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US Congressional Elections Forecasted to Draw Few Voters - 2002-10-29

As the mid-term congressional election draws closer, candidates campaigning for election to Congress are focusing on the issues they believe voters are most concerned about.

Democratic strategists say the latest opinion polls showing public dissatisfaction with the poor state of the economy will favor Democratic candidates on election day, while Republicans say Americans still have confidence in Republican handling of domestic issues and the war on terrorism.

With less than one week to go before the mid-term election, a closely-watched index of consumer confidence plunged to its lowest level in nine years.

Not good news but in an election year it takes on added significance as candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate campaign across the country.

Since Congress' approval of the resolution authorizing military action against Iraq, Democrats have been focusing almost entirely on the economy.

House minority leader Democratic Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, has been the key voice for Democrats in laying blame on Republicans. He said, "Two years ago, we had a great economy. We had low unemployment, we had an investments atmosphere that was very positive. The Republicans have had two years to put together their economic program, and now everything is the opposite of what it was two years ago."

Republicans say Democrats are wrong to think focusing on the economy is a certain formula for victory on election day.

Chris Wilson, who heads a firm serving Republican candidates, said voters will make up their minds based on a range of issues, and said voters blame the Democrats as much if not more for economic woes. "There is not a blame towards the President for what is going on in the economy. In fact, whenever I ask who you blame for the economy, be it the Clinton administration, be it the Bush administration, be it Democrats in Congress, it is about two to one Democrats in Congress and the Clinton administration to President Bush and the Republicans in Congress," he said.

Democratic polling experts disagree and say their position is supported by the trend of approval ratings for President Bush.

Mr. Bush generally still gets generally high marks for his handling of the war on terror, and national security. However, the latest numbers show sharply lower numbers on his handling of economic and other domestic issues.

Mark Penn, of the market research firm Penn, Schoen and Berland, said Republican candidates may pay a price for this on November 5. "The economic situation, and how dramatically it has changed in two years. How the country has gone from the greatest economy in a generation to among the weakest. How retirement and education savings have effectively been wiped out. As one of the pollsters said, they don't blame Bush. Bush is the captain of the ship. You don't blame the captain of the ship for the weather. On the other and, if he runs the boat right into some big waves and throws everybody around, let me tell you, you look up and wonder, is the captain competent? Should we have a new captain?" he said.

Republican pollsters acknowledge the change in public opinion. However, Chris Wilson notes that Mr. Bush still has higher approval ratings than President Clinton had before the last mid-term election in 1998.

Key Republican strategists also say many issues Democrats say will work in their favor on election day such as Bush tax cuts, and corporate responsibility may actually end up benefiting Republicans.

Republicans hope to take back control of the Senate, and Democrats are fighting to gain control of the House. Some political observers believe there may be no change whatsoever in the balance of power in Congress.

At least one of the latest pre-election polls shows a statistical "dead heat," in dozens of key races across the country.

On the economy, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows an almost insignificant difference, 45 to 43 percent, between Democrat and Republican voters asked which party is better able to handle the economy.

Amid predictions of another low voter turnout (35 percent or lower) on November 5 the same poll shows an equal number of registered Democrats and Republicans have not even given much thought to who they are going to vote for next Tuesday.