But even if nothing he once believed about the threat of Iraq holds true, he feels deep in his gut that his brother died for a worthwhile cause - helping to take down a dictator, plant the seeds of democracy and bring a better life to the Iraqi people.

"We've already succeeded in that," says Eddie, the oldest of the three Wright boys, whose father spent 20 years in the Army. "Jimmy believed in what he was doing. I know he did."

Nothing has energized or seized the attention of voters in this presidential election year as fiercely as the war in Iraq. And nothing has split the electorate this year as much as the war in Iraq.

Passions about President Bush's decision to take the country to war have raged on both sides as Iraq has largely dominated the political dialogue at every level - from the candidate debates down to neighborly (or not so neighborly) chit chat at the corner barbershop.

Protests have revolved around the war. The anti-Bush, anti-war documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 became an unlikely box office hit. Books about Bush's decision to go to war have lingered on best-seller lists.

And nowhere is the split so profound, so raw, so emotional as among the families of those who lost their lives or have been wounded in Iraq.

Both of them middle-class Catholic families where cats roam the house and family photos dress up the walls, the Wright and Wilkins families of Ohio have much in common - especially a level of grief that most of their friends and neighbors will never know.

But their viewpoints about the war - and the president who decided the war was necessary - couldn't be further apart.

One of Eddie Wright's most prized possessions now is a letter from Bush, in response to a letter of support he wrote to the president. It is framed and sitting on the dresser by his bed, along with his brother's medals.

"That means a lot to me," he says. "I'm sure his secretary typed it, but he did sign it. You can see that it was signed and not a photocopy signature."

A presidential letter of condolence did little to assuage Natalie Wilkins' heartbreak. The day it arrived, she noted, Bush was campaigning in Columbus not far from her home. "A phone call, a visit, even for five minutes, would have been better," says her daughter Lorin.

Natalie looks to another possession for comfort. "The most valuable thing I have is my vote," the Democrat says. "And I do intend to vote."

Even as they feel the effects of the war more than most, the two families in this most coveted battleground state are in many ways representative of the near 50-50 split in the nation over the war.

Polls have shown a slow but steady increase over the past year and a half in the percentage of Americans who think going to war with Iraq was a mistake, peaking at more than 50 percent during the summer and decreasing slightly since then.

What's more, black voters, like the Wilkinses, tend to be far more opposed to the war than white voters, with 76 percent of blacks believing the war was a mistake, compared with 42 percent of whites, according to a Gallup poll last month.

Both presidential candidates have struggled mightily to make the war a winning issue for them. Bush has had to justify the increasingly costly, bloody and chaotic situation in Iraq as his original reasons for the action - that Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and was connected to al-Qaida - did not prove true.

What's more, his optimistic prediction of a free, democratic Iraq has been hard for many to reconcile with an unrelenting and violent insurgency, daily accounts of car bombs, kidnappings and beheadings.

The president's efforts to make the Iraq war synonymous with his "war on terror," Sept. 11 and al-Qaida have had some success. About 40 percent of Americans, like the Wright family, believe Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, even though inquiries have proven otherwise.

"Two years and seven days later, because of what happened there," Eddie says of Sept. 11, "my brother died. I firmly believe there had to be ties."

For his part, Democrat John Kerry has had trouble delivering a muscular blow to Bush over his handling of Iraq, in part because the senator voted in 2002 to give the president the authority to use force there. Complicating his case further, Kerry said in August that, even knowing what he now knows about Iraq, he still would have voted to authorize military action.