- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 16, 2000

More Americans are likely to vote for a Republican congressional candidate than a Democratic one, giving the GOP some hope of holding the House of Representatives, according to a new Gallup poll.

The poll shows Republicans ahead 49 percent to 44 percent in a generic comparison taken the first week of February.

Democrats have generally held the advantage in recent months, which helped fuel their enthusiasm for retaking the House. Democrats need to pick up only six seats to retake control after six years of Republican leadership.

The numbers are similar to a poll a month ago by Fox News and Opinion Dynamics, which showed Republicans ahead 42 percent to 36 percent over Democrats.

This time a year ago, Democrats were up by about 10 points in most such generic polls, said Jill Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Republican National Congressional Committee.

"We've turned that around," she said. "The American people obviously approve of what we are doing."

The polls are the latest in a series of small victories for the Republicans, who are holding onto a tenuous lead in the House of Representatives and face a huge wave of retirements.

Last month, Republicans were cheered when Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia abandoned the Democratic Party. He declined to join the Republicans outright, but he agreed to caucus with the majority party and join in party conferences in return for a Republican seat on the Appropriations Committee.

At almost the same moment, Rep. Owen B. Pickett, Virginia Democrat, said he would retire. His open seat is almost certain to go to a Republican.

But not all the news is good for Republicans.

The news on Mr. Pickett was offset by news that Rep. Herbert H. Bateman, Virginia Republican, would retire, giving the party yet another open seat to defend.

So far, 23 Republicans have announced their retirements, while only seven Democrats are bowing out.

Meanwhile, pollster John Zogby came to a different conclusion from Gallup, finding this month that Democrats hold a very slight advantage in a generic comparison, 39 percent to 36 percent.

"Barring some sort of catastrophic event, we're looking at a very hotly contested battle for Congress," Mr. Zogby said.

One of the great unknowns is the shape of the presidential race, he said. The Republicans are locked in an unexpectedly tight battle between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain. The outcome of that primary fight will determine the shape of the debate on issues such as tax cuts and campaign-finance reform, issues which will affect the congressional races.

It's also not clear which of the two men would be a better match against Vice President Al Gore, who appears headed for the Democratic nomination.

Still, the Republicans can take some comfort. Gallup's generic poll has a demonstrably good record in indicating the outcome of congressional elections in recent years.

Another Gallup poll shows that the public is generally satisfied with the job Congress is doing for the first time in two years. A poll taken in early January, the latest available number, shows 51 percent of Americans approve of this Congress, while 42 percent disapprove. The previous poll, in September, showed that only 37 percent approved of Congress, while 56 percent disapproved.

The last time Congress made a favorable impression on the public was January 1999, when 50 percent of those surveyed approved of the job the legislators were doing.

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