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Democrats Keep Up Security Push

Update, 5 p.m. ET: As an astute observer pointed out to us this afternoon, the Democratic National Committee is also working to neutralize the traditional Democratic disadvantage on security issues. Today, the DNC unveiled the Democratic National Veterans and Military Families Council (really rolls off the tongue, no?) . The organization is chaired by former DNC Chairman (and former Army reservist) Don Fowler and Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, the highest ranking woman in Army history. It will be composed of 28 other members from around the country, and its goal will be to help mobilize veteran voters and elect candidates to Congress who have served in the military.

Original post:

After unveiling their "Real Security" plan on Capitol Hill last week, congressional Democrats are seeking to stay on the offensive with a series of events designed to show they will not cede the issue to Republicans this fall.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) -- along with Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Senate candidates running in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Ohio -- unveiled polling data on Monday that showed Democrats with an edge over Republicans if homeland security and the war on terror were the only issues in the 2006 campaign.

The survey, which was conducted from March 24-28 by Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, asked: "Suppose for a moment that you were deciding your vote for Congress SOLELY on the question of who you trusted more to protect America's national security and have the right policies for combating terrorism. If this were the ONLY issue you were considering, would you be more likely to vote for a Democrat or a Republican?"

Forty-one percent of respondents said they would cast a vote for the a Democratic candidate, compared with 39 percent for a Republican. Fifteen percent said their decision depended on the candidate, while five percent said it made no difference or they were not sure. Among independent voters, 33 percent chose the Democrat compared to 23 percent siding with the generic Republican.

"The October surprise is going to be on the Republicans when they wake up and see Democrats have the advantage on national security," said Schumer at the event. "The Republican message on national security just doesn't resonate any more with the American people."

Recent independent polling has shown Democrats making up considerable ground on the question of which party is more trusted on security issues, a traditional electoral weak spot for the party. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in the field last month showed Republicans with a 45 percent to 41 percent edge on which party is better equipped to handle terrorism concerns -- a major slide from the summer of 2003 when Republicans held a wide 55 percent to 29 percent margin.

Bayh, who is weighing a 2008 presidential bid, has repeatedly called security a "threshold" issue for the Democratic Party, a sentiment he reiterated at the DSCC event. "If people don't trust us with their lives they're unlikely to trust us on anything," he said.

Pennsylvania Treasurer Bob Casey Jr., Rep. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and real estate developer Jim Pederson (Ariz.) sought to personalize the security issue for their individual Senate races.

Also on Monday, Rep. Jane Harman's (Calif.) Secure US political action committee and the Third Way organization hosted an all-day training seminar on national security policy in Washington. The training session brought 35 Democratic candidates to D.C., including top-tier challengers like former state Rep. Joe Courtney, who is taking on Rep. Rob Simmons (R) in Connecticut's 2nd District, and former Westport First Selectwoman Dianne Farrell, the Democratic nominee against Rep. Chris Shays (R) in Connecticut's 4th District. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Florida Sen. Bob Graham addressed the group.

Republicans publicly and privately remain extremely confident that voters will ultimately side with them if the 2006 elections turn into a referendum on security concerns. Much of that optimism is rooted in the GOP successes in the 2002 midterms and 2004 presidential election in which Republicans successfully painted their rivals as unable and unwilling to do everything necessary to protect Americans at home and abroad.

In 2002 those attacks centered on Democrats' alleged opposition to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security; two years later Republicans relentless reminded voters of John Kerry's "I voted for it before I voted against it" line to cast him as untrustworthy on national security, despite his service in Vietnam.

While acknowledging the efficacy of Republicans' attacks in elections past, Schumer insisted that much has changed due in large part to the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Dubai ports deal.

"There is a huge difference between 2004 and now," he said. "People [now] doubt the administration's competence."

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 5, 2006; 1:43 PM ET
Categories:  Democratic Party , House , Senate  
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