August 19, 2002


Democrats Worry About Iraq as Issue : Debate on War Seen as Diversion From Economy (Dan Balz, August 19, 2002, Washington Post)
Iraq is emerging as the wild-card issue of the 2002 election, with Democrats nervously watching a growing debate over whether the United States should launch a war to oust President Saddam Hussein, fearful that it could shift attention away from the economic issues that now dominate their agenda.

History suggests that the issue of possible war with Iraq will have little influence in the outcome of November's midterm elections -- particularly if there is no military action before the election. But in a post-Sept. 11 environment, history may not be a reliable guide. As Democratic pollster Peter Hart puts it, the "push-pull of American politics in 2002 has been between patriotism and pocketbook."

If patriotism is dominant in November, Democrats have reason to worry. With public concern over pocketbook issues rising, Democrats have been optimistic about their chances of gaining House and Senate seats in November. Now they are assessing what impact possible military action -- or even an intensified debate about it -- might have on voters' attitudes. [...]

Democrats face a dilemma on Iraq, arguing that a public debate about whether to go to war is in the national interest while knowing that the issue could work more to the benefit of Republicans. The call for more debate comes mainly from Democratic leaders and those with an eye on running for president in 2004. Rank-and-file candidates appear more interested in keeping voters focused on the economy. [...]

Democrats like the lay of the land they see now, sensing opportunities that did not exist a few months ago. But they know things could change quickly.

"What will make 2002 so interesting," pollster Hart said, "is that it is a year that started out on a very flat plain and then got twisted upside down and came into this period of the summer with a clear dynamic. The question is will we go into the last 100 days with a brand new dynamic -- and that we don't know."

If politics has one rule that's more basic than any other, it's this : don't get your party on the wrong side of an issue that polls 66-33. Any question on which 2/3rds or more of the American people can actually agree on an answer is going to end up resulting in the answer they choose, whether sooner or later. And that's roughly where Americans break down right now on the question of whether war with Iraq is justified. That's despite years having gone by without a provocative action from Saddam and despite our being almost a full year removed from the emotional response to 9-11. Democrats then, whose call for a "debate" is a thinly veiled attack on the idea of the war itself, not only find themselves drawn to the "wrong" side of this issue but have to hope that Saddam and al Qaeda both behave themselves, otherwise that poll differential could hit 80-20 or even higher.
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 19, 2002 12:12 PM
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