Democrats would triumphantly pass the most sweeping antiwar legislation since the Vietnam War. But it had attracted just two Republican votes in the Senate and two in the House, not nearly enough to override a presidential veto.

The Democratic response was to threaten to bury their Republican foes at the polls.

New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the combative head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, gleefully touted plummeting GOP poll numbers. "They're going to have to break because they're going to have to look . . . extinction in the eye."

Democratic leaders now openly ridiculed compromise proposals from Republicans.

When Indiana Sen. Richard G. Lugar, a soft-spoken Republican and former Foreign Relations chairman, in late June made an earnest call for withdrawing troops, he got a visit from Bush's national security advisor within 48 hours. Democratic leaders ignored him and shut down debate on his proposal to require the Bush administration to submit a withdrawal plan.

Senior Democrats insisted the measure was too weak and would give Republicans political cover.

On the other side of the Capitol, Democrats were attacking their own. Hawaii's Abercrombie, a former Vietnam War protester, was shouted down at a meeting with fellow antiwar Democrats to discuss a similar bill he drafted.

"This was taken as a sign that suddenly I wasn't on the road to Damascus anymore. I had fallen from the true path," Abercrombie said. Pelosi, under pressure from the Out of Iraq caucus, prevented his bill from ever coming up for a vote.

A whiff of revenge

Many Democrats wrongly believed Republicans would break over the August recess when a well-funded antiwar campaign would target many in their districts. This heavy-handed approach had been a hallmark of the way Republicans had run Capitol Hill. Now, GOP lawmakers recoiled at the withdrawal timeline and the smash-mouth tactics.

No Democratic withdrawal measure ever won more than four GOP votes in the House or Senate.

By September, when Army Gen. David H. Petraeus gave Congress an upbeat report about diminishing violence, the Democratic legislative campaign against the war was effectively dead.

Today, Pelosi professes surprise that so few GOP lawmakers joined the Democratic antiwar effort. "I didn't foresee that," she said.

But neither she nor Reid express any regrets.

"We tried everything except yoga," Reid said recently, sitting by a fire in his office on the other side of the Capitol. "Republicans weren't looking for middle ground. . . . We felt we were on track with what the American people wanted."

But, the Congress that began 2007 with a relatively high 35% approval rating now rates just 22%, according to Gallup surveys.

"One of the many messages sent by voters in 2006 was that they were unhappy with the war in Iraq," said Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican. "Another message that was sent and not heard was that they were tired of partisan gridlock."

noam.levey@latimes.com