Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- President Bush and his party seem to be succeeding in their efforts to define the strategic security issues that will likely decide the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections.

Nowhere is this more apparent than Bush's campaign offensive to warn Americans of the still-potent dangers of yet another terrorist attack on the United States and his implicit claim that Republicans are far better able to deal with that threat than the left-wing, antiwar leaders in the Democratic Party.

That offensive has moved the numbers in the GOP's direction, with the help of Democratic leaders whose national-security agenda, such as it is, seems opposed to every anti-terrorism program Bush has implemented in the ensuing war on terrorism: reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the electronic-surveillance efforts to intercept terrorist calls into the United States and now the tough -- but also humane -- interrogation practices that have foiled numerous terrorist plots against us.

Like the Democrats, Bush and the Republicans are trying to nationalize this election, too, but the contrast between how the two major parties look at the terrorism issue could not be sharper or more alarming.

Moreover, the available evidence suggests the GOP seems to be doing a more effective job of it, according to a recent survey of voters by independent pollster John Zogby.

Significantly, Zogby found that "voters planning on casting ballots for Republicans are more likely than those voting for Democrats to say they are casting their ballot based on national issues by a 79 percent to 69 percent margin."

And what issue will move the most voters? Zogby said, "Another positive development for Congressional Republicans is that one in four of their supporters -- 23 percent -- consider terrorism the top issue as they go to the polls, easily the top issue for those backing the GOP."

But among voters who say they will support the Democrats, "terrorism barely registers 4 percent," he said.

The White House is betting that the threat of terrorism, and the GOP's advantage on the core question of who can keep us safer, will trump the Democrats on Election Day. And with polls showing the Democrats are still getting failing grades on this key security issue, that's a fairly safe bet right now.

Public perceptions and defining your opponent are at the heart of good politics and effective campaigns, and the president has effectively driven the Democrats into a corner on their weakest issue: national security.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.