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Iraq and Scandals Put US Voters in Sour Mood

Americans go to the polls on November 7th in a midterm election that could give opposition Democrats control of Congress. As VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, no single issue is likely to determine which party wins or loses.

Americans elect their congressional representatives and one-third of the senators every two years and presidents every four years. This staggered system often gives control of one or both houses of Congress to one party, and the White House to another.

President Bush is confident that his Republican Party will remain in the majority on Capitol Hill. "I still stand by my prediction we'll have a Republican Speaker and Republican Leader of the Senate. And the reason I say that is because I believe the two biggest issues in this campaign are, one, the economy -- and the economy is growing. The national unemployment rate is 4.6 percent."

Mr. Bush says the second issue is national security. Public opinion polls indicate weakening, but generally positive support for his administration's conduct of the war against terror. However, public perceptions about the Iraq war could offset the president's claim of a growing economy.

Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, DC, says one of those areas is … the economy.

"Americans are quite pessimistic today. I think the war in Iraq has cast a pall over their feelings in a lot of areas, so you see pessimism in areas not related to the war in Iraq. Pocketbook issues are always important in off-year election campaigns and all election campaigns, and I think those issues are central. Most Americans do not think the economy is doing very well. They're pretty satisfied with their own situation but worried about fellow workers."

Similarly, Bowman says voters appear satisfied with their own representatives, but unhappy with other members of Congress. The institution has been rocked by a series of scandals involving top Republicans. Influential lobbyist Jack Abramoff admitted bribing members of Congress. House Majority Leader Tom Delay was indicted on charges of illegal fundraising. And Mark Foley, the chairman of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, resigned after revelations that he sent sexually explicit emails to congressional pages.

Steven Wayne, professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, says these scandals have particularly dismayed Christian evangelicals, a key Republican constituency that has strong feelings about moral and ethical issues. "It's not likely that they'll come out and vote Democratic. But it is likely that they might not come out and vote, and if a significant segment of the Christian coalition decides to stay home in this election, that will really hurt the Republicans."

Political analysts say no specific issue is likely to determine the November election. But Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of a non-partisan political newsletter [The Rothenberg Report], says a number of issues could tip the balance in various states or regions. "Prescription drug benefits. Health care. The larger healthcare issue could be a significant factor in some races where there are senior citizens, older populations such as Florida. Immigration could well be an issue and we're not quite sure how it's going to play."

This issues pits border control against the demand for cheap labor, particularly in states close to Mexico.

Elsewhere, layoffs are an issue in the industrial Midwestern states like Michigan, where tens of thousands of autoworkers have lost jobs. And South Dakota is conducting a referendum on a state law that bans all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.

With the absence of any single national issue, Georgetown professor Steven Wayne says November's election could revolve around the voters' mood.

"The mood is sour, the president is disapproved by more people than he is approved. Congress is disapproved by many more people, almost two to one, than they are approved."

President Bush, however, is not on the ballot and Americans do not elect Congress, but rather its individual members. Analysts say while most incumbents are likely to be re-elected, a shift of just a few seats could give the opposition Democrats control of one or both houses.