Americans fed up with GOP ‘leadership’


    Dissatisfied with the nation’s direction, Americans are leaning
    toward wanting a change in which political party leads Congress —
    preferring that Democrats take control, an AP-Ipsos poll found.
    Democrats are favored over Republicans 49 percent to 36 percent.

    The
    polling came as disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to tax
    evasion, fraud and corruption charges and agreed to aid a federal
    investigation of members of Congress and other government officials.

    President
    Bush’s job approval remains low _ 40 percent in the AP-Ipsos poll, with
    only one-third saying the country is headed in the right direction.
    Bush also remains low on his handling of Iraq, where violence against
    Iraqis and U.S. troops has been surging.

    “I just don’t like the
    direction our country is going in,” said Steve Brown, a political
    independent from Olympia, Wash. “I think a balance of power would be
    beneficial right now.”

    Republicans are watching the situation unfold with some nervousness.

    “I
    don’t think anyone is hitting the panic button,” said Rich Bond, a
    former Republican National Committee chairman. “But there is an acute
    recognition of the grim environment that both parties are operating in.”

    “If
    the Democrats had any leadership or any message, they could be poised
    for a good year,” Bond said. “But in the absence of that, they have not
    been able to capitalize on Republican woes. Because of the size of the
    GOP majority, Democrats have to run the board, and I don’t see that
    happening.”

    The public’s unease with Republican leadership in the
    White House and Congress creates a favorable environment for Democrats,
    said Democratic consultant Dane Strother.

    “The problem is you
    don’t vote for a party,” Strother said. “You’re voting for a member of
    Congress. And we’re a year away” from the midterm elections.

    About
    a third of the public, 34 percent, approves of the job Congress is
    doing, and nearly twice as many _ 63 percent _ disapprove, according to
    the poll of 1,001 adults taken Jan. 3-5. The margin of sampling error
    was plus or minus 3 percentage points. Public opinion of both Democrats
    and Republicans in Congress has been mixed, recent polling found.

    “Neither
    one of the parties has done a very good job so far,” said Cristal
    Mills, a political independent from Los Angeles. “They get away with
    murder, they get paid to pass certain things. It’s the good ol’ boy
    syndrome.”

    In the Senate, 33 seats will be on the ballot in
    November, 17 of them currently in Democratic hands, 15 controlled by
    Republicans, and one held by Sen. James Jeffords, a Vermont
    independent. Democrats now have 44 Senate seats, and need to pick up
    seven to gain a majority, six if Vermont independent Bernie Sanders
    replaces Jeffords.

    All 435 House seats are on the ballot this
    fall, and Democrats need to gain at least 15 to become the majority
    party and take control of the House.

    While many House races are
    noncompetitive, Republican strategists fear that fallout from the
    Abramoff scandal will give Democrats fresh opportunity for gains. But
    they dismiss suggestions that Democrats could take control of the House.

    Republicans
    became the dominant party in the House in 1994, when the GOP picked up
    more than 50 seats held by Democrats. In that midterm election,
    Democrats won four open seats that previously were held by the GOP.

    Carl
    Forti, a spokesman for the GOP’s congressional campaign committee, said
    about 30 House seats are competitive this year, compared with more than
    100 a dozen years ago. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, who heads the
    Democrats’ campaign efforts, put the competitive number in 2006 at 42,
    and he suggested ongoing scandals improve Democratic recruitment of
    candidates by “making the environment more conducive. It helps move
    them along in the process.”

    Some say they want new leadership in Congress because of strong dissatisfaction with current policies.

    “I
    get the strange feeling that we’re being sold down the river,” said
    Paul Oulton, an independent from San Ramon, Calif. “We may be in line
    for some very severe financial problems.

    “Give me somebody
    conservative with common sense. There’s too much left and too much
    right. Give me somebody in the middle of the road.”

    ___

    Associated Press Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this story.

    © 2006 The Associated Press