At election time, Republicans may be in trouble
WASHINGTON — In dire danger of losing the House of Representatives, the Republicans appear to be planning to play the national security card in the last legislative days before Congress recesses for the election.
Security may not be the trump card for the Republicans that it has been in the past. Yet the legislative calendar goes heavy on national defense and light on domestic concerns.
Priority is being given to a defense spending bill, an endorsement of warrantless wiretapping, a port security overhaul, legitimizing of military tribunals, and a resolution commemorating the 9/11 anniversary.
One resolution that has a high priority would toughen the rules against the slaughter of horses.
What may be left by the wayside until after the election are: a budget blueprint, departmental appropriations to run the government, immigration reform and border security, control of lobbyists, a minimum-wage increase, and help for senior citizens who missed the deadline for choosing a Medicare prescription plan.
All in all, recent polls reflect an electorate unhappy with the status quo and open to change. The latest New York Times-CBS poll indicates that only 29 percent of adults believe that the country is headed in the right direction.
A faith-based campaign may not be working for the Republicans either, at least not to the extent that it has in the past. A Mason-Dixon poll found that only 5 percent of Republican voters in Florida said they were most concerned about "moral issues." Many more expressed concern about rising homeowner insurance rates.
According to recent polls, Democrats even enjoy a 3-point advantage on the issue of which party can best deal with Iraq. If the Republicans cannot count on their preeminence as America's defender, which they used successfully in the past two elections, then they are in trouble.
This week, Senate Democrats demanded a vote of "no confidence" in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Republicans blocked the move, but it opened the door to an abrasive debate on the conduct of the war.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.