Donald Lambro

In Congress, Bush and his party (with a few dissenters) are perceived as fighting for a tougher interrogation-guidelines bill that will set clear, firm ground rules consistent with the Geneva Conventions, but one that does not hamstring our intelligence efforts to protect Americans.

I think Bush has similarly held the high ground on legislation to create military commissions that will ensure the delivery of swift but fair justice for the terrorists who will go to trial. The Democrats in this debate seem to be more concerned with protecting the civil liberties of terrorists than with convicting fanatic extremists who plotted to kill Americans.

All of this has helped Republicans narrow the once-substantial lead Democrats held in the generic voter-preference surveys. The latest Zogby poll shows the GOP trailing Democrats by three points -- well within the margin of error.

Zogby credited the GOP's political turnaround to "the president's focus on the war on terrorism, a rebound among his own base" and the Democrats' failure to lay out a clear plan of their own on "how are we going to get out of Iraq and what they would do about terrorism that's better than the Republicans."

"They are not giving their Democratic base what it needs to hear on those issues. Republicans are severely wounded. The Democrats should be crushing them, and they are not," he told me.

Other pollsters, such as Opinion Dynamics and Rasmussen, are picking up a similar tightening in the voter-preference surveys, as reports coming in from political reporters in the field say they sense a comeback by the GOP as voters begin focusing more on the candidates and issues that concern them.v Prior to Labor Day, top election forecasters were predicting that an anti-Bush, anti-Republican wave would sweep the Democrats back into majority control of the House. But, after studying his numbers coming in from the states, Zogby told me, "I don't see the landslide that others are seeing. That doesn't mean it can't materialize, but, as of today, it's not happening and this is September."

In the meantime, the president intends to campaign hard for his party over the next seven weeks, perhaps two dozen House seats once targeted by the Democrats are now out of play, and there are growing doubts that the Democrats have what it takes to regain power.

"I'm reluctant to predict a Democratic takeover because I appreciate the Republicans' success," elections analyst Rhodes Cook told me this week. "They know how to win of late, and the Democrats don't."


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.



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