Here's an analogy: Independents in 1998 reacted to similar heavy-handed campaigning by Republicans. That's when the GOP tried to defeat all Democrats by linking them to the Clinton impeachment. TV ads to that effect flooded the airwaves in the last days before the election. Now even many top-level conservatives believe that Republican strategy backfired and led to near loss of the House by the GOP.
If the Democrats appear to be scouring for issues by making rash or harsh claims about the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, they too will risk taking what they believe to be important policy concerns and turning them into an old-fashioned "ganging up" on the president.
At the same time, this issue could become central without extra nudging from the Democrats. Too many more examples of, "Oops, we told you wrong facts," could lead to genuine setbacks to Bush and his party mates in '04.
A more likely scenario for Democratic success would be the continued deployment of more and more U.S. troops to new regions of the world. The drain on the federal budget, as well as on the nation's morale, might be overwhelming.
If the economy genuinely rights itself and the Bush administration can turn its attention and ours to matters closer to home -- including the maintenance of a strong homeland defense system -- you can bet those swing voters will go the way of the GOP.
But Republicans must remember that, as a whole, independent voters are best known for their ability to spot arrogance in their leaders. In the end, it will be a matter of which party mistakenly takes for granted the intelligence of these critical voters. That will probably make the difference.
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