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Whether they voted or not — and many didn’t — U.S. servicemembers and civilians at Pacific military bases were not at a loss for opinions on what Tuesday’s midterm elections meant to themselves and the nation.

Most said they believe the administration’s handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was key in the minds of voters, who would vote for Republicans if they approved and Democrats if they wanted a change.

All interviews were conducted before Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced his resignation Wednesday.

“Voting is always a referendum on the way the ruling party is handling things,” said Ray Welch, 57, a retired Marine on Okinawa who now is the Pacific regional director of Advanced Programs for the University of Oklahoma.

As results continued to be broadcast late Wednesday at bases in Japan, South Korea and Okinawa, the Republican Party had lost its majority in the House and Democrats were within two still-undecided races in Virginia and Montana of gaining control of the Senate.

Senior Airman William Romero, 23, with the 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Osan Air Base, South Korea, said it appeared to him that “people are making a lot of their decisions” based on their opinions about Iraq and Afghanistan.

Said Tech. Sgt. Toby Nielson, 36, of the 374th Medical Support Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan: “For strong supporters of our military and the war in general, it won’t … factor in their voting.”

But the war wasn’t the only issue.

“I think this election was important,” said Okinawa Marine 1st Sgt. John Lightle, 39. “But although the media says it’s a mandate on the president and the war in Iraq, I voted mostly for local issues — governor and education reform and securing our border with Mexico.”

He said he voted because he “wanted to see things changed.”

“I think it’s good to have the Democrats control the House, it’s good for checks and balances,” Lightle said. “It’s always good to have fresh blood in there.”

Yokota West Elementary School Principal Lee Kirsch, 63, said the election will “be taken as a referendum on the president.” But it has “a lot more to do than just the war on terror. There have been other policies that have been botched — Katrina and others — that would seem to indicate that a change is necessary.”

Army 2nd Lt. Dawn Sverak, 24, with the Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, said even if voters saw the election as a referendum on the war, “I think we need to keep in consideration other things like education, taxes, the economy.”

Airman 1st Class Joseph Wellman, 21, of Yokota’s 730th Air Mobility Squadron, said he’s not certain Tuesday’s vote sends any message about President Bush’s performance in the war. But whatever the outcome, he said, America would remain vulnerable to the threat of Islamic terrorism.

“I believe the election is going to affect the way the war on terror goes in the future,” Wellman said. “But I really can’t say for certain what’s going to happen. The threat still exists, though.”

Stars and Stripes reporters David Allen, Franklin Fisher, Vince Little and Erik Slavin contributed to this report.


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