Correction to This Article
The photo caption incorrectly described a picture of a chair from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, naval base as being in a room where "enhanced interrogation techniques" were used. The chair was in a room where Guantanamo detainees are interrogated and meet with their lawyers.

The Monday Fix: In One Poll, 54% Say Harsh Interrogations Were Justified

The "enhanced interrogation techniques" that were used in this room at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere have divided politicians and the public. (By Brennan Linsley -- Associated Press)
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By Chris Cillizza
Monday, May 18, 2009

Even as the debate over the treatment of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration continues to roil political Washington, a new poll conducted for Resurgent Republic suggests that the American people -- including politically critical independent voters -- by and large support the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" on suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

Asked whether such tactics were justified, 53 percent of the overall sample said they were and 34 percent said they were not. While Democrats strongly opposed the use of these controversial methods and Republicans strongly supported them, independent voters were slightly more divided than partisans of each side, with 51 percent expressing support for the tactics and 31 percent opposing them.

On the question of whether such techniques have yielded information that has made the country safer, 52 percent of all respondents said they had while 39 percent said they had not. Independents' views on the issue mirrored the overall sample, with 51 percent saying the tactics had made the country safer and 39 percent saying they had not.

"In driving this debate, the political left is driving a sharp divide between Democrats on the one hand and Republicans and Independents on the other," Resurgent Republic co-founders Ed Gillespie and Whit Ayres concluded in a memo detailing the poll's findings. The group is made up of Republican strategists.

Other polling conducted in recent weeks suggests a country far more divided. A CNN survey released earlier this month showed that six in 10 Americans believed waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" amounted to torture -- including 58 percent of independent voters.

Asked how they felt about the use of those methods, 50 percent approved and 46 percent disapproved. (Independents broke in favor of using the harsh methods by a 53 percent to 44 percent margin in the CNN poll.)

Republicans have hit the issue hard. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has made nearly a dozen floor speeches in opposition to the closing of Guantanamo Bay since the 111th Congress started. "McConnell's consistent and persistent messaging on Guantanamo has divided congressional Democrats and put President Obama on defense," argued GOP consultant Alex Conant.

It remains to be seen whether such a strategy can pay political dividends for Republicans as they are banking on whether Obama's policies have made America less safe. While national security appeals worked for Republicans early this decade, Democrats neutralized that argument as the Iraq war wore on and people grew more disenchanted with Republican decision making.

Turning Point for GOP?

Looking for a silver lining in the dark cloud that has hovered over Republicans' performance at the ballot box the last few years? Look no further than the U.S. House, where, after losing more than 50 seats in the last two elections combined, House Republicans will be on offense in 2010 with scads of potentially competitive seats held by Democrats to go after.

Modern political history should also buck up GOP House prospects. In all but one midterm election held in the first term of a president since 1970, the party out of the White House has picked up seats. (The exception was in 2002, when House Republicans netted eight seats -- an election shrouded by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.) In those other five elections, the president's party has on average lost 23 seats -- although that average is skewed by Republicans' 54-seat pickup in 1994.

Where should Fix followers look to see evidence of this potential Republican resurgence? Here's a look at the five races most likely to switch sides next November:

5. Alabama's 2nd District: Rep. Bobby N. Bright (D) won this decidedly conservative southern Alabama seat based on his strong ties to the district from his days as Montgomery mayor. But Bright also benefited from the historically high black turnout -- nearly three in 10 residents are African American -- that will almost certainly drop off in 2010. (It may not drop off as much as expected if Rep. Artur Davis, who is black, is the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.)

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