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Republicans, Democrats Battle for Control of US Congress


New public opinion polls suggest President Bush has helped Republican congressional candidates by refocusing this year's campaign debate on the war on terrorism. Despite the latest results, opposition Democrats remain optimistic they will gain seats in the November midterm congressional election and perhaps take over one or both chambers of Congress.

Two new polls, one by ABC News and the other by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal newspaper indicate a bump in support for President Bush and Republicans in their handling of the war on terror.

The poll results follow a series of speeches by Mr. Bush to refocus public attention on the war on terrorism as the central issue in this year's congressional election campaign.

On the fifth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States, the president warned against a quick withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq.

"Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone," said Mr. Bush. "They will not leave us alone. They will follow us. The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad."

Opposition Democrats are counting on public dissatisfaction with the president's handling of Iraq to carry them to victory in November.

"The war in Iraq was a mistake," said retired General and former Democratic presidential contender Wesley Clark. "The policies that this administration has trumpeted have not worked. It is time to change the course and to do that we must have a change in [congressional] leadership. That starts in 2006."

The latest polls also indicate a majority of Americans still believes that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Mike McCurry, who served as former President Bill Clinton's White House spokesman, says this year's election climate remains volatile.

"It is as polarized and as nasty and as mean, as sulfurous, as I have ever seen it in the 30 years that I have lived here and worked in Washington," he said.

Most political analysts continue to predict Democratic gains in November, primarily because of the angry mood in the electorate, especially among Democrats and some independent voters.

"What is their [the public's] overall mood? Right now, to say that voters are pessimistic is kind of putting it nicely. Why does that matter? It matters because intensity matters in campaigns," commented Amy Walter, a senior editor with the non-partisan Cook Political Report, a Washington-based political newsletter. "Anybody who has been in a campaign, anybody who has worked on a campaign knows that you really want the kinds of people who are angry, who are motivated, who are frustrated. Those are the kind of people who come out to vote."

But Republicans are fighting back, both on the Iraq war and the overall war on terrorism.

Many public opinion surveys suggest Democrats want a change in direction on Iraq, but that relatively few support an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces. Many Democrats running for Congress this year reflect that view.

"They [Democratic candidates] do not want timetables [for withdrawal]. They want a plan, an exit strategy," commented David Lightman, Washington bureau chief for the Hartford Courant newspaper and a frequent guest on VOA's Issues in the News program. "They want more hearings in Congress. They want more accountability. But they do not sound that much different from the Republicans and again I think this shows you the murkiness of the American mood over Iraq."

Most analysts believe Democrats will gain seats in November in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Several experts are already predicting that Democrats will pick up the 15 additional House seats they need to retake control of the 435-member chamber for the first time since 1994.

Democrats need a pickup of six seats to regain control of the Senate. Thirty-three of the 100 Senate seats are being contested this year.

Analyst Amy Walter says Republicans are worried that some of their supporters will stay home in November while Democrats are more energized and more likely to vote.

"What Republicans are fearful about is not that they go out and they vote for Democrats, I think that is pretty clear, but that they do not go out and vote at all. And it does not take a big margin to switch some of these races," she said.

But many Republicans are confident that they will be able to motivate their supporters to get out and vote on Election Day, November 7. Republican get-out-the-vote efforts were superior to the Democrats' in both the 2002 congressional elections and the 2004 presidential election.

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