BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- The head of the Republican Party accused Democrats of being willing to surrender the tools necessary to combat terrorism as the GOP tries to capitalize on its national security advantage in a tough election year.
Faced with President Bush's low approval ratings and diminishing support for the Iraq war, the Republican strategy is to make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue and argue that Democrats hold a pre-Sept. 11, 2001, view of the world.
Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, stressed that argument in a speech yesterday at the organization's two-day summer meeting, similar to points made by White House adviser Karl Rove in January.
``America faces a critical question," Mehlman said in his prepared text. ``Will we elect leaders who recognize we're at war and want to use every tool to win it, or politicians who would surrender important tools we need to win?"
If Democrats win control of Congress, Mehlman said their leaders will stop the National Security Agency from eavesdropping on foreign terrorists and pursue impeachment of President Bush.
The Democratic National Committee dismissed Mehlman's comments, saying his ``desperate rantings won't change the fact that Bush and his rubber-stamp Republicans are in deep trouble with the American people, who can see right through their trickery and spin.
``The American people will not be fooled again," said Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the DNC.
Mehlman singled out House minority leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.
``As foreign jihadists call into the United States, do we use [National Security Agency] technology to stop sleeper cells before they hit us? Or do we surrender use of this technology, as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean would have us do?"
Democrats and some Republicans have questioned the legality of Bush's domestic spying. The Bush administration contends that the warrantless wiretapping is needed to combat terrorism.
Mehlman also selectively quoted from comments made by Representative John Dingell of Michigan in a recent television interview. The Democrat argued that if the United States is going to be an honest broker in the Middle East, it must talk to Israel and Hezbollah.
``I happen to be -- I happen to be against violence, I think the United States has to bring resolution to this matter. Now, I condemn Hezbollah as does everybody else, for the violence," Dingell said.
Conservative websites and weblogs have used only snippets of Dingell's comments.
Mehlman said yesterday, ``As our allies fight this same war on other fronts, should we support them, or should we -- as the longest-serving Democrat in the House and possible committee chairman John Dingell said -- `not take sides for or against Hezbollah.' "
The political terrain looks rough for Republicans, with polls showing that many voters prefer the Democratic candidate in their district to the GOP pick. Not only is control of the House and Senate at stake, but the future of Bush's agenda in the remaining years of his second term.
Throughout the dismal polling on approval ratings for Congress, Republicans hold the upper hand on national security issues.