The dramatic killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden by American commandos will immediately reorder a Republican presidential contest that until now had been colored by provocative voices and marginal issues.
The long-awaited death of the Sept. 11 mastermind offered a jarring reminder to GOP activists of the challenge they’ll face in trying to unseat the commander-in-chief. And, for some in the party, it will prompt a round of soul-searching about what candidate is up for such a task.
The hope among establishment Republicans is that the succession of events will trigger an end to what they see as the silly season — that party activists will sober up and end their flirtation with the fringe.
“This is probably a wake-up call that the stakes of this game are very serious,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a veteran political strategist. “If the byproduct of this is that we get a little more serious about what it takes to lead the country in the Oval Office, then that will be a really good thing.”
But already, the bin Laden news is prompting top Republicans to be more public about their desire to re-focus the nascent primary.
Leading Republicans, however, conceded that for now their task of taking back the White House just got harder.
“He will get a short-term bump,” said Ed Gillespie. “People feel good, as they should, there’s a rallying effect.”
But, uniformly, Republicans said that after the glow dims the economy and price of gas would again be central in determining whether Obama can be beaten next year.
“I’d be surprised if people said, ‘I’m out of a job and paying more for gas, but Osama bin Laden was killed back in May,’” Gillespie said.
“This election is about three things: jobs, houses and cars,” Ron Kaufman added. “My job, my house and putting gas in my car.”