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A top Democratic House aide acknowledged that since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Democrats have struggled to gain an upper hand against a GOP majority that bills itself as strong on security and values. But as Bush’s poll numbers have dipped and confidence in the war has fallen, the aide said, Democrats have been given a rare window of opportunity.
“When he’s weak, he can’t beat us up and call us obstructionists,” this aide said. “He’s not in a position of strength.”
“It all stems from Iraq,” the staffer added. “The voting public just doesn’t like what’s happening in Iraq. ... It’s created a dynamic that’s problematic for them and beneficial to us.”
As such, Republicans have accused Democrats of using the tragedy of Katrina for partisan gain.
“This is the classic example of the Democrats throwing as much mud against the wall to see what sticks,” said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “Our strategy is not to take the bait and move forward to help these people. Over time, people will grow tired of their antics.”
But Democratic leaders are rejecting the accusation. Rather, they insist they are simply working to protect Americans from any future catastrophe.
“It is clear that too many lessons went unlearned after September 11,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) wrote in a letter to Roll Call to be published Thursday. “Democrats are speaking out and will continue to do so, demanding more from President Bush and Congress to ensure that we do everything necessary to fulfill our government’s basic obligation to protect Americans from danger. We can’t change the past, but we can change our future. And there is no excuse not to.”
And while they appear to be making some headway, Democrats acknowledge that they can’t get overly confident just yet. The party remains divided on the Iraqi conflict, among other things. But Democrats can strike hard against the GOP on core domestic issues including Social Security, federal assistance to disaster victims, the economy and ethics.
A senior Democratic aide said the test for the party and of its strength will really come in the months ahead.
“All four of those issues give Democrats a perfect opportunity to paint the ‘us versus them’ picture,” this staffer said. “This is what Democrats are about. It’s a matter of do we capitalize on it.”