Person of the Week: Tom Daschle

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Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, center, with Lott and Hastert

Tom Daschle is in a good spot. One moment the Senate Majority leader stands firmly behind a popular president asking for a resolution on Iraq, the next he's lambasting the same president for his "atrocious" record on economic policy. In other words, he stands exactly where the American people stand on not one, but two hot-button issues. And for this neat trick, he is our Person of the Week.

While a recent ABC news poll showed that two-thirds of Americans are prepared to support action against Iraq, an impending show of force is not an issue weighing heavily on most voters' minds. Again and again, candidates (particularly Democrats) return from stump speeches and town hall meetings and report that their would-be constituents are far more concerned about the economy and its effect on their families than they are about the potential for war with Saddam.

That's just what Daschle, South Dakota's moderate senior Senator, and the unofficial campaign chair for Democratic Senate hopefuls, wants to hear. This week he rekindled a war of words against President Bush, accusing the White House of ignoring a flailing U.S. economy, citing rising unemployment, slowed economic growth, declining business investment and eroding consumer confidence levels.

Even as he delivers this litany of reproach, Daschle, with an eye on November's elections, is careful not to criticize the administration's efforts in the war on terror, or to suggest that Bush's fixation on theoretical threats overseas may have distracted him from concrete and immediate problems here at home. Instead, he carefully separates the two issues, lauding the President's patriotic determination on one hand, slamming him relentlessly for his absenteeism on the economy on the other. "As busy as we are and as important as the effort on Iraq is, I hope this administration will dedicate some of its time this week to economic security as well, to these declining numbers, to this atrocious record," Daschle told reporters Tuesday.

So how do Democrats plan to capitalize on a sour economic mood? According to Democratic Party chief Terry McAuliffe, Democratic candidates are honing their speeches for a couple of key dates in the fall campaign season: on September 30th, for example, voters will start to receive retirement account statements in the mail. On October 4th and November 1st, the government releases the latest jobless figures. Conventional wisdom says that if the numbers are bad — as Democrats surreptitiously hope they will be — the GOP, as the party in power, stands to suffer at the hands of frustrated and angry voters.

Hence, Daschle's plan: Keep one eye on the growing tension over Iraq, one eye on a wretched Dow. If he (and the rest of the party) is lucky, this could be the year the Democrats hit two key issues at exactly the right time. It just depends on whether the party can drive their economic message home — somehow elevating them over the well-funded, extremely popular war cries of a sitting President.