updated 9/28/2006 2:46:13 PM ET 2006-09-28T18:46:13

A few candidates for governor are venturing beyond domestic issues like schools and taxes to take stances on the war in Iraq and terrorism, with a California Democrat vowing he'll try to withdraw his state's Guard troops from Iraq and an Arizona Republican blasting a Sept. 11 memorial for being unpatriotic.

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As Election Day gets closer, political analysts say that more candidates - particularly those who need to make up ground - may turn to hot-button national issues to connect with voters, even if they would have little or no authority to follow through on their pledges as governors.

In a year when 36 states will choose their top elected leader, relatively few candidates have so far jumped into these passionate debates. But there are still more than five weeks to Election Day.

Pressing hot buttons
"I don't think it has much to do with the role of governors per se. It has a lot to do with campaign politics," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic strategist not working for candidates in either California or Arizona. "The quickest way to get your base back is to press the hottest button you can. These foreign policy buttons are the hottest ones."

Two candidates trailing in the polls have hit national issues in recent days.

In California, Democrat Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, said that he would sue, if necessary, to bring California National Guard troops home. He's making the campaign promise even though the president, and not the governor, has control over Guard troops when they are called up for federal duty.

"When a shameful and phony war compromises the governor's basic ability to meet the needs of our people, when it puts us at greater risk of injury and fatality when a disaster strikes our state, then you'd better believe that it's an issue in the race for governor of the state of California," he told about 200 cheering students at San Francisco State University on Tuesday. He'd also made the vow on Sunday.

In Arizona, Republican Len Munsil, the former head of a conservative Christian advocacy group, called for the state's new Sept. 11 memorial to be torn down, arguing that some of the 54 phrases inscribed on the structure insult the country, those who died in the attacks and members of the military.

Relativistic context
The circular memorial is inscribed with a timeline of events before and after the attacks, along with 54 comments on topics that range from the deployment of 216 Arizona firefighters to the World Trade Center to questions of whether federal agencies could have uncovered the plot.

One quotation says: "You don't win battles of terrorism with more battles." Elsewhere, a reference to President Bush's address to the nation the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, is near a comment stating that an unidentified terrorist leader addressed the American people in 2004.

"This memorial is a tribute to moral relativism," Munsil said. "Only in the relativistic context of left-wing protesters holding 'Bush is a terrorist' signs do such inscriptions make any sense."

The memorial was built with private funds, though it is located on a public plaza in Phoenix. The sitting and former governors picked the commission members that oversaw its design.

Looking for a boost?
In both cases, the candidates venturing into these national issues are substantially behind the incumbents they are challenging - with Angelides trailing GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by 17 percentage points, and Munsil trailing Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano by 36 percentage points, in telephone polls out this week.

But it could help them, said Charles H. Franklin, a political science professor and pollster at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"As symbolic politics, it is the kind of thing that partisans and opponents of the war might approve of," he said.

Core beliefs and convictions play a part in any candidate's decision to take a stance, Franklin and Mellman agreed - but they also said strategy does, too. They wouldn't turn to federal issues if their positions on state issues alone were winning them the support they need.

Ticking clock
National issues may well pop up more often in the closing weeks of gubernatorial campaigns where one of the candidates is serving in Congress, since those people have records that can be scrutinized. States with a member of Congress running for governor include Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Angelides's vow that he will fight to bring home the troops doesn't mean he can accomplish it. Governors share control of their state chapters of the National Guard with the president, which means they have responsibility for what the Guard troops do inside the nation's borders. But when the president federalizes the troops for overseas duty, then governors no longer have any formal say.

Munsil's criticisms of the Sept. 11 memorial hit closer to home, though it's a step into the charged political discussion over the war on terror that few other gubernatorial candidates have taken.

Elsewhere, Green Party candidates for governor in several states, including Illinois, New York and Vermont, have made the Iraq war part of their campaigns, promising to try to stop deployment of their states' National Guard troops. None of those candidates appear to pose a serious challenge.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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