John Leo
My good friend Richard Reeves, the liberal columnist, made a shrewd prediction after terrorists attacked the nightclub in Bali. "When I saw the cruel scenes of death and destruction along the beach in Bali," he wrote, "my first thought was coldly political: This means the Republicans will win the congressional elections next month."

President Bush had been saying that the terrorists were everywhere, and it seemed to Reeves that voters would conclude that Bush was right about a universal threat. Reeves didn't much like the president's anti-Iraq rhetoric. But he thought Bali validated that rhetoric -- at least for now -- and tipped the balance between domestic issues and the war on terrorism in favor of heavier concern about terror.

Some polls backed up this conclusion. One in Great Britain, two days after Bali, found a 10 percent leap (from 32 percent to 42 percent) in support of a war against Iraq. Closer to home, a mid-October Gallup poll showed that international issues had a firmer grip on Americans than economic ones. The economy, Gallup said, was mentioned by a larger share of voters than in the previous two midterm elections, but terrorism was an even bigger issue. Gallup said that "this year, unlike any year since the Vietnam War, an enormous number of respondents tell (us) that the number one problem has to do with ... terrorism, the situation with Iraq, national defense, or fear of war generally."

It wasn't just Bali, or even the long will-we-or-won't-we debate on invading Iraq. The shooting of two Marines, the blowing up of the French tanker and the seizure of the Moscow theater by Chechen separatists all had an impact. So did the Beltway sniper story and the Muslim connection of John Allen Muhammad, who reportedly hated America and sympathized with the events of Sept. 11.

Terrorism isn't much mentioned now as a cause of Republican success at the polls. Pundits, of course, are entitled to point in every direction when explaining an election result. Maybe the Republican victory is due to the alleged genius of Karl Rove, the foolish shenanigans at the Wellstone funeral, the issue-free campaigns run by many Democrats, or even (as Rush Limbaugh suggested) the national impact of the New Jersey Supreme Court's unprincipled decision to ignore state election law so Democrats could retain Robert Torricelli's Senate seat.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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