Donald Lambro

Not only was the terrorist threat potent again and closer to home, but Americans were reminded of the steps Bush and the Republican Congress took to uncover and thwart that threat: the reauthorization of the Patriot Act (that Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid tried to kill), the surveillance of terrorist phone calls to sleeper cells in this country and the fed's monitoring of bank accounts used to finance terrorist plots here and abroad. Democrats and their left-wing, anti-war allies in the blogosphere (who have been condemning the administration's global surveillance techniques) seemed strangely silent on the issue this past week. I can see why.

The White House and Republicans are intent on making the threat of another terrorist attack the pivotal issue in an election that could turn on a single question: Which party will keep us safe?

If there was a common denominator in the Democrats' line of attacks this year, it was that Bush's policies in the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism have made us less safe. But the Democrats were losing that argument this week, as they have been losing it throughout most of this year.

The Newsweek poll found that 44 percent of Americans said they trusted Republicans "to do a better job handling the war on terrorism than the Democrats, versus 39 percent who say they trust the Democrats more."

Still, generic congressional polls show a majority of voters will vote Democratic in November, and Democrats are trying to make Bush and the Iraq war the central theme in their campaigns. But if the election turns on terrorism and who will keep us safe, the numbers could turn in the GOP's favor.

Last week's bomb-plot story, however, could fade and with it, possibly, concern about the ever-present terrorist threat. But high-level Republican strategists tell me they aren't going to let that happen. Bush and the GOP are planning to campaign on the issue aggressively from now until Election Day to keep it in front of the electorate. White House political strategist Karl Rove has made that decision clear to party leaders and to Republican candidates. It is the GOP's strongest national-security issue and clearly the Democrats' weakest. The only other question is, will the terrorists reignite this issue in the weeks and months to come? The chances are they will and, if so, the issue will come back to the fore with a vengeance.

In the 2004 presidential campaign, a New Jersey woman told a reporter she had always voted Democratic, but this time she was voting for Bush because of the terrorist threat. "There's no maybe in his voice," she said.

Her concern about the terrorists who threaten our way of life and about the Democrats' perceived softness on this matter could be the pivotal issue yet again when voters go to the polls on Nov. 7.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.