- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

The leader of the national Republican Party acknowledged for the first time yesterday what has been a growing concern of the GOP’s rank-and-file as well as elected officials for months — that the war in Iraq will be a major issue in President Bush’s attempt to win a second term next year.

Foreign policy is not normally a central issue in presidential elections, but it will be this time, along with jobs and voters’ perceptions about their economic well-being, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said.

Mr. Gillespie, who was chosen by Mr. Bush to be his party’s national chairman going into the 2004 presidential elections, said Republicans will go on the offense against critics, rather than playing defense. He said Republicans will draw “bright lines” of distinction between their “positive views” of America’s future and what he called the negative views of Democrats and the demonstrations of their supporters.

They will draw the battle lines on foreign policy between those who want to fight the war against terrorism on foreign shores and those who want to wait until it once again comes to America.

“When it comes to whether or not we are going to wage this war against terror in places like Kabul or Baghdad or be more likely to have it waged in places like Boston or Kansas, the American people understand the front line has become Iraq,” he said.

“We saw it again over the weekend, but that’s where it needs to be. We need to take this fight to them and we need to support our troops in that effort,” Mr. Gillespie said.

Democrats who voted against the president’s request for $87 billion to build a viable economy and political system in Iraq are the ones who will be put on the defensive, Mr. Gillespie said in a meeting with political reporters in his office at the party’s Capitol Hill headquarters.

“I think that those who voted against the $87 billion are going to be the ones who are in a position of having to explain that vote next year,” Mr. Gillespie said.

In a draft memo to Republican leaders, Mr. Gillespie said: “Last week a significant minority, including leading Democrats, moved to the left of Syria and France by opposing funding for troops and reconstruction in Iraq. Some Democrats seem to think we would be better off had an international coalition not removed Saddam Hussein from power.” The memo does not mention that some Republicans voted against the $87 billion.

The memo also makes clear Mr. Bush will not back away from his policy of pre-emptive war, even though some in his own party have registered discomfort.

“When it comes to winning the war against terror, the president’s critics are adopting a policy that will make us more vulnerable in a dangerous world,” the memo said. “Specifically, they now reject the policy of pre-emptive self-defense and would return us to a policy of reacting to terrorism in its aftermath.”

Asked whether the war issue weakens these Democrats or Mr. Bush more, Mr. Gillespie said, “The perception of what’s going on in Iraq will be important in how successful our efforts to help the Iraqis establish a democratic and stable regime that no longer poses a threat to the stability of the region or to our national security interests.”

In the draft memo obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Gillespie urges Republican leaders to point out that the Democratic Party’s share of the electorate is shrinking.

Citing Democratic pollster Mark Penn’s finding that “only 32 percent of voters now identify themselves as Democrats,” the memo said, “And as the Democratic Party becomes more liberal, elitist and angry, it gets smaller.”

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