WASHINGTON - In the past few weeks, I have spoken with a number of politically experienced Democrats. The two questions I've asked them: "What do you think of President Bush's chances in 2004, and why?"
Publicly, they would state Mr. Bush is in trouble. But privately, to a person, they say the election is all but over, and he will win.
Their rationale, pure and simple, is terrorism. These Democrats know the American people believe that Mr. Bush can protect them against terrorism better and more forcefully than the Democrats, and that protecting the homeland trumps economic issues or any other wedge issue the Democratic nominee may come up with.
The current rhetoric of the nine candidates now running for the Democratic nomination would have the American people believe that Mr. Bush, our intelligence agencies and our military have failed in the war against terrorism. That is their rhetoric, but many Americans (including Democratic voters) aren't buying it.
The American people are very bright and very realistic. They understand and expect another "terrorist shoe" to drop in the United States someday. That's the reality we all live with after Sept. 11.
That said, many Americans still believe that Mr. Bush will be the right person to have in the White House should that occur. Many American voters simply don't believe that any of the Democrats running right now would confront or hit back at terrorists as hard as Mr. Bush would.
The recent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco have the nine Democrats candidates and many liberals in the media charging that Mr. Bush's war on terrorism is a "failure." A little honesty and objectivity by those Democrats and those in the media would be appreciated by the American people.
As tragic as those attacks were, there are three things to remember: They were against lightly protected or unprotected "soft" targets, they were not in the United States (as there have been no terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11), and they could have happened almost anywhere in the world at any time.
I find it interesting that these Democratic candidates and some in the media are so quick to acclaim the "rebirth" of al-Qaida and the "failures" of heroic American men and women around the world. They do so just because some fanatical homicidal maniacs decide to blow themselves up in front of an unprotected Spanish restaurant or a lightly protected residential compound. This is the genius and cunning they attach to these terrorists. Just as, without one shred of proof, they declare that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks.
Any yet they will give little or no credit, thanks or gratitude to our special forces teams, CIA operatives, FBI agents and thousands of other Americans who are fanned out across the world systematically hunting down and eliminating terrorist threats to our nation and the world.
Have the politics of presidential campaigns and the hate of some in the media for Mr. Bush become so pervasive that these Democratic candidates and some in the media would tell these valiant Americans (or their next of kin) that they have failed because a fanatic blew himself up in front of an unprotected restaurant in Morocco?
Privately, the Democrats with whom I spoke all but concede 2004 to Mr. Bush. They are looking toward 2008 and expect Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania to be the front-runners.
Until then, they expect the American electorate will give Mr. Bush one more term to continue his war on terrorism.
Douglas MacKinnon, a former press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole, is also a former White House and Pentagon official.