- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Terrorism threatens to dominate American politics in ways never imagined before September 11, with the outcome of the November congressional elections perhaps hinging on a last-minute warning of a major terror attack, the authors of a bipartisan poll said yesterday.
Even if the warning is real but is interpreted as a groundless "November surprise" sprung on the Democrats at the last minute, voters will lash out at Republicans, said Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake, who head the Battleground Poll.
"I guess [the media] probably would [interpret the warning as a political gimmick], whether it was true or not," Mr. Goeas told reporters.
"Voters will be looking a lot for interpretation, and the media would have a very big impact if there were a warning a couple of days before the election," Miss Lake said.
She and Mr. Goeas agreed that President Bush remained highly popular with voters because of his leadership in the war on terror, turning traditional electoral expectations upside down.
The president and the war on terrorism "are changing the dynamics of this election," said Mr. Goeas. "For many of us, we won't understand the impact until the election is over."
Miss Lake agreed. "We won't know if it's over because we've never seen anything like it before."
Voters in the president's party normally have lower turnout in nonpresidential election years like this one. As a result, the party holding the White House usually loses seats in Congress in midterm elections.
But the war and Mr. Bush's high job and personal approval ratings are creating unusual intensity among Republican voters, perhaps reversing the typical pattern.
Terrorism and the timing of a warning can create a serious political and moral dilemma for the Bush administration, the pollsters said.
"Voters would be looking to sort out whether this is political or real," Miss Lake said. "If they conclude for a second it's political, they'd be furious women in particular, because they are significantly more unnerved by terrorism than men. So you'd have a huge backlash with them."
Miss Lake said such a warning might hurt Republicans even without a backlash.
She said her reading of the June 9-11 Battleground Poll of 1,000 likely voters indicated that "a warning a couple of days out from an election" would "really convince voters that the president is going to be occupied for a long time with terrorism and foreign affairs."
That would lead voters to believe it is even more important to vote for the "right person" who will get their state moving, and get accomplished the domestic agenda items important to voters at all levels of government.
"I think that will help Democrats," she said.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, a terror attack would not create a tide for Republicans.
"It might indeed create a tide at the state and local level for Democrats," she said.
In Miss Lake's view, a terrorism warning just before the elections is a lose-lose situation for Republicans, because whether the press interprets it as phony or real, Democrats would benefit.
Mr. Goeas said it would be "extremely unfortunate" if the White House resisted issuing such a warning for fear of its election effect. He said he hopes the White House would not ponder the political effect of issuing such a warning but go ahead and issue it if necessary.
"I would trust that they would do the right thing and not the political thing," he said.
Mr. Goeas said the poll suggests the anniversary of September 11, less than two months before the elections, may raise emotions and split voters' attention at a time when the Democrats are trying to drive home their themes on Social Security, health care and prescription drug coverage.
Miss Lake said Mr. Bush's popularity may not boost Republican turnout in November because "voters are showing concerns about the expanding conflict abroad."
While a majority say the president has done a good job in Afghanistan, 53 percent believe he is "getting too involved in other countries without a clearly defined goal," she said.


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