Democrats, wary of a backlash against strong antiwar comments by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean are split over just how far they should go.

Such a party split could easily derail the party’s plans to try and recapture Congress in the 2006 midterm election by turning public opposition to the war into a debate over which party is stronger on the nation’s defense.

Several Democrats rebuked Dean’s Monday statement that “the idea that we’re going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong.”

“Dean’s take on Iraq makes even less sense than the scream in Iowa: Both are uninformed and unhelpful,” said Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), recalling Dean’s famous election-night roar after stumbling in Iowa during his 2004 presidential bid.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking House Democratic leader, have told colleagues that Pelosi’s recent endorsement of a speedy withdrawal, combined with her claim that more than half of House Democrats support her position, could backfire on the party, congressional sources said, The Washington Post reported today.

The two leaders worry Pelosi is playing into Bush’s hands by suggesting Democrats are the party of a quick pullout — an unpopular position in many of the most competitive House races.

“What I want Democrats to be discussing is what the president’s policies have led to,” Emanuel said. He added that once discussion turns to a formal timeline for troop withdrawals, “the how and when gets buried” and many voters take away only an impression that Democrats favor retreat.

Pelosi last week endorsed a plan by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) to withdraw all U.S. troops in Iraq within six months, putting her at odds with most other Democratic leaders and leading foreign policy experts in her party.

More from the Washington Post.