The flip side of a nationalized election

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You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what is going on in politics these days. The Democrats, salivating at the prospect of retaking the House (and maybe even the Senate, although that's much less likely), have decided to play their big cards: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. So the talk is all about dumping Rummy, deploying the troops (home), the incompetence of the Bush administration in prosecuting the war. They want to nationalize this election as a referendum on George W. Bush and his war, and why not? The polls show that the public believes that the president made a mistake in Iraq and hasn't managed it well. It's a no-brainer.

If you expected the Republicans to sit still for this tactic, fuhgeddaboudit. Forced into a corner by a Supreme Court decision over the summer disallowing its treatment of prisoners, saying they must be put under the protections of the Geneva Conventions, the White House knew it had to act–and decided to do it before the election. Why? Because despite the public's view of the war in Iraq, 55 percent of the American people approve of the way Bush is handling the war on terrorism, according to last week's CBS News poll. So Republicans want to make the debate about terrorism, not the war.

It's a delicate balancing act for the White House: The president has to convince the American people that things are going better on the terrorism front while also telling them that the threats are still out there. It's a gamble the White House is clearly willing to take–that terror will trump Iraq. So, White House officials say, if the Democrats want to nationalize this election, bring it on!

The control of the Congress hangs in the balance.