I tuned in expecting dispatches from that alternate reality where the polls are all wrong and the Republicans' vaunted 72-hour turn-out-the-vote operation will secure the House come Tuesday. Instead Chris Wallace served up softballs to Missouri's Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill and grilled House Majority Leader John Boehner over his recent comments that seemed to blame the generals on the ground for the chaos in Iraq.
FNS had invited McCaskill and Republican incumbent Jim Talent on the show; but only McCaskill accepted. Does this suggest that McCaskill, tied in a statistical heat with Talent, sees more upside in reaching out to presumed Republican-leaning Fox News viewers than Talent does in reaching his base? If that was the calculation, McCaskill capitalized by crisply dealing with the two biggest issues in her race, Iraq and stem cell research. Chris Wallace kicked off the interview with a unique interpretation of the day's main news story, the sentencing of Saddam Hussein, when he said that "we have the news today that Saddam Hussein is no longer oppressing his people, that he faces a sentence of death. Doesn't that count for something?" Saying that Hussein "is no longer oppressing his people" hardly seems like news--I don't think there was much oppressing going on in that spider hole three years ago either--but it set McCaskill up to trumpet her prosecutor's credentials and to say that she's a big supporter of the death penalty. Then she quickly turned to Afghanistan, making the case that the Taliban "presents more of a threat to our country than the Sunni shooting the Shia and the Shia shooting each other."
That line of argument seems a productive way for Democrats to answer the charge that they have no plan for Iraq other than to leave: to remind people that Iraq is not the key battle in the war on terror but a distraction. As McCaskill put it, "We took our eye off that ball. We put all of our eggs in the Iraqi basket. And the security of our country has suffered." Read the transcript here.
John Boehner, who is probably in for a miserable week, kicked it off by taking some heat from Wallace over his defense of Rumsfeld on CNN on Wednesday. But you don't get to be House Majority Leader by abandoning your offense under attack. In response to Wallace's repeated questions about why Speaker Dennis Hastert was doing no national media (hint: starts with F and ends with O-L-E-Y), Boehner got off a zinger to his own rhetorical question, Where are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? "I think they'd be on the border welcoming people as they come across."