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Wall St. Journal: Dems Gaining on National Security

The Wall St. Journal caps a particularly bad week for Republicans with a page one article in today's issue by Jackie Calmes, "Republican Advantage on Issue Of National Security Erodes." It's a fairly thorough wrap-up of recent developments on the topic, with very little that offers comfort to the GOP. Calmes sets the stage thusly:

The public's patience has frayed as the Iraq war grows bloodier in its fourth year, eroding confidence in Mr. Bush's stewardship of national security. Mismanagement of the response to Hurricane Katrina contributed. Democrats, having ceded the security issue to Republicans in the past, now are on the offensive. They're attacking the administration's competence at home and abroad and fielding candidates with military experience.

Democrats are also pressing an argument opposite to the president's: that Iraq isn't central to the broader war on terror but distracts from it, and breeds more terrorists. How voters ultimately decide on that issue is "one of the most important dynamics of this election," says Republican pollster David Winston.

Calmes cites recent polls giving the Dems a three-point advantage on which party can most effectively deal with Iraq, a 27-point gain for Dems in less than two years, as well as a nine-point lead in handling foreign affairs. Calmes notes that the Republicans still have a 24 point advantage on "insuring a strong national defense," but that too is way down.

The article points out that Republicans have more money, as usual, but they are "spending millions to defend seats they thought would be safe, leaving them strapped for helping their challengers running against Democratic incumbents." In addiiton to Iraq, other issues driving the trend favoring Democrats include corruption, economic insecurity, soaring gas prices, record federal spending and an "anti-incumbent mood."

The GOP has identified several specific national security issues, which they believe still give them an advantage, according to Calmes. In the nine weeks remaining before the election, Republican strategists will seek congressional debate and votes on strengthening federal surveillance and prosecutory powers, detainment of suspected terrorists and electronic eavesdropping without warrants. But it will be difficult for Republicans to gain ground in light of current trends, as Calmes explains:

Most simply put, time has worn the public's patience on Iraq -- and with it the Republicans' edge on security issues. With Democrats noting that the war soon will exceed the length of U.S. involvement in World War II, and with Iraq on the verge of sectarian civil war, the unpopularity of the war has become the year's central issue. Not since March 2004 has a Journal/NBC poll shown that a majority believed the Iraq invasion was worth the cost and casualties. Now polls consistently show a majority thinking the war was a mistake. Majorities favor troop reductions, though not immediate withdrawal. Two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush's handling of foreign policy, and of Iraq specifically.

Even the GOP "cut and run" critique has been undermined by a growing chorus of Republicans withdrawing their support of the Administration's Iraq policies and Calmes quotes key conservatives expressing doubts about continuing US occupation of Iraq.

Despite the Democrats internal disagreements on national security issues, it appears that Dems may well have the edge on on this all-important issue on November 7. And when the nation's leading conservative newspaper acknowledges this trend, that is good news indeed.