ByÂ Steve Peoples, Roll Call
Elected officials and campaign operatives were careful Monday to avoid any suggestion that Osama bin Ladenâ€™s death would have political consequences.
It was clear, however, that the Obama administrationâ€™s successful hunting of the worldâ€™s top terrorist shifted the 2012 electoral landscape, giving the president and his party new credibility on a potent issue as violence rages across the Middle East. But it also became evident that the road to politicize bin Ladenâ€™s death is lined with peril.
Take it from Rick Wilson, the Florida-based Republican consultant who crafted the now-infamous 2002 ad that used bin Ladenâ€™s image to attack then-Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran.
â€œI think [Democrats] run a very great risk attempting to turn this into a political resource because it tempts the question in peopleâ€™s minds: Are you now using the sacrifice that these men made as a prop? Are you now looking at the heroism and valor that these men showed as a political lever?â€ Wilson told Roll Call. Obama â€œhas to be extraordinarily careful about it and extraordinarily smart about it in the coming weeks and months. I do not believe that the Democrats have the moral footing to run a counter ad toâ€ the Cleland ad.
Whether either party has stronger moral footing remains to be seen, but Democratic consultants conceded that bin Ladenâ€™s death offered political opportunities and dangers alike.
â€œIt will now become very difficult for Republicans to use this as a club to beat up Democrats. The answer for Democrats is now, â€˜Who caught him? You want to talk about Osama bin Laden? Okay, who got him?â€™â€ said Democratic strategist Mark Nevins, adding that the issue could be used more aggressively as well.
â€œI would have thought it would have been difficult for Republicans to politicize 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, but they sure did it,â€ Nevins continued. â€œClearly, itâ€™s the sort of thing that can be done effectively because Republicans have done it for so long. But it canâ€™t be done without some risk. For candidates willing to roll the dice and willing to go to a very risky place, strategically, it can be done.â€
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