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Two national political leaders debated the implications of the upcoming mid-term elections Monday evening at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum.
With the election just fifteen days away, the debate focused on how the voters perceive the Republican and Democratic parties in light of the war in Iraq, with control of both houses of Congress very much up in the air.
Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee (2001-05), pointed to America’s failure in Iraq and the need to deploy troops there. “We have got to change course. We need new leadership.” he said. “You can’t be successful in Iraq, but we can’t just pull out. We need to send a signal to the Iraqis that we are going to begin deploying our troops.”
McAuliffe argued further, “George Bush told us two years ago that the Iraqis would be armed and trained by now. We’ve given them plenty of time and plenty of money.”
Ed Gillespie, chairman of the Republican National Committee (2003-05), countered McAuliffe’s argument, saying, “I don’t know a single Republican that does not want to see our troops come home. The difference of opinion is over when and how.”
He added, “Success in Iraq is not only in the interest of the Iraqi people, but it is in the interest of the American people. It is vital to our national security interest that there be a free, stable Iraq in a part of the Middle East that is an ally in the war on terror….Winning in Iraq will make us safer as a nation. This [war] is about the American people principally and the Iraqi people secondarily.”
Both speakers also made reference to how crucial the election outcomes will be for their respective parties.
“This is historic for us,” McAuliff said. “We have to take advantage of the opportunity and I think once we get power—and there is no question we are going to get it—I think we need to show the American public that we deserve it. Then I believe we can have realignment in American Politics.”
Gillespie spoke optimistically about the GOP’s chances on Election Day. “The Republican Party is a coalition…. Our coalition counts on fiscal conservatives, economic conservatives and religious conservatives. I believe we will continue to hold that coalition together and hopefully broaden it, bringing more people into the party….I think we can hold our coalition together and grow our majority if we take the right approach on some key issues.”
Currently in the House of Representatives, Republicans hold 231 seats while Democrats hold 205 seats. In the Senate, Republicans hold 55 seats while Democrats hold 44 seats.
Jeanne Shaheen, director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics and governor of New Hampshire (1997-2003) moderated the debate.
To watch the video of this event, visit the Forum archive- http://iopforum.harvard.edu:8080/ramgen/fr20061023election.rm