- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

There is strong public support for taking military action to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power an issue that could help the Republicans by wiping the Democrats' election-year domestic agenda off the political radar screen.
At a time when the Democrats are having trouble getting political traction in their campaigns on social welfare issues like prescription drug costs and Social Security, President Bush's call for a congressional debate on a resolution to overthrow Saddam threatens to drown out any discussion of the top items on the Democratic Party's domestic agenda.
"The Democrats demanded this debate, and sadly for them, they got what they demanded," said Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
"You can only talk about one thing at a time. It obviously blurs the Democratic effort to focus on domestic issues," Mr. Luntz said.
"Our members are so concerned that that's all they'll talk about. The concern is legitimate, but politically it's very dangerous if that's all they talk about," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
However, many Democrats and some political analysts see Mr. Bush's move to seek House and Senate approval for a war against Iraq little more than eight weeks before the Nov. 5 elections as a calculated political tactic to help the Republican Party hold on to the House and regain the Senate.
"That's part of the game plan on the part of Bush and the Republicans. Anything that plays to a perceived strength of the president and the Republicans is something that they will try to utilize. They get higher marks for national security than the Democrats," said pollster John Zogby.
"But why now? Has there been an audacious move by Hussein that has caused the president to come out now? Have they found new evidence of chemical weapons? They haven't said so. Would I suggest a [political] motivation? Sure I'd suggest it," Mr. Zogby said.
The war debate would take place in the pivotal weeks when Democratic leaders want to focus on issues that play to their base and swing voters, including the economy and jobs. Republican leaders have said the debate will be long, perhaps four weeks or more, and likely will dominate national media coverage of the midterm November elections.
It is a debate that the White House does not expect to lose because many Democrats do not want to go into the final days of the elections appearing soft on national security issues and the war against terrorism.
"The president says we have clear evidence [of Saddam's development of weapons of mass destruction]. If he does, then it definitely could become a liability for Democrats to oppose him," said Carl Forti, chief spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Several polls in recent weeks show that a strong majority of voters support Mr. Bush's call for military action to remove Saddam from power.
A Los Angeles Times poll last week found that 59 percent support military action against Iraq, with 29 percent opposed and 12 percent who were unsure.
The Gallup Poll at the end of last month reported that 53 percent supported "sending American ground troops to the Persian Gulf in an attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq."
Another poll last week by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed 64 percent favored "taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein's rule."
However, many of these pollsters noted that support for going to war to bring down Saddam's regime and install a friendly government has declined sharply since the end of last year.
"There is less support now because the aura of 9/11 has worn off and we are no longer in an us-versus-them mood. But it's going to come back a little this week as we commemorate the one-year anniversary. You will see a rekindling of the 'get them' approach," Mr. Luntz said.
"Americans believe that the fight against terrorism should be proactive, not reactive. The final step here for Bush is to prove that this is prevention," he said.
Still, recent polls have shown the White House that a strong majority of voters will be behind Mr. Bush as he and his advisers make their case for military action to Congress and the American people in the coming weeks.
"To the extent the public has reached a conclusion, the Pew Center data suggest that American support for military action against Iraq is solid but tempered by other concerns," said Lee Feinstein, a senior fellow at the center.
One-third believe the United States should not take action without the support of U.S. allies, and 56 percent said Mr. Bush "should use force only if Congress favors a confrontation," Mr. Feinstein said.

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