Public opinion polls continue to suggest that terrorism is very much on the minds
of voters this election year as they begin the process of choosing between President
Bush and his Democratic opponent, Senator John Kerry. The issue of security is
likely to play a big role in this year's presidential contest.
The chairman of the independent commission investigating the 2001 terrorist
attacks, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, had an ominous warning for the
country as he released the panel's final report in Washington.
"Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude
is now possible, and even probable," he said. " We do not have the luxury of
time. We must prepare and we must act."
Recent public opinion polls suggest the threat of terrorism is a prominent
concern of voters this year and has been ever since the 9/11 attacks.
The polls also suggest the president's handling of the war on terrorism is
his single biggest asset in his race with Senator Kerry.
In a vast, free society such as ours, there is no such thing as perfect security," said
Mr. Bush. "And no matter how good our defenses are, a determined enemy can still
strike us. Terrorists only need to be right once. We need to be right every single
Senator Kerry has not shied away from the issue and his political ads on
television emphasize his military experience in Vietnam and his foreign policy
work in the Senate to bolster his credentials as a potential commander in chief.
The Massachusetts Democrat often mentions the security issue in his speeches
even as he tries to highlight differences with President Bush.
John Edwards and I would never think about sending young Americans, son and daughters,
into harm's way anywhere in the world without telling the American people the
truth," he said.
Terrorism, Iraq and the economy all figure to be major issues in this year's
presidential campaign. But presidential historian Allan Lichtman of the American
University here in Washington says the security issue is perhaps the number
one concern of voters.
"The September 11 attacks, I think, define this campaign," he explained. "So
much of what this president has been doing has been in response to September
11, including, in his view, the war in Iraq, homeland security and the Patriot
Washington-based political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says the president's
re-election prospects largely hinge on how Americans perceive his handling
of both the war on terrorism and the situation in Iraq.
"I think if the voters evaluate George Bush generally on terrorism, I think
it is an asset for him," he noted. "If the voters look specifically at Iraq,
casualties and car bombs and things like that, then it is not nearly as good
for the president."
Democrats say their challenge is to convince voters that Senator Kerry is
up to the job of commander in chief and that he will vigorously pursue the
war on terror.
Democratic strategist Celinda Lake says that process will begin with Senator
Kerry's speech to the Democratic National Convention next Thursday.
"It is a time when our candidate really gets introduced on the stage by himself
and I think people will see Kerry as a strong leader, a steady leader and they
will get a better sense of him," said Ms. Lake.
Historians note that wartime presidents tend to win re-election. But Kerry
supporters contend the president has split the country over the Iraq war. They
intend to argue during the campaign that the incursion into Iraq was a costly
and unnecessary diversion from the war on terrorism.