- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

Congressional candidates are heading into the final four weeks of an election that is now focused on waging war in Iraq an issue that pushes the economy into the background and plays to Republican strengths on protecting national security.
With voters about evenly split over who should run Congress and worried about the economy and the stock market's decline, the last thing in the world that Democrats wanted to spend time discussing this coming week is a war resolution to give President Bush authority to disarm and overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
But the House and Senate will be debating Iraq all of this week and possibly longer, eclipsing the economic and domestic social-welfare issues that Democratic officials want to make the central focus of the elections. This emphasis on military action in Iraq, campaign analysts say, may work to the Republican Party's favor and against the Democrats.
"The party able to control the spotlight going into Election Day will undoubtedly win the majority of close races," election tracker Charlie Cook said in his latest campaign analysis.
A year of voter surveys by the Ipsos-Reid U.S. Public Affairs polling firm for his Cook Political Report shows that when the national campaign debate turned to the economy, jobs and the falling stock market, Mr. Bush's numbers fell and so did the generic vote for the Republicans. But when voters' attention turned to national security, the war on terrorism and the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the president's and the Republican Party's poll numbers rose significantly.
"If the election is about the economy, then expect Democrats to catch a break in the closest races on Nov. 5. If voters place a premium on supporting their commander in chief, then Republicans would likely catch the late breaks and win a disproportionate share of the closest races," Mr. Cook said.
For the past month or more, the White House has kept the focus on Iraq and the president's war plans to destroy Saddam's arsenal of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. Republican strategists said last week that they expect the administration will keep this issue front and center right up through Election Day on Nov. 5.
Clearly, the issue is helping Republicans in their House and Senate races, according to the latest polls and key strategists in both parties.
"Democrats need to refocus attention on the economy and Wall Street if they are to create or take advantage of a partisan wave in November that could enhance their chances in House and Senate races. That could still happen, but it hasn't happened yet," Stuart Rothenberg told his clients in the latest Rothenberg Political Report.
The Democrats need a seven-seat net gain to recapture control of the House, but virtually all analysts now say that gain appears unlikely because not enough congressional races are truly competitive. "If the House elections were held today, the Republicans would likely gain one to three seats," Mr. Rothenberg said.
The battle for the Senate, where Democrats cling to a one-vote majority, remains up for grabs, though the Republicans appear to have more opportunities to pull off upsets than the Democrats do at this point.
Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli's 11th-hour withdrawal from the race in New Jersey, after his poll numbers nose-dived in the wake of his ethics scandal, has helped Republican businessman Doug Forrester's chances of winning. The question of whether former Sen. Frank Lautenberg will be allowed to take Mr. Torricelli's place on the ballot is now in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, giving Mr. Forrester time to take advantage of the legal delay and the Democrats' uncertainty. However, some early polls show Mr. Lautenberg ahead of Mr. Forrester.
Several other Senate Democratic incumbents are struggling in their re-election races. Among them:
Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota is battling a strong challenge from former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, who has made the upcoming war resolution debate a major issue in his campaign. Mr. Wellstone, an anti-war liberal, says he will vote against the Bush resolution. Recent polls show Mr. Wellstone trailing by six percentage points.
cSen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri saw her poll numbers plummet in August against former Republican Rep. Jim Talent, but with the help of some heavy campaign spending on her behalf from the AFL-CIO, she has climbed back and the race is about even. She has said she backs Mr. Bush's policy toward Iraq and will vote for the resolution.
cThe contest between Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Republican Rep. John Thune has been in a dead heat from the beginning. Mr. Johnson also supports Mr. Bush on Iraq, but Republican polls show Mr. Thune with a slight edge.
Republican incumbents are struggling in at least two states right now. Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas is running neck-and-neck with Democratic Attorney General Mark Pryor. Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado, who is in a rematch with former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, is dead even in polls.
Still, the White House and Republican leaders are worried about the political fallout from the economy's continued anemia and have undertaken several initiatives in the past week to counter voter unhappiness over the continuing plunge in the stock market, which has shrunk 401(k) investments and other worker retirement plans.
Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican and chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, announced late Friday that the panel would meet tomorrow to mark up legislation raising the level of capital losses that investors can deduct from the committee's tax bill.
Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott also announced Friday that he will pass a "jobs package" of tax cuts for small businesses and other tax incentives for investors if he becomes majority leader in January.


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