Public opinion surveys in the United States suggest the Republican Party could lose control of one or both houses of Congress in the upcoming midterm election on November seventh. The poll numbers are driven in part by voter perceptions of President Bush's handling of security issues. Mr. Bush is making a series of major speeches on terror and the war in Iraq. VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports these issues are expected to play an important role in the upcoming vote.
President Bush told an audience in suburban Atlanta, Georgia Thursday that the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks revealed gaps in America's national defense. Mr. Bush said the country is safer today because of his administration's policies.
"We are safer because we've taken action to protect the homeland. We are safer because we are on offense against our enemies overseas. We're safer because of the skill and sacrifice of the brave Americans who defend our people."
On August 30th, the day before he began the current round of speeches, President Bush was asked if they would impact the midterm election. "They're speeches about the future of this country,” he said. “And they're speeches to make it clear that, if we retreat before the job is done, this nation will become even more in jeopardy. These are important times, and I seriously hope people wouldn't politicize these issues that I'm going to talk about.
Opposition Democrats say the president does just that when he suggests that critics of his terror and Iraq policies are weak on national security. They also reject the president's claim that Iraq is central to winning the war on terror.
Retired general Wesley Clark competed for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. He says Iraq is a major strategic blunder. "It's for America to face the facts. Invading Iraq was an unnecessary war. It distracted us from what we were trying to accomplish in Afghanistan. And it's been counterproductive in winning the war on terror."
Public opinion polls support the general's statement. Surveys indicate more than 60 percent of Americans questioned disapprove of the president's handling of the war in Iraq. His anti-terrorism policies fare better, with support hovering at about 50 percent.
But Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says domestic economic and social concerns make security a pivotal issue for the Republicans. "They don't have [success on reducing] gas prices. They can't do much with Medicare prescription drugs. All they've got going for them is the slight, very slight edge in dealing with terrorism."
Democrats need a gain of 15 seats to take control of the House of Representatives and six in the Senate. Chuck Todd is the editor of "The Hotline," a political weblog. He says the political fortunes of both parties depend on the voters' mood on Election Day.
"If the voter goes into the polls thinking about Iraq then Democrats will have a big night. If voters are going to the polls and thinking about terrorism then Republicans have a fighting chance," he says.
Republicans are expected to highlight terrorism in the fall campaign. The pro-Republican grassroots organization Progress for America has already launched a national cable television advertising campaign to focus on the issue.