- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 9, 2001

The terror attacks and the U.S. military response have turned the political landscape upside down for 2002.
Democrats acknowledge that some of their most viable candidates are bailing out in the aftermath of the attacks and that the issues focus has switched to favor Republicans. Politics is suddenly impolitic.
The press seems to agree.
"Democrats See Their Chances Take Turn for the Worse," said a headline in the twice-weekly newspaper Roll Call. "Dem hopes suffer new setback," said a headline in the weekly Hill newspaper.
Indeed, before the shock of Sept. 11, Republicans privately were pessimistic. Conventional wisdom said Democrats were favored in the 2002 elections because:
A president's party tends to lose an average of seven House and two Senate seats in midterm elections. President Bush is a Republican. Democrats already control the Senate by one vote and are only eight seats short of the 218-seat House majority.
Voters tend to punish a president's party for a sick economy. The economy already was sick, and the Sept. 11 attacks made it sicker.
The Democrats' strongest issues were preserving the Social Security surplus, the patients' bill of rights and prescription drugs for the elderly. These were front and center on the agenda. Strong Republican issues like national defense, intelligence gathering and public safety were not.
But then came Sept. 11, and now America is in a shooting war with terrorism.
"It takes issues like the Social Security 'lockbox' off the table, and puts national defense and intelligence on the table," National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia said in an interview.
Robert Gibbs, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman, said that "with [Sept. 11] comes a tremendously security-heavy agenda, instead of the one dominated by our strong issues like prescription drugs, guarding the Social Security trust fund, the budget surplus, environment and education."
Republicans agree. "Clearly, what's changed is the issues matrix, the whole dynamics of the economy," said Mr. Davis.
Can success in the war on terrorism and continuing high popularity for Mr. Bush overcome the problems Republicans would face if the economy has not fully recovered by November 2002?
"Of course, that can trump a bad economy," Mr. Davis replies.
"But it will depend on the whole mood of voters in terms of their fears and concerns," he said.
"I can foresee a dozen different scenarios. We can't know what the effect will be. We don't know how people will be feeling next year."
Some Democrats argue that the national political agenda is no less in flux than life itself, with or without terrorism and war.
"One thing Sept. 11 proved when it comes to patriotism, there is no room for partisanship," said Jenny Backus, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Having said that, I don't agree that our issues will be off the table.
"It's not terrorism or the economy it's both," said Miss Backus. "The American people want leaders who address economic security, national security and health security."
But then why are some top-rated Democratic candidates changing their minds and not challenging Republicans, while some Republican incumbents are changing their minds about retiring?
Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, reversed himself after Sept. 11 and said he will seek re-election. Democrats' best hope to defeat him, former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall, told friends he won't challenge Mr. Thompson.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, cited the attacks as a reason for deciding not to challenge Republican Sen. Gordon H. Smith.
Mr. Gibbs, the Senate Democratic campaign spokesman, thinks it "understandable" that popular Democrats like former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman in Kansas and retired Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy in Virginia have decided not to seek Senate seats next year.
"Kennedy talked about losing friends at the Pentagon," Mr. Gibbs said. "For her, politics was just not on the front burner after [Sept. 11]. And Glickman didn't have the fire in his belly after [the terrorist attacks] to run for the Senate," said Mr. Gibbs.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide