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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.
Some Call It Torture. In One Poll, Most Call It Justified.

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.)

4. New Hampshire's 1st District: Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) was an accidental winner in 2006 -- caught up in a Democratic wave in the Granite State -- but, to her credit, she realized her vulnerability in 2008 and brought in a professional team of political advisers. Still, she won with less than 52 percent. Republicans convinced Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta to jump into the 2010 race and are optimistic that he is a rising star.

3. Maryland's 1st District: Rep. Frank M. Kratovil Jr. (D) benefited from a perfect political storm in 2008. Conservative state Sen. Andy Harris defeated longtime moderate Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in a Republican primary and Gilchrest, upset with the loss and the GOP's direction, endorsed Kratovil. In the general election, a Libertarian candidate siphoned off more than 8,000 votes, more than enough to hand Kratovil a 1,800-vote victory. Harris is back for a rematch.

2. Idaho's 1st District: Rep. Walt Minnick (D) ran a solid campaign, but it's hard to imagine him having won this seat if not for the ineptitude of then-Rep. Bill Sali, a hard-right Republican who managed to alienate even his congressional allies. Minnick raised $394,0000 in the first three months of 2009 but the Democrat could do everything right and still lose.

1. Louisiana's 2nd District: This majority-minority district in New Orleans (the 2000 census found that almost 64 percent of its residents were black) is among the oddest stories of campaign 2008. Voters, clearly fed up with the ethical problems of Rep. William J. Jefferson (D), opted for an unknown Republican, Anh "Joseph" Cao, in a December runoff. This is an almost impossible hold for Cao and the GOP, as President Obama won 74 percent of the vote in the district.

Players

Anthony V. Carbonetti, longtime political consigliere to Rudolph W. Giuliani, is leaving Giuliani Partners to serve as a senior adviser to Home Depot founder Ken Langone and set up a consulting business with longtime Republican strategist Chris Henick. "We have started a company to utilize our experience in government and national politics to provide strategic advice to corporations and individuals," said Carbonetti. He and Henick worked on Giuliani's unsuccessful presidential bid last year and are almost certain to be involved if the former New York mayor decides to run for governor in 2010. A decision is expected this fall.

1 DAY: The Fix co-moderates a debate at Northern Virginia Community College among the three Democrats -- former Democratic National Committee chairman Terence R. McAuliffe, former state delegate Brian Moran and state Sen. Creigh Deeds -- vying to be the next governor of the Old Dominion.

22 DAYS: Virginia voters head to the poll to pick which of the trio will face off against former attorney general Robert F. McDonnell (R) this fall.

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