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Iraq War Issue Dominates US Congressional Elections


With less than one week to go until Election Day, Republicans are trying to fend off a strong challenge from opposition Democrats for control of the U.S. Congress. The war in Iraq continues to dominate the U.S. election campaign.

The latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll shows 52 percent of those surveyed want Democrats to control Congress, compared to 37 percent who want Republicans to remain in charge. That 15 -point advantage for Democrats comes only days before the election and is the largest margin recorded on that question in that particular poll.

Congressman Harold Ford is a Democrat running for the Senate in Tennessee. He told Fox television that the war in Iraq is the major factor helping Democrats and hurting Republicans.

"They are sick of this war,” said Congressman Ford. “They are sick of a Republican Congress that cannot fix their borders. They are sick of a Republican Senate that has allowed health premiums to continue to go up and they are sick of the White House, the Congress and the Senate for not doing better for working people."

Republicans want to shift the debate away from Iraq to their record on cutting taxes and President Bush's handling of the overall war on terror.

House Republican leader John Boehner told ABC's This Week program that efforts by Democrats to turn the election into a national referendum on the Iraq war will fail.

"We do not have a national election and all these big national polls that show the trends do not mean anything, because what we have are 435 individual races all around the country," he said.

In addition to the 435 House seats at stake, there are 33 Senate races and 36 contests for state governor. Democrats need a gain of 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate to regain control of both houses of Congress for the first time since 1994.

The latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll found 54 percent of those surveyed do not believe the Iraq war was worth the cost, compared to 37 percent who do.

The decline in public support has caused even some Republican candidates to call on the president to change course in Iraq, though none of them supports an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops.

In his campaign appearances around the country on behalf of Republican candidates, President Bush says insurgents in Iraq have stepped up attacks to influence the U.S. election.

"Our enemies hope these violent images will cause us to lose our nerve and pull out before the job is done,” said president Bush. “They do not understand the United States of America. We will not run from thugs and assassins."

Mr. Bush has also called for Democratic Senator John Kerry to apologize for remarks Kerry made to college students in California this week. Kerry urged the students to do well in school because if they did not, they could, in his words, "get stuck in Iraq."

President Bush said the comment was an insult to U.S. troops in Iraq. Kerry said it was a botched joke and that he was trying to make fun of the president's less than stellar academic record in college.

Kerry also accused Republicans of trying to use his remarks to distract voters from Iraq. He spoke on the Don Imus program on MSNBC television.

"Iraq is what this is about. They know it. They are trying to change the topic," said Senator Kerry.

Most experts believe Iraq will be a decisive issue in next week's election.

Norman Ornstein monitors U.S. politics at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

“People who do not pay attention to politics know one thing. The Republicans have got the reins of power. They see the wheels coming off in Iraq. They also do not believe that this economy is working for them," he explained.

Many political analysts believe that Democrats are positioned to make major gains on November 7 with a chance to recapture control of both the House and Senate.

Thomas Mann is a political expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"I believe there is a huge national negative referendum on this government that will very likely, almost certainly, produce a majority for the Democrats in the House (of Representatives) with gains of 30 or more seats now increasingly likely," he said.

In the final days of the campaign, both parties are spending millions of dollars to help their candidates, primarily by running negative political ads on television and radio.

Analyst Norman Ornstein says that could make it difficult for the new Congress to seek common ground after the election.

"What worries me a lot now is the tone of this campaign, a last ditch, desperate effort to keep majorities in Congress,” he said. “And you have got the president out there in Georgia the other day saying that if the Democrats win, the terrorists win. How do you go from a campaign where the basic theme is traitor, traitor, traitor, to the next day saying, you know, we can do some business here on immigration and Social Security. It does not work very well."

In terms of specific races, Democrats are looking to win House seats currently held by Republicans in the northeast and upper Midwest.

Democrats are also in position to possibly pick up Republican Senate seats in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Montana.

Republicans believe they have a chance to win Senate seats held by Democrats in New Jersey and Maryland.

The closest Senate races at the moment appear to be in Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia, all seats currently held by Republicans.