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President George W. Bush and Republicans are sinking under the weight of the Iraq war and the Capitol Hill sex scandal, according to a flurry of polls, endangering their control of Congress in the November 7 elections.
Democrats hold a growing advantage heading into the final four weeks of the campaign, with analysts moving more Republican-held seats into the high-risk category and improving the odds of Democrats seizing control of at least the House of Representatives.
The polls, all taken after the sex scandal surfaced, show Democratic candidates with huge leads over Republicans amid broad public unhappiness about the Iraq war, Bush’s leadership and the Republican-led Congress.
“These polls seem to suggest the public has decided to just ‘throw the bums out,”‘ said Karlyn Bowman, a public opinion analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
“These are huge, huge, numbers and they are very bad for Republicans,” she said. “There is not a shred of good news in these polls for Republicans.”
Democrats must pick up 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate to regain control. Some analysts have moved more Republican-held House seats into the endangered category as the possibility of a Democratic takeover grows.
The latest polls give Democratic candidates a growing edge of between 13 and 23 percentage points over Republicans on the November ballot, with Bush’s approval ratings dropping back into the 30s after a slight bump into the low 40s in September.
The polls also found increasing public unhappiness with the Iraq war as violence surges there, and an erosion in the traditional Republican advantage on topics like the war against terrorism and moral values.
Republicans have been scrambling for more than a week to contain the fallout over former Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s lewd messages to teenage congressional assistants and keep it from dooming their chances on November 7.
The scandal at least temporarily derailed the Republican message on security and the economy, analysts said, disrupting the party’s efforts to minimize an adverse national political climate and turn the election into a series of local contests.
“That is a lot harder to do when the national spotlight is on your weakest issues — Iraq and the dysfunction in Congress,” said Amy Walter, a House analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“Every day the Republicans are not talking about their best issues is a bad day for Republicans,” said Walter, who recently moved seven more Republican-held seats into the toss-up category for a total of 25.
Cook also favors Democrats in three Republican-held seats, including two where Republican candidates are still listed on the ballot even though they have resigned under an ethics cloud — Foley in Florida and Rep. Tom DeLay in Texas.
In addition to Foley’s seat, the sex scandal has directly jeopardized New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of the Republican campaign committee, who apologized to voters for not doing enough to stop Foley. A new survey by pollster John Zogby shows Reynolds trailing his Democratic challenger by double digits.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said there was “a lot of volatility” in polls and things could change after the president spends the next four weeks making his case to voters on national security, the economy and other issues.
“It’s pretty clear that the Foley story has had an impact on public opinion but whether it is going to have an impact on the elections is something the voters will have to decide,” Snow said.
Republicans plan to stress local issues and hope to draw a sharp contrast with Democrats down the stretch, spending tens of millions to pummel Democratic candidates and try to make them an unpalatable alternative to Republicans.
“It’s a much better landscape if you look at this district by district and race by race,” said Carl Forti, spokesman for the Republican House campaign committee.
Ã‚Â© 2006 Reuters