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National Security May Not Resonate At The Polls This Fall


In the home stretch before the November election, Republicans are talking a lot about the threat of terrorism in ads like this one.


SCOTT BROWN: Radical Islamic terrorists are threatening to cause the collapse of our country. President Obama and Senator Shaheen seem confused about the nature of the threat. Not me.

MARTIN: That's an ad launched this week by Republican Scott Brown, who's running for Senate in New Hampshire. The GOP used the same strategy in the 2004 election, when they tried to attract so-called security moms - swing voters worried about national security. NPR's Ailsa Chang wondered if in 2014 the security moms are back so she dropped by a youth soccer game in Manchester, New Hampshire to see if any of the soccer moms there were likely to vote on security issues.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Several nights a week you'll find herds of parents scattered across the grass at Livingston Park in Manchester, their eyes glued to miniature soccer players.

CHANG: Do we know who's winning?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, the blue team. The stinky team.

CHANG: It's a place where parents can just hang out and talk. Today the talk turns to the Middle East, where freelance journalist James Foley was murdered.

ERIN LAVIOLETTE: I mean, yes, he was in Syria but I mean, it still hits home because you know, he was from New Hampshire.

CHANG: Erin Laviolette is the mother of 12-year-old twin boys.

LAVIOLETTE: A threat on our soil is definitely, you know, something that could happen and I definitely am concerned (laughing).

CHANG: But is she so concerned that might affect the way she votes in November? Is there a party that's better at keeping America safe? She says the Islamic State, or ISIS, doesn't feel like a voting issue just yet.

LAVIOLETTE: It's just kind of resonating now, like, I'm seeing it, it's just starting to seep in. I haven't thought about that, you know, as far as voting.

CHANG: With ISIS dominating headlines nearly every day, Republicans are hoping to play on long-held stereotypes that Democrats are weaker on national security. They tried it in 2004, hoping to attract a prized cohort of swing voters called security moms. Greg Murphy says he's happy to call himself a security dad.

GREG MURPHY: These terrorists want to kill us - plain and simple. We have to kill them first. It's better on their soil than ours. And President Obama's had six years to prove himself and he hasn't done it.

CHANG: Murphy is a retired cop and an Independent voter. He says he's voting against every Democratic incumbent this November and that national security is absolutely a key issue. It's not just him; he says the whole country's war weariness is fading.

MURPHY: I think we're turning the corner. I think the polls have shown that. I think the polls have shown a significant turnaround since ISIS reared their ugly head.

CHANG: Even kids are talking about the threat. Kay Mulcahy says her 12-year-old son, Jack is forcing the family to discuss ISIS.

KAY MULCAHY: He's brought it up and we've kind of asked him not to speak about it with the other kids.

CHANG: It especially scared his little sister, Mary.

Wait so what was Jack saying?

MARY: That they're going to kill me. Yeah, he says that they're going to slice off my head (laughter).

CHANG: And you believe him?

MARY: Yeah.

CHANG: Kay Mulcahy says she comforted Mary by telling her the chances of ISIS actually coming to New Hampshire to hurt her were so remote.

MULCAHY: I feel like we live in a very safe area here where we are. I feel like we have a great community, which makes it even safer.

CHANG: So you feel insulated?

MULCAHY: I do feel insulated.

CHANG: The Middle East seems so far away, so far removed.

MULCAHY: Yes, it definitely does.

CHANG: Which is why if Republicans want to use national security to win over voters like Mulcahy, they have much more work to do.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News. Manchester, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.