- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 23, 2002

Nearly half of all Democrats are complaining that their party's congressional leaders are not doing a good enough job of standing up for working people, minorities and the poor, a new poll reported yesterday.
As Democratic leaders struggle to find an election year issue that cuts into President Bush's popularity, a survey of 1,002 adults by the independent Pew Research Center uncovered deep dissatisfaction in the party over the kinds of issues its leadership has been focusing on lately.
Only 64 percent of Democrats approve of the way House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota are doing their job, the Pew survey showed. This compares with an 80 percent job approval score that Republicans gave their party's leadership.
"Perhaps more significant, barely half of Democrats [51 percent] say the party is doing an excellent or good job of standing up for such core principles as representing the interests of working people, protecting minorities and helping the poor," the Pew report said.
Pew findings come at a time when other polls show that Mr. Bush's job approval numbers are still in the high 70s and that 44 percent of Hispanic voters who account for a major part of the Democratic Party's voter base say they will vote for Mr. Bush in 2004. That is 9 points higher than the percentage of Hispanics who voted for him in 2000.
"The Republican Party continues to inspire much more confidence than the Democrats on major international issues the war against terrorists and the conflict in the Mideast. When it comes to the war on terrorism, a sizable number of Democrats think the Republicans have better ideas than their own party," the Pew report said.
Notably, the Pew poll found that by a margin of 37-to-33 percent, Democrats preferred the administration's handling of the war on terrorism over their own party's proposals.
These findings partially explain why questions raised by Democratic leaders about how much Mr. Bush may have known about the terrorist threats before September 11 have failed to undermine public support for the way the president has dealt with the terrorist threat and his handling of national security.
Democrats abandoned or noticeably muted their criticisms this week when the administration aggressively struck back and it became clear that their attacks on Mr. Bush were backfiring on them, especially with their party's base.
In an analysis of the Democrats' shift away from their earlier, sharply worded charges, The Washington Post said, "So far they have learned that anything that smacks of questioning Bush's competence is a losing strategy."
"People trust George Bush to deal with this problem," Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told The Post. "There will be little to be found out that will cause people not to trust him to deal with this problem."
The Pew poll, conducted between May 6 and 16, also found that "as many as one-third of Democrats believe the party's leaders are speaking out too little in response to Bush's policies. That number rises to 46 percent among Democrats who express general disapproval of the job Democratic leaders in Congress are doing."
The poll showed that the Democrats led Republicans on domestic issues such as providing prescription-drug benefits through Medicare and strengthening Social Security. And Democratic strategists like Mr. Mellman think the party's leaders should focus more on these kinds of bread-and-butter issues that he and other Democrats think will determine the outcome of the congressional elections this November.
Other Democrats agree with that strategy. "Democrats ought to be preoccupied with health care, not trying to 'get' Bush on the war," a party strategist told The Post.

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