This is a partial transcript from "The Journal Editorial Report," September 30, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: With fewer than 40 days to go until the 2006 midterm elections both parties are betting that issues of national security will turn out the vote at the polls.
Joining me now to talk about the politics of national security, from U.S. News and World Report is Michael Barone.
Michael thanks for being here.
MICHAEL BARONE, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Good to be with you.
GIGOT: Let me ask you, first, about the president's strategy, the Republican strategy to frame this election as a choice on national security. How do you think that's been working so far?
BARONE: I think they have had considerable success in framing the issue that way.
One of the rules of political consultants is that he who frames the issue tends to determine the outcome of the election.
And President Bush gave that series of speeches earlier in the month reminding people that we face real enemies abroad who want to destroy our system.
We have been reminded of that by things like the London terror bombing arrests in August. And by the appearance on the world stage of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez at the United Nations.
So I think that he's made significant progress in reframing that issue over the last six weeks.
GIGOT: But, Michael, I saw a memo this week from a couple of Democratic strategists, James Carville and Stan Greenberg, who said this may be helping Bush and boosted his approval rating, but that strategy is not helping Republicans in Congress because it is reminding the voters about Iraq, which is a net negative for Republicans. What do you think of that argument?
BARONE: Well, I think that Carville and Greenberg, who are astute political strategists, can point to some of the current poll numbers in the seriously contested Senate and House races, and say accurately that the up ticks that we've seen for President Bush and the Republican Party generically in the polls haven't been translated into significant gains over the last six weeks for Republican candidates.
And Democrats continue to have a chance to win majorities in the House and the Senate.
But I think that part of this campaign hasn't played out yet. We've just had a week in which Congress has considered and voted on, in the House at least, the NSA surveillance of suspected terrorist, calls to persons in the United States and terrorist interrogations of unlawful combatants found on the battle field.
In those, a majority of Democrats — significant majorities of Democrats in the two House votes and the one Senate vote have lined up against the president's position.
Those Democrats are convinced, many of them at least, that that's a politically popular position. They live in a world in which the tone is set by The New York Times and it is strident denunciations of the administration policies and proposals here.
But I think that's a political miscalculation. I think in most states and districts, the president's position's going to be popular here. And the Democrats have given the Republicans an issue which will they will have time to drive home in the next five weeks.
GIGOT: But, Michael, one poll — there's a new FOX poll out showing that — asking would you favor a candidate more who wants to get out of Iraq over one who wants to stay in Iraq. And it is 46 percent to 36 percent for the candidate who wants to leave Iraq. That looks like an advantage to Democrats for me.
BARONE: Well, that may be an advantage when you phrase it that way. I think the question is ambiguous in that it doesn't state when we would leave Iraq. After all, nobody is proposing that we remain there until 2075.
And I think if the issue is framed in terms of immediate withdrawal or redeployment as Congressman Murtha puts it, or remain in there until the situation is stabilized, then I think the advantage swings back to the Republican side.
But it is a matter of framing the issues, Paul. And it's a matter of whether the president can prevail over mainstream media, which is predominantly left-wing and hostile to his administration.
GIGOT: Let me ask you about policy risks here for the president. Because it seems to me he is running a little bit of a risk. If he frames the issue over Iraq, and then the Republicans lose the House or the Senate, the Democrats will think, you know what? Iraq is what happened here with — is what helped us win the majority.
That would make it a lot more difficult for the president next year to try to maintain American presence in Iraq, would it not?
BARONE: Well, I think there is some danger that if Democrats get a majority, they are going to do what the heavily Democratic Congress did in 1975, which is to cut off all aid to South Vietnam when it was facing a major offensive from the communists in the north. And we saw Saigon fall and helicopters take off from the U.S. embassy.
I think the difference this time is that there doesn't seem to be any chance that the Democrats will win a big majority.
And I've taken a look at the Roll Call votes on the terrorism surveillance issue in the House of Representatives. You saw 34 Democrats vote with the president's position, 27 of those 34 are from districts that Mr. Bush carried in 2004. Two of them, from other districts, are running for the U.S. Senate this year in Tennessee and Ohio. And evidently have made a calculation of which side they wanted to be on.
I think that you are still going to have the reality principle that the Democrats will have a slim majority. And they've still got 20 or so members, mostly, but not entirely from the South, who are not going to take a cut-and-run position, in my view, in the next Congress.
GIGOT: All right, Michael, thanks so much for those insights. And thanks for being here.
BARONE: Thank you.
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