WASHINGTON – Senate Democratic leaders on Friday accused Vice President Dick Cheney of playing politics with terrorism and contended that voters won't buy Republican arguments that the GOP is stronger on national security.
"They've run this play one too many times. The American people simply do not recognize any validity in what they're saying," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a conference call with reporters.
Republicans, in turn, accused Democrats of political posturing and suggested that Democratic rule could endanger the country.
"National Democrats are stone cold guilty of engaging in a reckless and irresponsible pattern of neglect for the security of our citizens," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., the chairman of the House Republicans' campaign committee.
Democrats sought to put Republicans on the defensive on what historically has been a GOP strength -- national security. The heated rhetoric came a day after the disclosure of a thwarted plot to blow up flights from Britain to the United States. Within hours of that news, each party accused the other of doing too little to deter the threat of attack.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., faulted Cheney and Senate Republicans for politicizing the issue.
"They shouldn't. We should all be uniting and be together at this point," said Schumer, the head of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee. "But if they're going to throw the political bombs on this issue, we are going to answer them loud and clear, and we believe we have the political high ground."
In a written statement, Reynolds said Democrats were sounding a "defeatist, surrender message" and catering to the party's liberal base "that prefers a flag that is lily-white to a flag that is red, white, and blue."
The nation's safety looms large as an issue in the midterm elections less than three months before the Nov. 7 contest. Both Republicans and Democrats are maneuvering for the political advantage.
On Wednesday, Cheney gave his assessment of anti-war challenger Ned Lamont's Democratic primary win over Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Iraq war supporter.
The vice president suggested that Lamont's victory might encourage "the al-Qaida types" who want to "break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task."
He portrayed the Democratic Party as preferring that the United States "retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home."
Reid took issue with the vice president's comments, saying, "This situation isn't going well and anyone that suggests that the people of Connecticut are somehow supporting terrorists, I don't think that's credible and that's what Cheney suggested."
Democrats also criticized the RNC for e-mailing a fundraising appeal mentioning the war on terror hours after British authorities disclosed they had disrupted the plot.
The RNC blamed a low-level staffer for distributing the fundraising appeal, which the party said had been scheduled for release before news of the plot broke. The RNC said it stopped distributing the e-mail when it learned of the error.