Hit & Run

35 Percenters

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There was plenty of gut-clenching drama in Connecticut's Senate primary last night; fitting that it comes with a boring, predictable chaser. As they threatened to do for months, Republicans are using the Lieberman defeat as proof positive that the Democrats have been hijacked by the hate-America-cut-and-run whacko left wing. The immediate effect is that Lieberman, who lost his party's mantle in part because President Bush kissed him, is wracking up surely not-at-all Machiavellian endorsements like this:

Like the proud history of so many Democrats before him, Joe Lieberman believed in a strong national defense. And for that, he was purged from his Party. It is a sobering moment.

For what does a man profit, if he should gain love of Ken Mehlman and suffer the loss of his soul?

The Republican National Committee is making "poor old Joe" its message of the week, with a press release and web video that look like they were put together a few days ago… yet manages to sound slapdash and weak. As proof that anti-war Democrats want to "cut and run from the war on terror," the RNC press office cobbles together a 2001 MoveOn.org e-mail that urged "justice, not escalating violence that would only play into the terrorists' hands" and a 2004 Nancy Pelosi quote: "This war has been a grotesque mistake that has diminished our reputation in the world and has not made America safer." Crazy, radical fringe beliefs… that, uh, most Americans have started to agree with, in one form or another. According to the Washington Post poll, taken when Ned Lamont had a commanding poll lead over Lieberman, approval of how President Bush is handling "the situation in Iraq" has fallen from 47 percent to 36 percent since election 2004. Approval of his handling of "the war on terror" - from 59 percent to 47 percent, down from 89 percent after 9/11. Forty-six percent trust Democrats over Republicans on the "war on terror," an eight-point lead on an issue that once gave Republicans a 39-point lead. (It had shrunk to a 35-point lead in the 2002 elections, the amazing midterm comeback the GOP wants to repeat this year.)

When he was crafting the strategy that won the GOP control of Congress in 1994, Newt Gingrich focused on "60 percent issues" - debates like welfare reform, tort reform and tax cuts where 60 percent or more of the country favored the GOP's position. The GOP of 2006 is so wedded to the war in Iraq that it's going to shortchange Social Security reform, estate tax repeal, all of that, and fight the election on a "35 percent issue." They're daring Democrats not to take the majority view of the war, as Republicans ally themselves with possibly the least charismatic man ever to fill a chair in the U.S. Senate.