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By JIM KUHNHENN
Congressional Republicans, already struggling against negative public perceptions of Congress, now face voters who say new scandals will significantly influence their vote in November.
With midterm elections less than five weeks away, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that about half of likely voters say recent disclosures of corruption and scandal in Congress will be very or extremely important when they cast their vote next month.
The poll was conducted this week as House Republican leaders came under increasing pressure to explain what they knew of sexually explicit messages from former Rep. Mark Foley of Florida to teenage pages.
More troubling for Republicans, the poll found that by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 likely voters says Democrats would be better at combatting political corruption than Republicans.
The Foley scandal, fueled by new revelations each day, has put Republican leaders and GOP candidates on the defensive, forcing them into a political detour just as they were preparing their final offensive against Democrats to save control of Congress.
At least one House Republican said Wednesday the GOP likely will lose control in November.
Four-term Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, asked if he were confident about retaining the majority, said, "Not confident."
"It was pretty much a given in conventional wisdom six months ago that the House was gone, we’d lost the House," Simpson said in an interview with The Associated Press. "In September we came back after August recess, conventional wisdom shifted we would lose three, four or five seats but would retain the majority. That was good until last Thursday. From Thursday, it went to fairly confident we were going to keep the majority to a real tossup."
The poll also found that President Bush’s efforts to depict the war in Iraq as part of a larger campaign against terrorism and to portray Democrats as weak on national security was not altering the political landscape.
Approval of Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq was at 37 percent among likely voters, down slightly from 41 percent last month. Bush’s rating on handling foreign policy and terrorism also fell slightly, from 47 percent last month to 43 percent this month.
Similarly, recent good news on the economic front _ from lower gas prices to a rising stock market _ did not appear to pierce through the public’s downbeat view of the economy. Fifty-six percent of likely voters disapproved of Bush’s handling of the economy, compared to 59 percent who held that view last month.
The poll of 741 likely voters, was conducted Monday through Wednesday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Overall, the president’s and Congress’ low approval ratings were essentially unchanged from last month. Among likely voters, 24 percent approved of the way Congress was handling its job and 39 percent approved of Bush’s job performance.