- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

Months of declining polls for President Bush and Congress, which threaten Republican prospects in November, have begun to bottom out and will turn upward when the White House begins a new public-relations offensive, Republican strategists say.

With Mr. Bush’s job-approval score sinking to 36 percent in the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll, which also showed voters favoring Democratic control of Congress 49 percent to 33 percent, the focus among Republican pollsters and policy strategists has turned to the operational changes that Joshua B. Bolten, the incoming White House chief of staff, will be implementing in the coming weeks.

A Republican policy adviser who is close to the White House says the administration’s new sales offensive to turn around its anemic polls “will be significant,” as some Republican pollsters see emerging signs of an improving political environment in the economy and elsewhere.

“I think the new chief of staff is going to change the way the White House is run and policies are promoted, and I think we are going to see a major public-relations offensive as a result, with the economy being touted a lot more than it has been,” said Republican pollster David E. Johnson for the Atlanta-based Strategic Vision.

Pointing to increasing signs of a growing economy and a strong employment report Friday that showed 211,000 jobs were created last month, Mr. Johnson said the polls “might be beginning to bottom out.”

“I think it’s gone as low as it can for the president and the Republicans in Congress,” he said.

He did not rule out that the Republicans “could lose the House if things stay in this current atmosphere,” but added, “I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s peaking too soon for the Democrats.”

Other Republican strategists say they see other developments that will help the Republican Party improve their numbers in the months to come. Some said the decision by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas to resign from Congress, after his indictment on campaign money-laundering charges, removes him as a political target for the Democrats.

“I don’t think there is any question that this is a difficult environment to run in, but I think there are some clear positives for the GOP,” said Republican pollster David Winston.

“The first and biggest is the economy and 4.7 percent unemployment. Assuming this trend continues, by the time we get into the summer and early fall, it will be having a positive effect” in the elections, Mr. Winston said.

Another favorable political sign “that has been emerging is the growing number of seniors who have been responding more positively to the prescription-drug benefit program. A lot of people have signed up, over 27 million, and we’ve seen these people have a very positive response,” he said. Seniors have a historically heavy turnout, and the popularity of the drug benefits could help Republican lawmakers at re-election time.

Although the war in Iraq and its impact on the voters remains “the big unknown this year,” Mr. Winston said, “I have not seen things slip over the past couple of weeks in terms of Bush and Congress, though we’re still in a difficult position.”

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