- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

The current political situation is very volatile, and much can happen before the Nov. 7 midterm election. Nevertheless, if the election were held today, most analysts believe that Republicans would almost certainly lose their majority in the House, where Democrats must gain 15 seats to achieve majority status. In the Senate, where Democrats must capture a net gain of six seats to become the majority party, political prognosticator Charlie Cook recently observed: “It is no longer far-fetched to see how Democrats could win six Republican seats, or even seven — which would be necessary for them to gain a majority if they lose one of their own seats.”

For Republicans, the October polling data are cause for great concern. This is especially so if you contrast today’s situation with the one that prevailed in October 2002, the month before Republicans defied an historical pattern in which the party occupying the White House suffered electoral losses (oftentimes large losses) in the midterm election during a president’s first term. In November 2002, the GOP gained six seats in the House and recaptured a majority in the Senate.

Four years ago, both chambers of Congress had just overwhelmingly passed resolutions authorizing the use of force against Iraq, and President Bush’s overall job—approval rating hovered around 65 percent. Polls conducted earlier this month reveal that President Bush’s job-approval rating has once again fallen below 40 percent, a politically perilous depth he first encountered earlier this year as gas prices soared and sectarian strife in Iraq steadily worsened. President Bush’s job-approval rating briefly rose above 40 percent in late summer, when gas prices were plunging and the president was delivering a series of speeches about national security and terrorism in commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. But that respite was short-lived.

With sectarian strife in Iraq worsening, the public now disapproves of President Bush’s handling of Iraq by a 64-35 margin, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News (WP/ABC) poll. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, which was completed in early October, reports that by a margin of 61-29 Americans already believe “Iraq is in a civil war.” The same poll revealed that 46 percent of Americans (a decisive plurality and 14 points higher than three weeks earlier) now believe that “the war in Iraq was hurting the U.S. in its ability to win the war on terrorism”; 32 percent said the war in Iraq was helping in the war on terror; and 19 percent said the war in Iraq was not making a difference either way. In September, the Washington Post/ABC poll showed that Americans approved of the president’s handling of the U.S. campaign against terror by a 53-45 margin. But those numbers were reversed in October. Four years ago, it is worth noting, the president’s approval margin in conducting the campaign against terror was 74-23. Today, it is 45-53.

In the wake of the Foley sex scandal, which erupted Sept. 29 and involved obscene emails from a homosexual Republican representative to former pages, congressional Republicans are not faring any better in October polling. In the USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted in early October, registered voters said they would vote for a Democrat over a Republican in their congressional district by a 58-35 margin, reflecting a dramatic increase from the 51-42 advantage Democrats enjoyed in mid-September. Compared to a 51-43 approval margin four years ago, the Washington Post/ABC poll showed that Americans disapproved of the way the U.S. Congress was doing its job by a 66-32 margin today. Specifically, by a 63-35 margin, Americans “disapproved of the way the Republicans in Congress are doing their job.” In contrast, the public disapproves of the way Democrats are handling their job by only a 50-48 margin. The Washington Post /ABC poll also revealed that Americans trusted Democrats to do a better job handling several issues, including the situation in Iraq (51-38); the U.S. campaign against terror (47-41); the economy (54-37); immigration issues (49-36); health care (61-28); and ethics in government (49-30).

As always, but especially in midterm elections, voter turnout will be a key variable on election day. Turnout is difficult to predict, especially in today’s environment in which Republicans have demonstrated considerable success in “microtargeting” likely GOP voters and getting them to the polls. Nevertheless, Mr. Cook ? the nonpartisan, authoritative political prognosticator — recently observed that “there are considerable signs that Republican voters are lethargic and disillusioned this year and that Democratic voters are angry and energized.”

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