Democrats chal­lenge Repub­li­cans on their cam­paign trump card: se­cu­rity

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joseph Curl

Democrats have de­cided to fight Pres­i­dent Bush this fall on his tra­di­tional turf — na­tional se­cu­rity — but the pres­i­dent and his fel­low Repub­li­cans run­ning in the mid-term con­gres­sional elec­tions hold an edge on the is­sue, which proved piv­otal in the last two cy­cles.

The two par­ties are split­ting the de­bate, with the pres­i­dent and Repub­li­cans press­ing for tools to fight ter­ror­ism abroad as they seek to ex­pand the is­sue to a global scale, and Democrats stay­ing closer to home, ar­gu­ing that the in­ter­na­tional war against ter­ror makes Amer­i­cans less safe.

“Ob­vi­ously we’ve beefed up air­port se­cu­rity in some ways, but as we’ve learned over the last week, not in ev­ery way that mat­ters,” said Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, NewYork Demo­crat. “We still have not done what we need to do to pro­tect our ports, our borders, our bridges, our tran­sit sys­tems, our rail lines — it’s a long list.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid of Ne­vada sig­naled that Democrats are pre­par­ing to take the bat­tle to the pres­i­dent, paint­ing Repub­li­cans as dis­tracted by world­wide ter­ror­ism and un­fo­cused on needs at home.

“Five years af­ter 9/11, the pres­i­dent still has not taken the nec­es­sary steps to pre­vent ter­ror­ists from tak­ing ex­plo­sives onto air­planes,” Mr. Reid said on Aug. 15. “Tom Kean and Lee Hamil­ton, the chair­man and vice chair­man of the 9/11 com­mis­sion, said this week that the Iraq war has de­pleted our re­sources and dis­tracted the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion from mak­ing home­land se­cu­rity a pri­or­ity.”

But the pres­i­dent has a built-in ad­van­tage. The foiled air­plane at­tacks have re­minded Amer­i­cans that he has a track record on na­tional se­cu­rity, and a ma­jor­ity, 55 per­cent, ap­prove of Mr. Bush’s han­dling of ter­ror­ism and home­land se­cu­rity. That is an 11-point boost since last May and the high­est rat­ing since early 2005, ac­cord­ing to a Newsweek poll taken af­ter the foiled ter­ror­ist at­tack in Lon­don.

In ad­di­tion, a CBS News poll con­ducted over the Aug. 12-13 week­end found that ter­ror­ism has re-emerged as a ma­jor is­sue for many Amer­i­cans: cited by 17 per­cent, up from 7 per­cent last month.

Since the ar­rests in Lon­don, the pres­i­dent has put the spot­light on his war against ter­ror. He put out state­ments and a week­end ra­dio ad­dress on the topic dur­ing his brief work­ing vacation in Craw­ford, Texas, and held a press con­fer­ence Aug. 14 at the State De­part­ment. On Aug. 15, he kept up the on­slaught by spend­ing much of the day meet­ing with top of­fi­cials at the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter in McLean, Va.

“Amer­ica is safer than it has been, but it’s not yet safe. The en­emy has got an ad­van­tage when it comes to at­tack­ing our home­land — they’ve got to be right one time, and we’ve got to be right a hun­dred per­cent of the time to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said.

But Phil Singer, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Na­tional Demo­cratic Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee, said Repub­li­cans “have a record to run from, not on.”

“Repub­li­can poli­cies have failed to sta­bi­lize Iraq, they’ve turned a blind eye to North Korea’s and Iran’s ef­forts to ac­quire nu­clear weapons, they’ve failed to se­cure ports, tran­sit sys­tems and borders. Ev­ery­thing they’ve tried to do has ei­ther made the sit­u­a­tion worse or sim­ply failed to ad­dress a key vul­ner­a­bil­ity,” he said.

Still, Repub­li­cans point out that Amer­i­cans have al­ways trusted their party more on na­tional se­cu­rity, and a de­bate just be­fore an elec­tion can only help them. Plus, they say, Democrats have spent the past two years fight­ing Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­forts to se­cure the home­land, and vot­ers will re­mem­ber that in Novem­ber.

“They have politi­cized many as­pects of the war on ter­ror since the last elec­tion. Reid bragged about killing the Pa­triot Act; they’ve ques­tioned the ter­ror­ist sur­veil­lance pro­gram; they politi­cized Abu Ghraib,” said Brian Nick, com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee. “All of th­ese things they’ve done cer­tainly scores them po­lit­i­cal points [. . .] with their base, which is the an­ti­war fringe left.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Bush played to what Repub­li­cans be­lieve will be their strong suit in the midterm elec­tion — na­tional se­cu­rity — with a visit on Aug. 15 to the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter in McLean, Va. From left are Fran Townsend, as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent for home­land se­cu­rity and coun­tert­er­ror­ism; John Ne­gro­ponte, di­rec­tor of na­tional intelligence; Gen. Michael V. Hay­den, di­rec­tor of the CIA; and Vice Adm. John “Scott” Redd, di­rec­tor of the cen­ter.

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