- The Washington Times - Friday, January 18, 2002

Democrats' prospects for retaking the House and expanding their control of the Senate in November's midterm elections look dimmer now than six months ago, according to several new polls that show Republicans rating higher on handling issues from terrorism to education and the economy.

Republicans believe they are riding more than the president's popularity.

"It's not just the war on terrorism that's helping it goes far beyond that," says Kevin Sheridan, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. "I think Americans especially appreciate the bipartisan attitude and the new tone of this president and this administration."

But Democrats say they don't see the president's high approval ratings bolstering the chances of Republican candidates.

"Given Bush's high approval ratings, the numbers for Republicans should be much higher, to tell you the truth," said Maria Cardona, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

Among the recent polls:

•Sixty-one percent of respondents held a favorable view of Republicans, and 55 percent had a favorable view of Democrats a change from the nine percentage-point advantage Democrats held before September 11, a USA Today-CNN-Gallup Poll taken Jan. 11-14 found.

•Fifty-four percent of respondents approved of the jobs Republican leaders in Congress were doing, while 52 percent approved of congressional Democratic leaders' jobs, a Bloomberg News survey from Jan. 8-13 found.

•Forty-four percent of respondents trusted Republicans more than Democrats to handle the economy, while 34 percent trusted Democrats more. On education, Republicans held a 42-34 edge, a Fox News-Opinion Dynamics poll taken Jan. 9-10 found.

The Senate stands at 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and one independent who sides with Democrats on organization matters, while the House stands at 222 Republicans, 211 Democrats and two independents. The thin margin has members of both parties trying to read the tea leaves before the election.

Democrats plan to pursue a strategy of praising the president's performance in the war, while critiquing his and Congress' domestic agenda. They point to a poll conducted by Emily's List, a group that funds female lawmakers who support abortion rights, which shows more Americans blame Republicans than Democrats for failing to pass an economic-stimulus package last year.

Democrats take heart in history the president's party almost always loses seats in the midterm elections, after military engagements and during recessions.

The surveys show the two parties are statistically tied when voters are asked if they will vote for a Republican or Democrat in November.

Redistricting plans around the nation have been drawn to protect incumbents, which helps Republicans. In California, with almost an eighth of the nation's congressional seats, the lines protect the status quo completely.

Democrats claim success in retaining incumbents in the House eight Democrats have announced they are leaving the chamber while 17 Republicans have done so.

"They have a lot more truly competitive open seats to defend," says Kim Rubey, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But Carl Forti, a spokesman at the National Republican Congressional Committee, pointed to last year, when he said of 26 seats opened by Republican retirements, Democrats won five, while of nine seats opened by Democratic retirements, Republicans won six.

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