Analysis: Debates Heat Up as Midterm Elections Draw Near

A number of big issues are being debated in Washington this week, from detainees in CIA secret prisons being transferred to Guantanamo to questions about whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should resign.

As always in Washington, there's a subtext.

Listen closely, and you'll hear Democrats and Republicans laying out what they hope will be the path to victory in two months.

It's become the daily White House theme: It's a dangerous world out there, and we've kept things safe.

In other circumstances, Wednesday's presidential announcement might seem an admission of defeat.

The White House -- under pressure from the courts -- did an about-face and proposed more rights for detainees, including military tribunals and a new Pentagon ban on Abu Ghraib-like interrogation techniques.

In these desperate political days, however, it's actually a potent message and critical subject change from Iraq.

"The security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know," Bush said Wednesday.

Persuading the public to vote on the issue of national security -- as the president did in 2004 -- is the only way the White House thinks Republicans can avoid devastating losses in November.

"They don't have gas prices. They can't do much with Medicare prescription drugs. All they've got going for them is the slight, very slight, edge in dealing with terrorism," said Norm Ornstein, an analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

Just down the street, the Democrats unveiled their fall strategy.

"Debating the war in Iraq is not a performance. It's part of our responsibility," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

Democratic senators loudly pushed for a vote of no confidence in Rumsfeld.

The point for them is to keep the nation single-mindedly focused on Iraq and what many see as the Bush administration's failures.

"If the voter goes into the polls thinking about Iraq, then Dems will have a big night," said Chuck Todd, editor of the political Web site The Hotline.

"If voters are going to the polls and thinking about terrorism, then Republicans have a fighting chance."

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