Several issues are expected to be key in influencing how people vote in next month's U.S. congressional elections, from public perceptions about President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, [and] the state of the U.S. economy, to concerns about the issue of misconduct by lawmakers. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on the latest developments in investigations involving members of Congress.

The latest polls contain numbers that many political analysts say do not bode well for Republican party members trying to maintain their majorities in the House and Senate.

On Iraq, a CNN poll says 51 percent of those surveyed say Democrats in Congress would do a better job of handling the Iraq situation, versus 34 percent for Republicans.

Republicans also face depressing figures when it comes to perceptions of their performance on Capitol Hill, further underscored in polling questions about the scandal involving former Republican lawmaker Mark Foley.

The Foley matter involves allegations about the former lawmaker's sexually explicit Internet messages, and other questionable behavior, with young congressional pages.

The larger issue for Democrats is what Republicans knew about Foley's activities, when they knew it, and what they did about it - and whether key leaders or staff attempted a cover-up.

All this week, a special House [of Representatives] ethics committee meeting in a basement room of the U.S. Capitol has interviewed members of Congress, and current and former staffers, while a separate federal probe continues.

Republican Congressman John Shimkus was among those meeting the inquiry panel on Friday.

"[The committee is trying to find out] who knew what, when and where and we answered their questions honestly and forthrightly," he said.

House Republican Leader John Boehner and others are expected to go before the panel next week.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, has resisted calls for his resignation over the Foley controversy, but questions remain about the actions he or staff members took to deal with the situation.

But Hastert remains under pressure because of testimony by Kirk Fordham, a congressional aide who resigned recently, that he told senior Hastert staff members several years ago about Foley's behavior - and some other contradictory accounts.

On Thursday, President Bush made a personal appearance with Hastert in Chicago.

"I am proud to be standing with the current Speaker of the House, who is going to be the future Speaker of the House," the president said.

Where the Foley scandal will rank in voter's minds when they go to the polls on November 7 cannot be predicted.

But a USA Today/Gallup poll showed those believing Republicans sought to cover-up the Foley problems for political reasons outnumbering those who didn't by 54 to 34 percent, with several polls showing Americans believe Hastert should step down.

Adding to the Republicans' woes, Republican Congressman Bob Ney formally entered a guilty plea Friday to criminal conspiracy charges in connection with the influence-peddling scandal involving former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

While he is the first lawmaker to confess to criminal charges in relation to that scandal, the Abramoff matter earlier led to guilty pleas by two former aides to ex-Republican Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, and the conviction of a former White House official, David Safavian.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Ney matter demonstrated the need for a change in Congress.

Asked if Ney's admission of guilt underscored ethical problems of Republicans, White House spokesman Tony Snow had this response.

"It's important that everybody be policed, Democrats or Republicans," he said. "If you have got money in your freezer, or skeletons in your closet, you better make sure that you're taking care of what's going on. I think it is incumbent on everybody to behave in a model way."

Snow's reference was to a Democratic House lawmaker, William Jefferson, who has denied bribery allegations after he was found with $90,000 in his home freezer, although he has not been formally charged as part of a federal corruption probe.

The Jefferson matter has received substantially less media attention in the weeks leading to the November election, despite Republican attempts to highlight it as a double standard in the congressional ethics debate.