In a brilliant piece of intelligence work by British agents, with the help of United States and other intelligence services abroad, Bush jumped on the episode, showing that the terrorist threat to America was still dangerous and could happen at any time, unless we keep up our guard and improve the U.S. intelligence and global-surveillance weapons at our disposal.
His message that the terrorists have to be right only once but we have to be right 100 percent of the time struck a devastating note at the psyche of the American people who tire of the Iraq war but know that we cannot end the war against those who want to blow up Americans.
As I forecast in an earlier column, the bomb plot pushed the president's job-approval score on his handling of terrorism to 55 percent. Americans will vote on many issues that concern them, but safeguarding homeland security has suddenly become a hot issue again. Bush is not going to let that issue fade in the weeks and months to come, senior officials told me last week.
Neither are the Republicans who intend to keep it at the center of their campaign agenda and in sync with Bush's message.
Another factor behind the Republicans' end-of-summer rise in the polls: They have spent the past month reminding voters, particularly their party's base, what they have done for their states and districts. Despite all the justified criticism about wasteful pork-barrel spending, the fact remains that most voters like their tax dollars coming back to them in bridge, road and other public-works projects and members aren't shy about reminding them about the bacon they've brought home.
A few weeks ago, the Democrats were flying high in the generic polls, foretelling a wave of House and Senate Republican losses. But the once-hostile environment has turned noticeably friendlier for Republicans, as voters contemplate putting liberal, anti-war Democrats in charge of national security and Bush and the GOP sharpen their message for the campaign to come.