WASHINGTON — For Rick and Lucy Harris and the small town of Ellijay, Ga., the Iraq war isn't just some policy debate raging on the floor of the U.S. Senate. It's about the frailty of life and the power of one young man's sacrifice to spur others into action.
First Lt. Noah Harris's death two years ago while serving in Iraq brought the conflict home to that community. Now, the Iraq war dominates conversations.
"It's the discussion in classes. It's the discussion in town. Everyone is very interested in what is going on," said Noah's mother, Lucy Harris.
So it's with no small degree of annoyance that the Harris family has watched the back and forth in the Senate over changing Iraq war policy.
"They should just defer to Petraeus," Lucy Harris said of Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of forces in Iraq. "It's a political game."
Republicans leaders such as Georgia Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson are in a tough position as they try to assuage the concerns of people at home, like the Harris family, while helping the GOP navigate the debate on funding an increasingly unpopular war backed by a president whose support is also on the wane.
A recent Gallup poll showed President Bush's approval rating at 29 percent, and 71 percent of Americans favoring a proposal to remove almost all U.S. troops from Iraq by April 2008. The president's job approval rating in a recent AP-Ipsos was 33 percent.
As Chambliss and Isakson consider changes to the Iraq war policy they do so amid a climate of several high ranking Senate Republican defections, including that of Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The departures have included Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and the moderate-leaning Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.
For Republicans, the signs of strain are starting to show.
"It is important for us to continue to pursue the goals of the surge, and have a debate not in advance of the facts but after we know the facts as they stand," Isakson said on the Senate floor Wednesday.
The White House has urged Republican lawmakers to wait until Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, gives a report on the war's progress in September before voting on any major policy changes.
While most Republican leaders have agreed to do this, they've also acknowledged that congressional and public patience for the war effort is growing thin.
"I think what's happening is that we've come to a critical point," Isakson said.
Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst and managing editor with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, put it bluntly.
"There's just so many bullets for a lame duck president -- especially an unpopular one, that (Republican leaders) can be expected to take," she said.
"Georgia, like most of the South is still more supportive of the war in Iraq than the rest of the nation, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia and author of the book "The New Politics of the Old South."
The Harris family and the folks in Ellijay could not care less about the politics behind the war, or how Senate votes and defections will impact politicians. As a community that has watched their young people go off to war, they are intensely interested in seeing just how military leaders will define victory in Iraq.
"We're talking about boots on the ground, real people," Harris said. "When I think about my son who could have done anything with his life, but he fought because he believed in his country. In what we were doing in Iraq... I just don't want it to be in vain."
That range of emotions surrounding military sacrifice isn't lost on Chambliss and Isakson.
Recently, Chambliss made sure a measure to provide wounded soldiers better medical care was included in the defense authorization bill currently being debated by Senate.
Such efforts are welcome news to Harris, who often speaks at public events about her son.
"My son's mantra was 'I do what I can,' " she said, her voice trailing off.