Dems focus on national security

Eyeing House and Senate elections this fall, Democrats are stepping up their effort to cut into the public perception that Republicans are stronger on national security.

Congressional Democrats vow to provide U.S. agents with the resources to hunt down Osama bin Laden and ensure a “responsible redeployment of U.S. forces” from Iraq in 2006 in a national security policy statement House and Senate Democratic leaders were announcing Wednesday.

“We need a new direction on national security, and leaders with policies that are tough and smart. That is what Democrats offer,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday.

His counterpart in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats were offering a fresh strategy _ “one that is strong and smart, which understands the challenges America faces in a post 9/11 world, and one that demonstrates that Democrats are the party of real national security.”

Republicans criticized the statement as an election-year stunt.

The statement lacks specific details of a plan to capture bin Laden, the al-Qaida chief who has evaded U.S. forces in the more than four years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Democrats suggest they will double the number of special forces and add more spies to increase the chances of finding al-Qaida’s elusive leader.

Democrats also do not set a deadline for when all of the 132,000 American troops now in Iraq should be withdrawn.

They say: “We will ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for security and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.”

The latest in a series of party policy statements for 2006, the Democrats’ national security platform comes seven months before voters decide who will control the House and Senate.

Bush’s job approval ratings are in the mid- to high-30s, and Democrats consistently have about a 10 percentage point lead over Republicans when people are asked who they want to see in control of Congress.

With the public skeptical of the Iraq war and Republicans and Democrats alike questioning Bush’s war policies, Democrats aim to force Republicans to distance themselves from the president on Iraq and national security or rubber-stamp what Democrats contend is a failed policy.

Democratic strategists say their polling shows Democrats leading in all other areas _ such as the economy, health care, education and retirement security _ and having closed a gap in polls with Republicans on national security.

Republicans characterized the Democrats’ platform as tough election-year talk that isn’t backed up by the party’s record.

“This is more of the same from the party that opposes this president’s effort to keep our country safe,” said Tracey Schmitt, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman. “The bottom line is while this president campaigns against the terrorists, Democrats remain focused on campaigning against this president.”

Overall, the Democratic position paper covers party policy positions on homeland security, the war on terror, the military, Iraq and energy security. However, it contains many of the same proposals Democrats have offered over the past year.

For months, House and Senate Democrats have tried to craft a comprehensive position on national security, but they have splintered, primarily over Iraq.

Republicans have sought to use that division to their own political advantage, claiming that Democrats simply attack the president and his fellow Republicans without presenting proposals of their own.

© 2006 The Associated Press