In case you haven't noticed, the November election campaign is underway in earnest.

The Democrats have evidently been conducting seminars for Democratic candidates for Congress — challengers to Republican incumbents mostly — on how to approach the issue of national security and defense.

Newt Gingrich was talking about this in general on "FOX News Sunday" when he said Republicans might lose Congress in November if they don't wake up to the idea that the electorate is unhappy and dissatisfied and wants change.

Republicans can change or the voters will do it for them is Newt's basic message.

So the Dems are trying to make sure their challenger candidates have a good line on national security.

The Sarasota, Florida, Herald Tribune quoted Democrat Tim Mahoney with his new polished up national security line. It goes like this: "It's good to be tough on defense, but it's better to be tough and smart."

Hmm, Mahoney is challenging Republican Mark Foley. Foley was big on the Dubai ports deal, bashing it as stupid. I think Mahoney might have to get a little tougher and smarter if he is going at Foley on national security, at least in the rhetoric department.

OK, I think his line needs some work. And it figures.

Up until now, the Democrats national security strategy has been simply to point out what's wrong with Bush's strategy and his performance, and hope for the best.

Better to be tough and smart. Well, on second thought, maybe it does work on some level.

Maybe it works because it says nothing but sounds like something. Maybe it works because it's not specific, because to get into details means you offer something the opponent can attack or you sound just like the incumbent, and nobody wants the public to think their platform is "me too." I'm for that. Me too.

I think the public is going to have a hard choice in November. True, the Republicans have a messy national security situation on their hands in the sense that it requires a lot of explaining when the public wants a one-liner. "Where's the beef" comes to mind.

But on the other hand, Democrats have nothing except say John Kerry's latest pronouncement that we tell the Iraqis if you can't get things together we're going to get out pronto.

The Dems have the port deal to point to. They were against it. But that's going to be cold soup by November.

Speaker Gingrich is right. The public wants change and change for the better. If the Dems can convince voters that things are so bad they have to get better by throwing Republicans out and putting Democrats in, then I guess they will be the winner.

But I think it's going to be harder than that. Even if the public thinks the Republicans haven't done everything perfectly, at least you know what they are trying to do.

Here's my prediction: A cliffhanger election night. That and many recounts.

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