South Bay Rep. Harman launches national security committee

BYLINE: Toby Eckert Copley News Service

WASHINGTON --Hoping to boost her party's credibility with voters on defense and homeland
security, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., launched a new political fund Thursday to
groom Democratic congressional candidates to "communicate a strong, clear
message on national security issues."

Harman has long been among the party's defense hawks and blamed Democratic
losses in 2004 on a failure to connect with voters on the issue.

"The threats are going to be with us for a long time. I think we have
absolutely no choice but to take this on. It is the policy that most seriously
confronts us," said Harman, who is the lead Democrat on the House Intelligence
Committee.

The effort is being backed by an advisory committee that includes former
United Nations Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former Defense Secretary William
Perry, retired Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy and Bernard L. Schwartz, chairman
and chief executive officer of Loral Space & Communications Ltd.

Invoking a line of security-minded Democatic presidents from Woodrow Wilson
to John F. Kennedy, Holbrooke said, "We want the Democrats to affirm what we
have always stood for as a party."

Harman said the SecureUS political action committee would give selected
candidates advice on national security issues, conduct polling and focus groups
on the issue and make campaign contributions.

"We will train these people to think about and talk about security issues,"
she said. "This is not just a check."

Candidates from areas with military bases and large concentrations of
veterans are likely to be a focus of the committee's activities.

A spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee did not
return phone calls for comment.

Richard Eichenberg, an expert on national security and public opinion at
Tufts University, said Harman's effort "comes at a paradoxical moment."

"The Democratic constituency is not hawkish but dovish, at least as it
concerns the Iraq War," he said.

But he added that Bush's low public approval rating for his handling of the
war also gives Democrats "a huge opening" on the issue, particularly among
moderates and independents who supported Bush's re-election based on security
issues.

"Just as with (Democratic presidential candidate) John Kerry in 2004, the
problem is coming up with a creative alternative" in Iraq, Eichenberg said. "If
Democrats are going to gain the high ground, they need to propose a policy that
will not end up being the sort of dead-end policy failure we appear to be
involved in now. It's going to be hard for them to do that. The Democrats are
somewhat divided on this issue."

While some Democrats are calling for a firm date for withdrawal from Iraq,
others, including Harman, say that would be premature.

"I don't think that will achieve any goals that America has and it certainly
won't achieve any goals that Iraq has," said Harman, who recently returned from
a trip to Iraq. "My personal view is this is the crunch time - the next several
months - to try to articulate a success strategy for America there."

Iraqis are getting ready to vote on a new constitution. That is to be
followed by parliamentary elections.

Harman said SecureUS would work on issues beyond Iraq. They include beefing
up port and border security, better efforts to detect and disrupt terrorist
networks, combating the spread of nuclear weapons technology and modernizing the
military, including better pay and benefits for troops.

The committee is a "leadership PAC," which allows members of Congress to
raise and spend money outside their principal campaign funds. Normally, such
PACs are used to help a lawmaker climb the party leadership ranks by aiding
fellow lawmakers in their election battles.

But Harman said that was not her goal.

"This is not a PAC to promote Jane for student government," she joked.