The war in Iraq is about to resonate with presidential candidates in a way not seen so far in the campaign: The sons of both vice presidential nominees are assigned to go there soon.
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's eldest son, Track, will perform security duties for his brigade's top officers.
“He's just like any other infantry soldier here,” said Army Col. Burt Thompson, of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. “He tries to remain as anonymous as he possibly can.”
Palin has made no secret that her son and his unit are leaving soon for duty in Iraq, repeating the news during her acceptance speech this week at the Republican convention. Nineteen-year-old Track Palin, in a dress suit, was in the audience.
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The presidential campaigns remain deeply divided over how to end the contentious war – an issue that had front-burner status during the primary season but has not been quite so prominent recently. The deployments of Track Palin and Beau Biden, son of Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, make the subject an intensely personal one, nevertheless, for their families.
Not only is it personal, it could come to seem tactical as well, since the candidates will likely be asked many times over the next two months how they would handle the war – and when they would pull the troops out.
“They're going to take a very keen interest in how that war is run,” said David Grange, a retired Army brigadier general. “It will affect their decision-making. No doubt about it.”
The dispatch of the candidate sons to Iraq also carries unavoidable political overtones. For the Democrats, Beau Biden's service could help reverse a weak spot, for example.
“Republicans always seem to imply that Democrats are somehow unpatriotic or want to be easy on the terrorists,” said James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University's School of Public Policy. “But I think that Biden's son demonstrates that you can disagree with a policy and still support doing your duty.”
Beau Biden, who is Delaware's attorney general, is a captain in the Delaware National Guard and will work as a military lawyer in Iraq.
GOP presidential candidate John McCain's son Jimmy, a Marine, returned earlier this year from Iraq. Another McCain son, Jack, is a senior at the U.S. Naval Academy.