstrate significant results by September, Collins wants Congress to consider a gradual but significant troop withdrawal in 2008, Burito said.

Snowe introduced bipartisan legislation that would put the burden on the Iraqis to achieve benchmarks. Under the plan, if the benchmarks aren’t achieved, U.S. commanders would plan a phased redeployment of the surge troops, then re-task remaining troops to noncombat roles.

The Critical Insight polling was conducted between April 20 and 27. It has a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

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