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Fierce Battle Underway for Control of US Congress

The battle for control of Congress is intensifying with only two months to go until the congressional elections on November 7. The war in Iraq and the war on terror are front and center in this year's election campaign.

Republicans have controlled both the Senate and House of Representatives since 1994. Opposition Democrats believe that 2006 is their best opportunity to win back control of at least one chamber and possibly both.

Opinion polls indicate Democrats are poised to make gains because of public unhappiness over the war in Iraq, economic concerns and President Bush's low approval ratings.

In recent days, the president has given a series of speeches to refocus the campaign on the issue of the war on terror, an area where Republicans believe they have an advantage over Democrats.

"This is the great ideological struggle of the 21st century. It is the calling of our generation," he said.

Mr. Bush says the United States is safer now than it was before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

But Democrats dispute that, arguing that the Iraq war has been a negative distraction for the war on terror and that overall, America is not as safe as it should be.

Harry Reid of Nevada leads Democrats in the Senate.

"They have run this play one too many times," he said. "It is the same speeches that they have given before and all the speeches in the world do not change what is going on on the ground in Iraq. And as we have heard, the ground in Iraq is not a pleasant place."

But Democrats are divided over what to do about Iraq. Some favor a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops, while many others argue that would send the wrong message to insurgents and terrorists operating inside Iraq.

President Bush continues to argue that the U.S. must stay the course in Iraq indefinitely.

"And there are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period," he said. "And they are wrong. And the American people have got to understand the consequence of leaving Iraq before the job is done."

Political analysts predict that Mr. Bush and his Republican supporters will keep the focus on the war on terror for the final two months of the congressional election campaign.

"The only issue where Republicans still have an advantage is the war on terror," said David Rohde, a professor of political science at Duke University in North Carolina. "All domestic issues are tilted substantially to the Democrats. And even with respect to the war in Iraq, all the polls I have seen show that the public thinks that Democrats would do a better job than the Republicans."

Many experts believe that Republicans have an advantage on the issue of national security and highlighted the issue to good effect in the 2002 congressional elections and in President Bush's re-election victory in 2004.

Tom DeFrank is Washington Bureau Chief for the New York Daily News and a frequent guest on VOA's Issues in the News program.

"The president believes, I think he believes absolutely, sincerely, that it would be a huge mistake to set any kind of timetable and begin a withdrawal from Iraq," he said. "But he also believes, or at least his political advisers believe, that that is an issue on which the Democrats are very vulnerable. So, I think we are going to see stronger rhetoric in the next nine weeks."

But opinion polls suggest voters may be looking for a change in November because of growing disenchantment with the war in Iraq and the domestic economy.

Thomas Mann is a political expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He believes this year's elections could signal a shift in the balance of power in the nation's capital.

"American midterm elections typically are local affairs, local politics," he noted. "But maybe once a decade you get an angry, aroused electorate that weighs in with a negative referendum on the party of government."

Duke University analyst David Rohde says Democrats appear to be in position to gain the 15 seats they need to retake control of the 435-member House of Representatives.

"In the House, things have been moving decidedly against the Republicans over the past couple of months," he explained. "Many more races are in play, according to most of the analysts that follow this closely."

Most experts believe the Democrats will have a harder time winning a majority in the 100-member Senate. Democrats need to gain six Senate seats in this year's elections without losing any seats they currently hold.

There are 33 Senate races this year. Democrats hold 18 of those seats while Republicans hold 15.