Until recently, Democrats were targeting the controversial USA Patriot Act as an ideal issue to use in the campaign against President Bush. Now the act has emerged as a cornerstone of Bush’s reelection campaign, while Democratic rival Sen. John F. Kerry and others have toned down criticism, says the Los Angeles Times.
The Patriot Act is proving to be more popular in opinion polls than once expected. Both Democratic and Republican strategists believe that public debate over the Patriot Act and other aspects of the response to terrorism enhance Bush’s national security credentials, while threatening to paint Kerry as soft on terrorism. Kerry has been couching his positions on the law as “fixes;” in December, he called for “replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time.”
The Patriot Act has been an awkward issue for Bush, drawing heat from some in his own conservative base. Critics have included not only Democratic presidential candidates and the American Civil Liberties Union, but also libertarians, advocates for smaller government, and members of the National Rifle Association.
A series of polls published last week have led strategists to conclude that the Patriot Act is a winner for Bush. Those polls gave the president a lead over Kerry, despite weeks of potentially damaging footage of deadly chaos in Iraq, tough questions about Bush’s leadership on terrorism by the Sept. 11 commission, and a new book suggesting Bush was intent on invading Iraq far earlier than was initially believed.
A Washington Post/ABC News survey found that 63% approved of the president’s handling of the war on terrorism. In a Gallup Poll conducted for CNN and USA Today, more than twice as many respondents said they thought Bush would do a “good job” on terrorism as thought Kerry would. More than six in 10 respondents to a February Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey said the law is just about right or does not go far enough, though only about one-fourth said it goes too far.