- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2003

Republicans are touting a recent poll that suggests they won the recent marathon debate over the blockade against President Bush’s judicial nominations.

While neither side came away from the debate smelling like roses among independents, Democrats came away smelling worse, according to Republican pollster David Winston.

“In the process of making their base happy, Democrats worsened things with independents,” said Mr. Winston, who conducted the poll last week during and after the 39-hour debate in the Senate over filibusters Democrats have waged against six of Mr. Bush’s nominees.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters found that among the independents who paid attention to the debates, 55 percent held a negative view of Democratic arguments, while 41 percent held a negative view of Republican arguments.

“For both sides, this is an important base issue,” Mr. Winston said. “But the group in the middle doesn’t like the concept of obstruction.”

David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said he isn’t aware of any Democratic polling conducted on the issue since the debate, but was suspicious of the Republican findings.

“After 39 hours and reams of speeches, it says something when Republicans are reduced to having to spin what their own poll says about the talkathon,” Mr. Carle said. “The selective results they’ve decided to release are nothing for them to brag about.”

Normally, the judicial-confirmation process is watched by only the most politically active Americans, Mr. Winston said. So he was surprised earlier this year when the issue spiked at 10 percent awareness among registered voters after Democrats began their first filibuster against the nomination of D.C. lawyer Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Mr. Estrada has since withdrawn his nomination after eight months of filibustering.

Still, the issue was low on Americans’ radar even after the Estrada filibuster began. Democrats and their supporters gleefully pointed to polls at the time showing many voters confused the nominee with actor Erik Estrada from the 1977-83 hit television cop series “CHIPs.”

During the talkathon, 54 percent of registered voters had heard or read about the blockade of judicial nominees, according to Mr. Winston’s poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

But Democratic supporters were not backing down after the debate.

“The Republican strategy backfired,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal group People for the American Way. “They wanted to demoralize the Democrats, but in the end they energized the Democrats and fostered even greater solidarity.”

Republicans, however, insist the issue is not so much about judges specifically, but the larger concept of Democrats’ obstruction in general.

They used the issue of obstruction against Democrats in last year’s Senate elections. Most notably, former Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat and triple amputee after a battle in Vietnam, was defeated by a Republican who blamed him and other Democrats for trying to block Mr. Bush’s requested Department of Homeland Security.

“Democrats may have reinforced their base,” Mr. Winston said. “But they did significant damage to themselves in terms of the middle.”


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