- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

President Bush and congressional Republicans are running high in the polls in the midst of war and a looming recession, as Americans continue to rally behind him and the Republican Party edges ahead of the Democrats in election surveys.
"Americans overwhelmingly support Bush's handling of the war. The poll numbers have been running in the high 80s to the low 90s," said pollster John Zogby.
Republicans, in a sharp turnaround, also have pulled ahead of the Democrats in Congress by two points when voters are asked which party they will support next year in the elections, he said. Democrats were running 11 points ahead of the Republicans before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
However, pollsters say that Mr. Bush's political prospects and those of his party could change in a heartbeat if there are no clear victories in the coming months in the war against the al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters in Afghanistan or the economy slips deeper into a recession.
"There already is evidence that a prolonged war compounded by a recession can drive the president's numbers right down," Mr. Zogby said. When voters are asked about their support if the war lasts more than two years, it falls below 50 percent.
"The president's got to have some victories," he said. "He's got a few months. I initially said he had six months, so he's got three or four months to go."
But nothing may endanger the Republican Party's political prospects more in the months to come than the rapidly deteriorating economy. In the past week alone, the government reported that the economy declined between July and September for the first time in nearly eight years and the unemployment rate shot up to 5.4 percent, the biggest jump in five years.
White House economic advisers believe the economy will shrink further in the fourth quarter, officially putting the country into a recession at the beginning of the 2002 midterm election year, when Democrats are a mere six seats away from taking control of the House and Republicans are just one seat away from regaining control of the Senate.
This situation is why senior presidential advisers say that the administration's stimulus plan, which would speed up the Bush tax cuts enacted last spring, is critically important not only to the economy but to their party's political prospects next November.
"You do not want to be entering a midterm election year with the economy in a recession, if you can help it," said a national Republican official speaking on the condition of anonymity.
But Democratic leaders have been waging a fierce campaign against the Bush plan, calling it a "rip-off" for working people and the wrong medicine for the economy. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has dismissed it as "a low priority" for the Senate, pushing instead for a major spending plan to help unemployed workers plus an additional $20 billion in public works projects.
Republican congressional leaders have charged that the Democrats' stalling is a deliberate scheme to let the economy drift deeper into a recession next year so that the blame will fall on the Republican Party in the elections. But Republican officials warned that such a strategy would backfire.
"Democrats are walking a thin and dangerous line in saying that they will not advance the president's stimulus package unless they get to advance parts of their agenda, which would have no stimulus effect on the economy," said Steven Schmidt, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"They risk being seen as obstructionist when the president is being seen as trying to put the wheels back on the economy's wagon," Mr. Schmidt said.
"This economy is weak, and people are losing their jobs because of an act of war, and it may be just as harmful politically to be seen by voters as obstructing that recovery," he said.
"Do the Democratic leaders want to say to the voters that we won't do anything to stimulate the economy? It's a very dangerous game to play when the president has a 90 percent approval rating," said another Republican campaign official.


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