updated 8/28/2004 3:45:15 PM ET 2004-08-28T19:45:15

One of the staunchest opponents of the war in Iraq will be making noise inside the Republican National Convention.

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Rep. Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee will join other conservative Republicans at Madison Square Garden in New York, calling for four more years and preparing to campaign in his conservative Knoxville district on behalf of President Bush.

Yet Duncan was one of six House Republicans who voted against authorizing Bush to go to war in Iraq and one of just five who opposed funding military operations there. Others among his Republican colleagues privately oppose the war now, Duncan said, especially since no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.

“I have had several members who have told me that they think we’ve gotten into a huge mess, or they think the war was a mistake, or that they wouldn’t have voted for it if they had all the information that’s come out now,” Duncan told The Associated Press in an interview.

One retiring GOP congressman, Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, recently announced his opposition to the war after supporting it earlier. Duncan seems disappointed but realistic about the unwillingness of other lawmakers to go public with that position.

“It’s awfully hard to change positions on what has turned out to be one of the most major issues that Congress has faced at this point,” he said. “Those who voted for the war are just trying to put the best foot forward or the best face on it that they possibly can.”

A genial, low-key legislator, Duncan doesn’t like criticizing the president but says his conscience won’t allow him to stay silent.

'Feel very strongly'
“I feel very strongly about it and always have, and I’ve tried to do it in as nice a way as I possibly could,” he said.

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was never a serious threat to the United States, Duncan said, and government officials now make pulling out of Iraq “seem like a much bigger problem” than it really is.

While Duncan’s votes on Iraq have been out of step with Republicans back home, his constituents are willing to overlook that, said Karen Brown, a GOP activist in Knoxville and a delegate to the party’s convention.

“Most of the people here in East Tennessee are supportive of the war effort and, at the same time, are supportive of Congressman Duncan,” Brown said.

“I don’t think he necessarily in every case follows what might be the view of the majority of the people in the district, but it is his view and he’s a very dedicated guy,” said Tom Jensen, a GOP convention delegate and a former member of the state Legislature. “I would certainly give him the right ... to his own point of view.”

Duncan, who won re-election two years ago in the solidly Republican Knoxville area with 79 percent of the vote, said he agrees with Bush on most issues.

16 years in the House
A 16-year House veteran, he sides with party leaders on legislation about 90 percent of the time but on occasion has taken high-profile stands against the GOP. He opposed a budget put forward by House leaders earlier this year, and a law giving the president authority to negotiate trade deals that Congress can’t amend.

Duncan acknowledges his independent streak could be hampering his advancement in the House. He was a leading candidate last year to become chairman of the Resources Committee, which would have given him oversight of federal lands, energy policy and national parks. Instead, the post went to a less senior lawmaker, Rep. Richard Pombo of California, a close ally of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

“I would like to be chairman of a full committee, but I’m not going to give up my voting card to do that,” he said.

Duncan’s father, John J. Duncan Sr., who held the seat from 1965 through 1988, was more cautious about straying from the party.

“He was much more leadership-oriented, I guess, than I am,” Duncan said. “I’m sure that my father rolled over in his grave when I voted against the war, because I don’t think he ever would have done that.”

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