- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Voters are as deeply divided about the state of the economy as they are about which party is better equipped to improve it, and no single campaign issue dominates next week's election, pollsters said yesterday.
Pollsters variously described voters as angry, concerned or anxious about the economy, terrorism and war in Iraq. Several said they believe voters will express their unhappiness about sharply reduced investment portfolios by voting out several incumbent senators.
"A lot of incumbents are going down," pollster John Zogby said yesterday, ticking off four key Senate races Missouri and South Dakota, where Democrats are in danger of losing, and Arkansas and Colorado, where Republicans are at risk.
"Let's just say it is going to be difficult for incumbents to win in those states," he said.
Pollsters interviewed yesterday see the House staying in Republican hands, but say the voters are split down the middle on which party should control the U.S. Senate.
Mr. Zogby has just added two more states to his Senate "watch list." Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia is in a dead heat with Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, and polls show the North Carolina race between Republican Elizabeth Dole and Democrat Erskine Bowles tightening further.
"Voters are disappointed. After 9/11 they relied on government and political institutions to give them comfort and security, and there is a lot of insecurity out there about terrorism, about jobs and about investments," he said.
That's not the way President Bush's pollster, Matthew Dowd, sees it.
"Voters are concerned and anxious about a lot of different things, national security, terrorism, the war in Iraq, the economy, but they have not risen to the level of anger yet on any of those issues," Mr. Dowd said.
"The electorate continues to be polarized, Democrats versus Republicans, and is dead even. Republicans are likely to keep the House because there are so few competitive races, but the Senate will go down to the last day," he said.
The congressional elections are taking place at a time when the economy is growing by about 3 percent a year, the unemployment rate has fallen to 5.6 percent, home sales are at record levels and the stock market has turned modestly bullish in the past two weeks.
This mixed economic picture has forced some top Democratic campaign advisers to question their party's strategy to make the economy their No. 1 issue in the closing days of the election.
"While the economy is creating the desire for change and impatience with the Republicans, it is not the kind of wedge or unambiguous campaign issue that should become your sole focus in the last week," three Democratic consultants advised their party in a memo last week.
In a finding that had Republican officials cheering yesterday, Democratic strategists James Carville, Stanley Greenberg and Robert Shrum said their latest poll to measure changes in partisan preferences for Congress showed the two parties even, 45 percent to 45 percent.
"When we conduct a hypothetical test of the election the Republican candidates with their broad message on security, taxes and pro-prescription drugs against a Democrat focused on getting the economy moving and critiquing Republican policies the contrast produces no shift to the Democrats," they said.
"The economy is what creates the mood for change, but it has not been sufficiently polarized to make this an economy election for your campaigns in the last week," the Democrats added.
That blunt finding, which essentially says the Democrats' strategy in the last week will have no effect on the elections, stunned Mr. Dowd and other Republican strategists.
"It is amazing that they put that memo out showing that their strategy actually showed there was a contraction in their support. It's amazing that they are telling Democrats, 'Don't run on the economy,'" Mr. Dowd said.

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