- The Washington Times - Friday, September 29, 2006

It’s no surprise that President Bush has returned to talking about the war on terror — for the past four weeks, his approval ratings have steadily risen as he delivered a series of speeches tying Iraq to the broader war on terror and demanding that Congress give him tools to fight the war.

The average of the most recent public polls puts Mr. Bush with a 42 percent approval rating — far from stellar heading into an election, but better than the lower-than-38 percent rating he averaged at the end of August, just before his major blitz of speeches on the war on terror.

Mr. Bush talks about the war on terror frequently — including a biting attack on Democrats at a fundraiser in Alabama yesterday — but the White House said the recent series of speeches was designed to cut through day-to-day matters and give the president a chance to get across some specific points.

“The speeches help crystallize the philosophical choice that Americans are facing, not just in the midterm election but every day, as they think about the war on terror. You cannot remind people enough about the nature of the enemy, the challenges we face as a nation, the patience and resolve it is going to require,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

Beginning in Salt Lake City on Aug. 31 at the American Legion and ending with his Sept. 19 address to the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Bush laid out a more complete picture of al Qaeda, using quotes from terrorist leaders, and demanded that Congress give him tools such as wiretapping authority to go after terrorists. He also challenged both Americans and people worldwide to accept that the battle against terrorism is the major ideological struggle of this century.

One senior administration official said Republicans started to benefit with Sen. Joe Lieberman’s primary loss to an anti-Iraq war Democrat in Connecticut in early August and then continued with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s speech to the American Legion two days before Mr. Bush’s, which cautioned against repeating the 1930s mistakes of appeasement.

“What they all did together was the perfect storm, which was it set a clear definition between each side in this election,” the official said, adding that it stiffened Republicans’ spines while leaving Democrats searching. “The Rumsfeld speech was effective because it spooked them, made them overreact and made them walk around and say ‘I’m not an appeaser.’”

Driving Mr. Bush’s rise in the polls has been a steady increase in support among Republicans — from 76 percent approval in early August to 87 percent now, according to the Fox News poll.

But that also means he is not winning over Democrats or independents, whom Republicans will need in November’s election, said Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Independents and Democrats are united against Republicans in the House and the president,” Mr. Burton said.

Democrats also doubt that Mr. Bush’s improved numbers will help Republican House and Senate candidates and point to polls that show approval for the Republican-led Congress still below 30 percent. Democrats also hold a lead of about 10 percentage points when voters are asked generally whether they plan to vote for a Democrat or Republican for Congress this year.

Mr. Burton said Democrats are using the newly declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to poke holes in Mr. Bush’s terror argument and to fire back at Republicans who are using Mr. Bush’s arguments on the campaign trail. He pointed to Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, where Democratic challenger Chris Murphy is using the NIE’s assessment of Iraq against Republican incumbent Nancy L. Johnson.

Still, Republicans said Mr. Bush has dominated the news cycles this month, dictated the congressional agenda and crowded out Democrats’ message. With a packed campaigning schedule, they expect that momentum to continue.

“The more people know about these priorities, and the more they hear from the White House, the more they support the president. This is clearly not the ‘new direction’ his opponents were looking for,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

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