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Republicans Worry About Recent Scandal's Impact on US Elections

A budding scandal in the U.S. Congress and new questions about the war in Iraq have Republicans on the defensive less than five weeks before congressional elections in November.

As the November 7 vote draws near, the battle for control of Congress is intensifying.

A number of political analysts believe the recent scandal involving former Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida could help Democrats regain the House in November.

Foley resigned last week after his inappropriate, sexual e-mail contacts with male congressional pages came to light. Pages are high school age students chosen to serve as messengers and helpers for members of congress.

Opposition Democrats are now focused on what Republican congressional leaders knew about Foley's activities and when they found out about them.

"Every member of Congress who knew that this member was threatening our House pages and others needs to be held accountable," said Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Republicans are concerned that the Foley scandal could have an impact in November.

A new public opinion poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal suggests the Foley revelations are hurting Republican efforts to maintain control of Congress.

Meanwhile, President Bush and his Republican supporters continue to try and keep the election focus on Iraq and the overall war on terrorism.

Campaigning for Republican candidates in California, Mr. Bush warned that the U.S. stance against terrorists would soften if Democrats gained control of Congress.

"The stakes are high," president Bush said. " The Democrats are the party of cut and run. Ours is the party that has got a clear vision and says we will give our commanders and troops the support necessary to achieve that victory in Iraq. We will stay in Iraq, we will fight in Iraq and we will win in Iraq."

The Bush White House was put on the defensive last week over the findings of a national intelligence report and revelations in a new book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that raised questions about the administration's handling of the war in Iraq.

Democrats seized on the issue but some analysts question how much impact the debate over the intelligence report and the Woodward book will have on the election.

Karlyn Bowman is a public opinion expert at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

"People have already made up their minds about the situation [in Iraq]," she said. "They made up their minds up a long time ago and I do not think new evidence is going to change that."

Some experts believe that the congressional scandal involving former Representative Foley is potentially far more damaging to Republican prospects in November.

Craig Crawford is a political analyst with Congressional Quarterly magazine.

"What this story does is bring back into focus what the Democrats call a culture of corruption on Capitol Hill," he explained. "They can make a case that this was a cover-up, that it was a sign of the abuse of power and the hypocrisy of the party of family values, as Republicans like to present themselves."

Republicans worry that the Foley scandal could undermine their efforts to encourage a strong turnout among conservative Christian voters in November, traditionally one of the party's most loyal constituencies.

"And I think they are right to worry about that," said polling analyst Karlyn Bowman. "I think that is a concern for Republicans. They need to turn out their base [conservative voters] to be successful in this election and the events of the last couple of weeks are just not doing a lot to help that."

Democrats need a gain of 15 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats in the Senate to retake control of both chambers for the first time since 1994.