- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

The downfall of lobbyist Jack Abramoff so far has yielded little political impact, pollsters and campaign strategists say.

While one recent poll showed Democrats with a slight edge going into this fall’s midterm congressional elections, several observers say there is no indication that the scandal surrounding Abramoff — a former conservative activist who pleaded guilty to several felony charges last week — has begun to influence voters’ perceptions.

“It’s too soon in terms of the story really breaking into the public imagination,” said independent pollster John Zogby. “It’s less than a week old. Prior to that it was purely an inside the Washington Beltway story.”

Republicans have been quick to point out that Abramoff, along with his clients and associates, gave millions to Democrats, and Mr. Zogby said this requires “a note of caution to both sides” in the scandal.

“The Democrats’ tendency to portray the Republican Congress as the most corrupt in years could backfire on them, because clearly that opens the door to the Democrats who have received money from Abramoff,” Mr. Zogby said. “On the other hand, I don’t think Republicans want to be out there saying everybody does it.”

An Associated Press/Ipsos poll of 1,001 Americans, taken between Jan. 3 and 5, showed that more people were leaning toward voting Democratic in this year’s congressional elections, with Democrats favored over Republicans by 49 percent to 36 percent.

That survey was taken before Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, under scrutiny for his close ties to Abramoff, announced that he would not seek to return to his Republican House leadership position.

Republicans discounted the AP “generic poll” — which is not based on what voters think of actual candidates — saying such surveys tend to exaggerate the Democratic vote. But some said it was an accurate political measurement of the mood of the country at any given time.

“Generic polls are not predictive at all at this point, but it is a good indicator of the general mood of the country at this point. That number is pretty consistent with other [poll] numbers out there,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

“Voters will make distinctions about their own representative and senators regarding their own actions in connection with Mr. Abramoff, but the problem is the image of Congress, which is not healthy at the moment and which is likely to take another Democratic hit,” he said.

Throughout most of last week, Democrats were attempting to tie the lobbying scandal to the Republican Congress and Republican lawmakers who had accepted campaign contributions from Mr. Abramoff, or did legislative favors for him. The Democratic National Committee said their party would make Washington’s “culture of corruption” a major campaign issue in November.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said that “this Republican Congress is the most corrupt in history, and the American people are paying the price.” Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada called the Abramoff imbroglio “a Republican scandal.”

Republicans countered with a detailed list of Democratic lawmakers, including Mr. Reid, who have accepted Abramoff-connected campaign contributions. “A Republican problem? Not so fast, Senator Reid,” was the headline on one of more than a dozen Republican broadsides last week.

“From the polling data we’ve seen, it’s not one side or the other that’s getting fallout from the corruption charges that are out there,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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