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US Politicians Weigh Impact of Iraq War Debate on Election - 2002-10-04

As U.S. lawmakers open debate on the prospect of using military force against Iraq, Democrats and Republicans are trying to gauge the impact of that debate on the upcoming congressional elections.

With control of both the House and Senate at stake in the fast approaching November 5 elections, Democrats are anxious to move past the Iraq debate and refocus attention on the faltering U.S. economy and other domestic issues.

Washington State Senator Patty Murray is coordinating the Democrat's effort to hold on to or expand their one-seat majority in the U.S. Senate.

"Despite the talk of war, the underlying problems that Americans face every day have not gone away," he said. "In fact, they have gotten worse. That is what I hear when I am in my own home state and the states where we have Senate races."

Republicans are quite happy to have the campaign dominated by Iraq and the war on terrorism.

Tennessee Senator Bill Frist heads the Republican effort to win back control of the Senate on November 5. He says the president's high public approval ratings give Republican Senate and House candidates a big advantage.

"Our candidates represent a Republican Party, and this represents the brand concern, which under the leadership of President Bush, makes things happen, gets things done, shows strong, direct leadership," he said.

Economic and local issues usually dominate congressional midterm elections. But opinion polls suggest Iraq and terrorism are also high on the list of voter concerns this year.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says that is a trend that favors the Republicans.

"Well, on one hand, the administration, I think, is pleased about the debate in that it returns all the nation's focus to foreign policy issues, war and peace, defense, national security, and the president tends to have an advantage on those issues," he said. "Any president has an advantage. And the Republicans have had a long-term advantage on those issues and so you have a Republican in the White House and that is good for them."

The polls indicate that while a majority of Americans support the president's tough stance on Iraq, most would prefer that the administration act in concert with the United Nations and U.S. allies.

Analyst Rothenberg says that could present a problem for President Bush if he decides the United States must act alone.

"So there is some danger here for the president. The numbers right now look good. The American public supports action," he said. "But it all depends on how you ask the questions and the closer we get to election day and the closer we get to actual military action, there is certainly the chance of more worry, more concern, more opposition and that could bring more problems for the president."

The president's party usually loses congressional seats in a midterm election. All 435 House seats and 34 of the 100 Senate seats will be contested on November 5. Republicans need to gain only one seat to regain control of the Senate while Democrats would need to pickup up seven seats to retake control of the House of Representatives.