President Bush and Karl Rove say Republican policies on terrorism are making Americans safer. Democrats dispute that and say the Iraq war has made the nation weaker.
Over the next two months, it seems likely that the rat-a-tat-tat on these high-profile national security issues will dominate the debate and play a major role in determining which party wins the House -- and perhaps the Senate.
But with Bush determined to stay the course in Iraq, and the ability limited for a narrowly divided Congress to change national security policy, the election outcome is more likely to influence domestic policy.
Though these issues have so far attracted little attention, the parties have vastly different agendas.
As long as Bush stays in the White House, he'll continue to set the GOP agenda. Its outlines seem clear: extension of the tax cuts, a possible new attempt at tax simplification, immigration overhaul and, according to White House and congressional aides, a renewed effort to change the Social Security system.
The latter could be a bold but potentially complicated undertaking, especially if Bush tries again to make the creation of personal, or private, retirement accounts a centerpiece of his request.
That approach failed miserably last year, in part because Democrats succeeded in making them politically unacceptable, even to many Republicans. Given the near certainty the next Congress will have more Democrats than the present one, the White House may have to seek a more comprehensive approach to Social Security's future if it hopes to get anywhere.
Indeed, some outside analysts believe the only way to make progress on fiscal and retirement issues is to consider them as a package and seek a bipartisan solution.
But that might require some rollback of previously voted tax cuts, which Bush is unlikely to accept. More likely, Americans will have to wait until a new president takes office in 2009 for any serious effort to deal with these complex and interrelated issues.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have put forth at least two separate agendas for the future. Top House Democrats issued six domestic priorities, and two Clinton White House veterans, Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and the Democratic Leadership Council's Bruce Reed, published a book with eight main domestic and national security proposals.
The congressional leaders would revise the Bush prescription drug plan to lower prices and expand stem cell research, reduce subsidies for energy companies and expand development of alternative fuels, increase the minimum wage and reduce tax subsidies to business, make college tuition tax deductible and cut student loan costs, expand savings incentives and restore the tools used in the 1990s to curb deficits.
In their new book, "The Plan," Emanuel and Reed list an array of specific proposals under these eight broad areas:
Universal service. All Americans 18 to 25 would be required to undergo three months of mandatory disaster training.
College access for all. Current student subsidy plans would be replaced with a $3,000 annual tax credit, and states would receive tuition grants.
Expanded retirement security. All employers would be required to enroll their workers in a 401(k) retirement savings plan.
Health care coverage for all children. It would be financed by greater use of information technology and other changes, including allowing Medicare to compete with private plans on drug prices.
Political reforms, including bipartisan panels to draw congressional districts and restoring pay-as-you-go spending rules.
Tax reform, including repeal of many corporate tax preferences, a 10 percent limit on taxes for those making up to $100,000 and a simplified tax form.
New tools to fight terrorism, including an increase of 100,000 in the Army and a new domestic intelligence agency.
Expanded development of hybrid engines, other energy alternatives and high-speed trains to cut gasoline consumption in half.
These eminently sensible proposals sound more like the agenda for a presidential race than for a party hoping to control one congressional house.
But along with the leadership's list, they provide some sense of what the Democrats would push and a useful contrast with the GOP agenda of recent years.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.