Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman’s position on Iraq policy could be crucial not only to the fate of Democratic-sponsored proposals in the Senate to set a firm timeline for troop withdrawal, but also in determining how much of a favorite he is to win reelection in 2008.

Coleman has been one of the more critical GOP voices in the Senate on Bush’s Iraq War strategy, but mostly within the past half year; he has also not yet joined the ranks of Gordon Smith (R-OR) or Chuck Hagel (R-NE) who have called for a radical change to Bush’s policy.

Two days ago Coleman released a statement hinting that he may indeed defect from the GOP leadership in the near future:

“Congress mandated a report from the President by July 15th on the course of the Iraq War and the Iraqi government’s progress in meeting specific benchmarks and I intend to review it carefully. While understanding the urgent need to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq, I remain deeply concerned about the President’s strategy and for American troops caught in sectarian violence. Looking to the future, I believe we need a mission in Iraq that puts Iraqis in the forefront and focuses U.S. military involvement in a supportive role. To that end, I will continue to work with a bipartisan group of my colleagues as we consider Iraq policy this week in the Senate.”

Coleman has previously departed from Republican leadership on the Iraq war issue. In January 2007, Coleman opposed the President’s troop surge in Iraq: “I disagree with the President’s decision to provide a troop surge in Baghdad. My concern about a troop surge is compounded by the impact it will have on Minnesota National Guard troops in Iraq and their families here at home. I am extremely disappointed by the news that our National Guard soldiers in Iraq will have their tour of duty extended.”

In February 2007 Coleman was one of two Republicans who attempted to bust a filibuster and bring a nonbinding resolution on the Iraq war to a full debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The resolution would have stated the Senate’s disagreement with President Bush’s plan to increase the troop level in Iraq by 21,500.

However, in mid-March 2007, Coleman opposed the Democratic-led joint resolution calling for phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq within 4 months and a goal of complete redeployment by the end of March 2008.

As the Iraq war becomes more and more unpopular with Americans each month, pressures on Republican Senators—especially in battleground states like Minnesota—will mount, particularly so for those, like Coleman, who is up for reelection next year. Coleman’s support of a troop withdrawl deadline, however, is crucial for the Democrats to reach the 60-vote majority they need to prevent a Republican filibuster.