The Political Impact

Both Parties Claim Edge as Terror Is Reinforced as a Campaign Topic

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By Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 11, 2006

Democrats and Republicans alike rushed to invoke yesterday's terrorist scare in Britain in congressional campaigns, underscoring how a series of national-security-related developments are refocusing and sharpening the political debate three months before the midterm elections.

Campaigning in Connecticut, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, who lost Tuesday's Democratic primary and is now running as an independent, said the antiwar views of primary winner Ned Lamont would be "taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England."

Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Republican Senate candidate in Minnesota, used the alleged plot as a campaign wedge only hours after it was disclosed.

"The arrests this morning in Great Britain make it clear that now, more than ever, this is an ongoing battle and we need leaders in Washington who remain committed to doing what is right instead of what may be seen as politically advantageous," he said. To amplify the point, Kennedy endorsed Lieberman over the GOP candidate in the race, Alan Schlesinger.

President Bush offered a similar line, in more understated language, while in Green Bay, Wis., to campaign for a Republican candidate.

"This country is safer than it was prior to 9/11," Bush said with Air Force One behind him. "We've taken a lot of measures to protect the American people. But obviously we're still not completely safe, because there are people that still plot and people who want to harm us for what we believe in."

In what was an apparent reference to this year's controversies over the administration's surveillance programs, Bush told reporters: "It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America. And that is why we have given our officials the tools they need to protect our people."

The alleged plot -- with its parallels to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- was the latest in a series of events reshaping the campaign in unpredictable ways. In the past five weeks, Israel went to war with Hezbollah, Bush's top generals warned that Iraq is closer than ever to civil war and Lamont ousted Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary.

The events have emboldened Democrats to challenge Bush more forcefully on national security issues, especially Iraq.

"This latest plot demonstrates the need for the Bush administration and the Congress to change course in Iraq and ensure that we are taking all the steps necessary to protect Americans at home and across the world," said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

At the same time, the events have clarified the Republican strategy to make terrorism and the war the backdrop for the battle for Congress. Both sides argue that they have the edge in this fight.

"It brings all those realities home and brings back some of the memories of 9/11 that got us into the war on terrorism in the first place," said Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.


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