GOP Race Strategy: Terror Down The Homestretch genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Finish line

In the few days that remain during this legislative session, the GOP plans to focus almost exclusively on issues involving national security and terrorism...a move intended to raise doubt among voters about the willingness or ability of the Democrats to keep Americans safe.

While many political strategists and a number of pundits believe the Republican Party is destined for defeat in November...and they may well be right...the truth of the matter is that the GOP has just launched its final push to win voter support...and that campaign has historically proven to be a formidable obstacle to Democratic success. The Washington Post has the details of the GOP agenda here.

With Senate and House leaders hoping to adjourn by Sept. 29, Congress will have as few as 15 legislative days to finish its work and try to send members on the campaign trail with fresh accomplishments to tout.

If Republicans succeed in the weeks that follow, their accomplishments will be focused on national security. Republican leaders hope to complete a defense spending bill, a defense policy bill, legislation to give Congress's blessing to the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program and to bring the president's military tribunals into constitutional compliance, and a port security overhaul.

Democrats will counter with maneuvers to push for a vote of no confidence on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and with multiple calls to fully implement the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

I expect Republicans to repeat over and over calls for Democrats to offer alternatives in addition to merely positioning themselves as the beneficiary of voter dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. To make that point, the GOP will ask voters to consider whether their frustration with the handling of the Iraqi war is sufficient grounds to make a hasty exit from the troubled region. They will seek to portray the Democrats actions as politically motivated rather than being willing to acknowledge and confront the difficult tasks that the war on terror will continue to present.

To make their point they will ask voters to define the Democratic Party position on the war in Iraq and the war on terror...all the while asserting that the Democrats only plan is to exploit voter dissatisfaction for political gain...leaving Americans vulnerable to terrorism and without a comprehensive national security agenda.

Democrats believe the national security theme will not have the sting it had in 2002 and 2004. A Newsweek poll last month found that 44 percent of those surveyed trusted Republicans to handle the effort against terrorism, at home and abroad, compared with 39 percent who trusted Democrats. In 2002, Republicans led on that question, 47 percent to 24 percent.

Republicans hope to force Democrats into difficult votes on the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program and on the Bush administration's plans to use military tribunals to try terrorism suspects.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said he fully expects Republicans to go back to the political playbook that worked so well in the past two elections. But he added: "They've run that play one too many times."

The other problem for Republicans is finishing work on legislation. Republican leaders would like to quickly bring to a vote a bill that would give Bush as much latitude as possible to continue what they call the terrorist surveillance program -- then dare Democrats to oppose it.

The problem with Reid's comment is one found in a football analogy. Some teams use a playbook filled with plays designed to create deceptions in order to allow the team to move down the field. However, some teams, mindful of their ability to execute, simply keep running the plays that have brought success and daring the opposition to stop them or come up with a scheme that can effectively undermine the execution.

Not unlike a football game, voters are in the position to gauge the potential of each side to succeed. That process involves evaluating the game plans of both teams before placing ones bet (vote). The fact that most people bet on the favorite cannot be ignored. Many people like to see the long shot win the game or the horse race...but they rarely bet on that outcome absent tangible evidence.

The Democrats may be the sentimental favorite as voters may have grown tired of seeing the frontrunner run the table over and over...but if switching ones bet is predicated upon personal safety (terrorism), it may well mean voters will enter the ballot box and choose the Party that has a track record of winning even though they may not like the way that Party has executed the race.

This midterm election may turn out to be a Seabiscuit moment...but the GOP and their "War Admiral", George Bush, a "Man O'War"...may be an all too terrifying obstacle.

Daniel DiRito | September 4, 2006 | 8:31 AM
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