Before and through the 5th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush is using his presidential power to full advantage to make war on terror a central issue for this year's midterm elections.
By delivering a series of speeches highlighting anti-terror successes, Bush and his top strategists hope they can shape the November elections into a referendum on which party can best protect America.
However, the new political strategy is seen by analysts as risky as a double-edged sword which is effective but could also cut the swordsman himself, given the fact that the political landscape in the United States and public opinions have changed a lot in the post-9/11 years.
OLD STRATEGY WITH NEW TACTICS
Frank Newport, an analyst for the nonpartisan Gallup Poll, said Bush's recent security pitch is a replay of the strategy that helped the party win congressional seats in 2002 and contributed to Bush's re-election in 2004.
But the political landscape has shifted. Bush's standing with voters and support for the Iraq war have slipped. Voters are also less impressed with the president's handling of terrorism.
In September 2002, 75 percent of Americans felt that the war on terror was going well or somewhat well, according to Gallup.
By 2004, the figure had fallen to 59 percent. Now only about half of Americans think it's going well.
Bush's approval rating has been hovering around 40 percent these days, compared with the record high of 90 percent shortly after 9/11.
It is evident that the increasingly unpopular Iraq war has neutralized Bush and his fellow Republicans' traditional strength in security issues.
A recent Gallup survey found although supporters of his overall anti-terror policy still outnumber opposers, an unprecedented majority of 61 percent opposed the war.
A CNN poll showed that 53 percent thought the Iraq war is not part of the war on terror while a Pew poll demonstrated that 68 percent picked the war as the top reason why the country is less respected around the world these days.
Moreover, an AP poll found 60 percent thought the Iraq war has increased terror threats rather than reducing them.
Meanwhile, the reputation of the war on terror has been frequently dented by scandals at home and abroad, such as the abuse of detainees, the killing of innocent Iraqis, the CIA secret prisons and the unwarranted domestic spying program.
Trying to find a solution to these problems, Bush has changed tactics while playing the old "terrorism" card once again.
For example, his first public acknowledgement of secret CIA prisons on Wednesday has surprised many and received tentative welcome from human rights watchdogs.
Bush then used the disclosure to justify his push for legislation that would allow military tribunals to try terror suspects.
By doing so, the president has made sure that he grabbed the headlines of all media outlets and turned a scandal into a platform to promote his unpopular ideas about the war on terror.
It is not coincidental that the Pentagon released a timely new Field Manual which bans some harsh interrogation techniques criticized by the international community.
While amplifying the anti-terror successes, an updated counterterrorism strategy which came freshly out of the White House also conceded that great challenges are still ahead.
Bush also tried to distance himself from the unpopular war in Iraq, giving fewer emphasis on it in his speeches.
Bush's new tactics, while proved to be effective to attract attention, risks backfire, analysts said.
First, although the Republicans are relatively strong on the terrorism issue, Democrats can also easily link failures in the war on terror to Bush's credibility.
The Democrats acted quickly to portray his speeches as admissions of failure.
"Republicans have failed to make America as safe as we can and should be. They want to stay the course in the face of failure. We won't. We will change course in Iraq," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.
There are other nervous signs. Ned Lamont, a political novice, defeated veteran Senator Joe Liberman in last month's Democratic primary in Connecticut, largely due to his steadfast anti-war position.
Liberman is an ally of Bush in war policy and other security issues, which many believed made him unpopular.
Meanwhile, Republicans who rely on their political kinship to Bush are distancing from him in ongoing election campaigns.
Two years ago, Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, the fourth ranking House Republican touted a picture of her and Bush sitting together as a campaign banner, but now she began to portray herself as "independent" and "standing up to the party only."
WAR SHADOWS ELECTION PROSPECTS
Largely due to the impact of an unpopular war, there are indications that the elections could tip the political scale in favor of Democrats.
If the Republicans lose six Senate seats and 15 House seats in November, they will no longer control the Congress.
When there is no sign that the Senate race is favorable to Democrats, all 15 of the most endangered House seats are held by Republicans.
Independent election analysis firm Rothenberg Political Report has recently raised its estimate of likely Democratic gains from 8-12 House seats to 15-20 seats, enough to take control.
The Cook Political Report, another analyzer, said unless something dramatic happens, Democrats will surely win the House race and chances that they will seize the Senate will rise toward 50-50.
Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Republicans are being "undone" by their own approach to the war and terrorism.
"I think anybody who is supporting President Bush's policy is going to have a rough time," he added.