- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Michael Brooks is exactly the kind of voter the Republican Party can ill afford to lose. But in an omen for 2008, it may have already done just that.

The auto parts store worker from St. Charles, Mo., said he used to be a Republican but felt abandoned and now is an independent.

“For some reason or other, they didn’t seem to be for the masses anymore,” said Mr. Brooks, 59, citing a lack of help for middle-income earners. He said he voted for George W. Bush in 2000, thinking the Republican was “more middle of the road, for the people. Obviously, I was incorrect.”

Mr. Brooks is not alone. From coast to coast, independent voters tilt tellingly toward Democrats in their opposition to the Iraq war, their displeasure with Mr. Bush and their feeling that the country is moving in the wrong direction, according to data from Associated Press-Ipsos polls.

That could be decisive in next year’s contests for the White House and Congress, starting with the crucial early presidential primaries in New Hampshire.

The portion of that state’s registered voters not enrolled in a political party has grown to 44 percent. While people can vote in either major party’s primary, more are expected to choose the Democratic contest. That could boost anti-establishment candidate Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, while leaving the Republican race more in the hands of the party’s traditional conservative voters.

National exit polls show that after leaning toward Republicans by 48 percent to 45 percent as recently as the 2002 elections, independents began shifting toward Democrats.

The trickle became a wave by the congressional elections last year. Dissatisfaction with Mr. Bush and the Iraq war ran high, and independents favored Democratic candidates over Republicans by 57 percent to 39 percent. That was instrumental in the Democrats’ capture of congressional control after a dozen years of Republican dominance — and a possible preview of next year.

“This is a serious problem” for Republicans, Republican pollster Neil Newhouse said. “We didn’t get where we are among independents overnight. The data does suggest that it’s going to take us some time to earn those votes back. There is no quick fix.”

Independents are hardly a monolithic bloc. Some do not follow politics at all; others watch closely and conclude that neither party is good at running the government. They also are less likely to vote than those registered with a party, yet they are substantial in number.

In AP-Ipsos polling this summer, 44 percent of those surveyed initially said they had no major party affiliation. When pressed, most said they generally back one particular party, usually Democrats. That left 17 percent as true independents, more than enough to tilt the balance in the presidential and many congressional races.

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