By ANDREW DeMILLO, The Associated Press
TEXARKANA, Ark. -- Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor had intended to use an appearance at a Labor Day picnic to tout his record on worker's rights issues such as the minimum wage as he faces a 14-month battle to keep his seat in Arkansas. But as the two-term Democratic senator moved from table to table at a fairgrounds hall, he also quizzed constituents about whether Congress should authorize military action against Syria.
What he found was skepticism and concerns from war-weary voters in a Republican-trending state who say they're more worried about the debt and other concerns at home than another nation's conflict.
"We just can't police the world," Patty Tipton, whose son has served three tours in Iraq with the Air Force, said after urging Pryor to oppose any intervention. "If we go over there, are we going to make any difference? Or as soon as we pull out, is it going to be exactly the same as we went in?"
As officeholders and candidates spent the weekend greeting voters, some were encountering similar concerns about President Barack Obama's announcement that he'll see congressional approval this month for a military strike against the Syrian government. Obama has said he wants limited military action to respond to an attack in the Damascus suburbs last month that the U.S. says included sarin gas and killed at least 1,429 civilians, more than 400 of whom were children.
The looming vote over Obama's request is injecting foreign policy into the Senate race in Arkansas, which had been focused on domestic issues. Republicans believe they're poised to unseat Pryor by tying the lawmaker to Obama and his signature health care overhaul.
Challenging Pryor is Cotton, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He called for the U.S. to intervene in Syria while criticizing Obama's handling of the conflict.
As Pryor shook hands and greeted voters at a picnic for steelworkers in Texarkana, he expressed reservations about the U.S. entering the conflict. Pryor said he hasn't heard the president explain clearly what America's interest would be in striking Syria, or how it would measure success.
"I don't want to get into another situation like we've seen before where we get into one of these things and it's hard to measure if we're being successful or not," Pryor said. "I think the president needs to be very clear on that on the front end and I'm not satisfied in that area yet."
Glenn Lee, a retired worker at the Cooper Tire factory in Texarkana, said he was worried that the Syria conflict would just add to the economic and human toll that the nation has already seen from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"If you go into Syria, it's going to be the same deal," Lee said. "Our taxes will go up, our servicemen are going to go over and get killed. ... My opinion is leave them alone and let them fight it out themselves."
Cotton acknowledged the reservations many within the Republican and Democratic parties have about intervening but said he believes there's a clear national security interest.
"What I hope to do is encourage not just my colleagues to support action but also encourage the president to take effective and decisive action," Cotton said.
In Virginia, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he's inclined to support the president's request, though he does have some questions.
"I don't think we should allow the international norms against the use of chemical weapons against civilians to be violated," Kaine said. "There has to be a consequence for that."
U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte said his constituents have been asking about Syria, though he didn't mention it during a Labor Day speech after a parade in Buena Vista, Va.
Robert Breeden, who attended that parade, said he's worried about the effectiveness of a military attack after so long a delay. Breeden, 86, served a military career of 21 years that included the World War II invasion of Borneo in a Navy amphibious unit, and tours in the Marines and the Army, where he retired as a major in the Signal Corps.
U.S. forces have already forfeited any element of surprise, he said.
"We're the laughingstock of the world now," Breeden said. "If we were going to go in, he should have already done it. To drag this out now is just awkward."
Associated Press Writer Bob Lewis contributed to this report
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