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Cheney: free elections in the US embolden "Al Qaeda types."
NY Times
August 11, 2006

Republicans seized on the arrests of terrorism suspects in Britain yesterday to bolster a White House campaign to turn national security issues to their advantage this fall, arguing that the nation needs tough Republican policies to protect Americans from threats from abroad.

Officials in both parties said they viewed the arrests as critical in determining how they would approach the fall campaign, with Republicans saying it could be a turning point in a year in which they have been on the defensive over the war in Iraq and other issues.

The developments played neatly into the White House-led effort, after Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, lost on Tuesday to an antiwar primary challenger, to remind voters of the threats facing the nation and to cast Democrats as timid on national defense.

The arrests were announced less than 24 hours after Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republican officials suggested that Mr. Lieberman's defeat reflected the world view of a Democratic Party that was not prepared to lead the nation in such dangerous times.

Mr. Cheney, who a spokesman said had been kept abreast of the investigation, suggested in his remarks Wednesday that the outcome of a Democratic primary in Connecticut could embolden "Al Qaeda types."

Republicans, facing tough midterm elections — and with a history, as Democrats noted, of spotlighting terrorist threats in election seasons — used the news from England to try to pound home their message that they were doing everything possible to keep the nation safe. Mr. Bush strode off Air Force One to television cameras to declare that the United States was safer from terrorist attacks than it was before Sept. 11, 2001, but remained in danger.

On Capitol Hill and in states where Republicans are facing tough re-election battles, party officials applauded the arrests by the British authorities as evidence of the administration's policies in fighting terrorism, and suggested that Americans might take a cue from the tougher antiterrorism statutes Britain has enacted. In line with their efforts to keep the election from being a referendum on Mr. Bush and instead make it a choice between two distinct approaches to national security and other issues, they used the arrests to portray Democrats as weak.

"Defeatocrats!" declared a statement issued by office of the House majority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, capturing the tone of Republican rhetoric as the news unfolded.

The Ohio Republican chairman, Bill Bennett, attacked Representative Sherrod Brown, the Democratic challenger to Senator Mike DeWine, for voting against some intelligence bills, "the very types of programs that helped the British thwart these vicious attacks."

In a sign of how the terrorism issue was roiling American politics, Mr. Lieberman echoed Mr. Cheney as he attacked his primary opponent, Ned Lamont, for his opposition to the war. He said Mr. Lamont's desire to withdraw troops from Iraq would result in victory for Islamic extremists.

At the very least, the arrests in Britain were viewed by both parties as something of an August surprise, the kind of event that can change the story line of a campaign. The critical question now is the extent to which the fall campaign will be fought over the war in Iraq, something Republicans would like to avoid at all costs, or the overall campaign on terror, the only major issue where Republicans have consistently held an advantage over Democrats.

But in a sign of how this campaign might be different, Democrats struck a tone notably different from the elections of 2004 and 2002, when for the most part their strategy was to try to turn the subject away from national security. This time, Democrats attacked Republicans as failing to improve airline security and, most of all, argued that the decision to invade Iraq had been a distraction that depleted United States resources and allowed the world to become more dangerous.

"The war in Iraq had nothing to do with the war against international terrorism, or very little to do with the war on terrorism," said James Webb, a former Reagan administration official running as a Democratic candidate for Senate in Virginia. "It has distracted our attention, it has pulled our forces in, and we are now in a situation where we have 135,000 on the ground, which affects our ability to do a lot of things that we would be able to do otherwise."

Mr. Webb said one of his main tasks in trying to unseat Senator George Allen, a Republican, was to try to disentangle Iraq from the war on terrorism. "They have tried to keep it together — they have to make it one in people's minds in order to cover the strategic error of Iraq," he said in an interview.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said, "This latest plot demonstrates the need for the Bush administration and the Congress to change course in Iraq and ensure that we are taking all the steps necessary to protect Americans at home and across the world."

Republicans have successfully portrayed Democrats as weak on terrorism for two national elections in a row. Still, before this threat, Democrats showed signs that they were viewing problems in Iraq and the unpopularity of the war as ways of undermining Republicans on their signature issue. And some Republicans were concerned that the party might not be able to go to the well on national security a third time.

Republicans have become increasingly alarmed that the war might drag down incumbents. A senior Republican consultant with ties to the White House, who was granted anonymity so he could describe internal research for a Republican member of Congress, said he had recently conducted a focus group in a highly contested Congressional district in the Philadelphia suburbs.

He was shocked, he said, at the degree of hostility among Republicans toward the war, even accounting for the fact that Northeast Republicans are more moderate than their counterparts in the rest of the country.

The importance of the struggle by both parties on whether this was an election season debate about terrorism or about the war in Iraq was demonstrated in a New York Times/CBS News poll late last month. Forty-two percent of Americans said they thought the Republicans were more likely than Democrats to make the right decision about the war on terror. The same percentage said they thought Democrats were more likely to make the right decisions about the war in Iraq.

The White House had been aware for weeks that Britain was moving to shut down this plot. White House officials said that Mr. Cheney was kept abreast of the plot and the investigation, but that his comments on Wednesday, in a rare teleconference with news service reporters, were simply in reaction to what they said was an extraordinary political event, the defeat of a sitting senator.

A senior White House official on Air Force One, speaking on the condition of anonymity, dismissed the notion that there was anything wrong with these kinds of issues being mixed up in a political campaign.

"The issue is going to be discussed in the fall," this official said. "Are you saying if the Democrats talk about the war, we shouldn't? We will talk about the war, and we will talk about the consequences of the policies advocated by the Democrats."

Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting from Crawford, Tex., for this article.

Original Text