Daily Breeze

April 4, 2006

Rep. Jane Harman's goal: Aid Democrats on security issue
The South Bay Congresswoman's credentials plus a feeling the GOP is losing control make her an ideal mentor.

By Toby Eckert
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Hoping to polish their national security credentials in a wartime election year, nearly three dozen Democratic House candidates from 18 states gathered here for a strategy session Monday on the Iraq war, terrorism and homeland security.

South Bay Rep. Jane Harman, a longtime Democratic "hawk" on defense issues, emceed the event, which was sponsored by the SecureUS political action committee she founded last year amid concerns that Democrats were continuing to lose ground to Republicans on security issues.

Many of the candidates were military veterans, including some who fought in Iraq.

With President Bush's public approval languishing and the Republican advantage on security issues ebbing in polls, many Democrats sense the time is right.

Harman said "a series of massive blunders by this administration," including the unrest in Iraq, the response to Hurricane Katrina and the uproar over the Dubai ports deal "have refocused attention on this issue, and the credibility gap between Democrats and Republicans has narrowed to single digits."

Independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was wise to focus on the issue. But he said it would have to be more than skin deep to make a difference in the November elections. He noted that Republicans made Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., appear weak on defense in 2004 despite Kerry's record as a highly decorated Vietnam War veteran.

"It's a question of public policy and where the member or candidate stands on these issues. Some Democrats are just looking to symbols to define the party," he said.

Harman said the goal of Monday's session was to help the candidates craft effective messages on Iraq, counterterrorism and other security issues. The candidates heard from a prominent Democratic pollster and scholars on foreign policy and international security, in sessions coordinated by Third Way, a moderate Democratic group.

Former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry and former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., also spoke to the group.

"We think every one of these issues is winnable" for Democrats, Harman said.

But Iraq is also an issue that divides Democrats, with some calling for a quick pullout of U.S. forces while others, including Harman, want the situation there to be more stable first.

"The public fundamentally understands we can't have 535 commanders in chief," said Patru, referring to the combined size of the House and the Senate.

Harman countered that "Democrats have much more in common on the Iraq question than we have differences." All agree that staying on the current course being pursued by the Bush administration would be a mistake, she said.