Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Will Voters Trust A Democrat With National Security?

Indiana's Sen. Evan Bayh Hopes To Find Out
For Howey Political Report April 13, 2006

Increasing pessimism about the future of Iraq has led many Democrats to think what seemed unthinkable not so long ago: Republicans may be vulnerable on the issue of national security.

Democratic prospects for mid-term elections improve as President Bush's ratings continue to tank in poll after poll. For the first time, a Pew survey last month found fewer than half believe success is probable in Iraq, and last week, three different polls found better than 60 percent said they disapprove of the president's handling of the war. A recent Fox News survey which stated three of every four surveyed agree Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein also found that more than half of respondents do not think U.S. efforts will produce "a free, stable government" and only one in three believe the U.S. will succeed in Iraq.

National security features prominently in Sen. Evan Bayh's message as he criss crosses the country to enlist support for a possible run at the White House in 2008. He says voters must be convinced Democrats will safeguard American interests if the party is to win back either branch of government.

"[T]his is the right issue for us to address because it's going to continue to be a threshold issue for the American people and particularly the Democratic party as we move forward," Sen. Bayh said during a press conference on the topic, conducted in Washington last week with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

An 'In-Your-Face-Taunt'

"Democrats smelling blood in November's elections had an in-your-face taunt for President Bush's political sage Karl Rove yesterday," was how the New York Daily News described Bayh's press conference under the heading "Dems spike security football in RNC's face."

While GOP leaders say they are unconcerned, Fox News reported Monday that voter worries about Iraq and the president's ability to conduct the war on terror could hurt party candidates at the polls.

"That's the great danger of the Republican candidates," Larry Sabato told Fox. "If the president's popularity is low come November, there will be a substantial turnover and the Republicans will lose seats."

For now it seems Bayh has convinced his party's leaders that Democrats can win the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans, though not everyone agrees on the substance of a plan to do so. At a media event in Washington on March 29, Democrats Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Gen. Wesley Clark, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and others (Bayh was absent) convened to announce a "Real Security" proposal they described as "smart and tough," a phrase Indiana's senator first inserted into speeches months ago.

Republicans countered that the opposition's plan was heavy on sound bites and light on substance, reiterating a message disseminated in large and small media markets across the country.

As he did last Friday at the Michigan Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in Detroit, Bayh is expected to continue to highlight security whenever he is among his party's faithful. Following an appearance Tuesday at Harvard Business School's Democrats Speakers series, he is slated to keynote the North Carolina J-J fete April 29.

What Was Right At The Time

Sen. Bayh also must work to overcome opposition to his ideas inside the party. The same polls that boosted Democratic hopes also served to re-invigorate those who protested the Iraq war from the beginning, and who are now pointing fingers at office-holders who supported the invasion. In a nearly 8,000-word interview recently conducted with the Washington Post Insider, Bayh was asked if he ever had any doubts about voting to invade Iraq.

"I did what I thought was right at the time based on the facts as I understood them at the time," Bayh said. "It turned out some of those facts weren't accurate, so of course you'd make different decisions."

The Insider pressed for details about how Bayh might approach the Iraq problem.

"I do think you'll see fewer American forces in Iraq at the end of this year than we did in the beginning with the prospect of even fewer the year after that," he said. "I would envision our involvement being a lot less patrolling the streets, providing security out in the communities, more confined to the kind of things they can't do for themselves; air coverage support, logistical support, those kinds of things.

"That's what [I would] envision us transitioning to here, hopefully sooner rather than later. But it's...got to be driven by reality as we understand it, not by our hopes alone."


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