By DONNA CASSATA
Republicans determined to win in November are up against a troublesome trend — growing opposition to President Bush.
An Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted this week found the president’s approval rating has dropped to 33 percent, matching his low in May. His handling of nearly every issue, from the Iraq war to foreign policy, contributed to the president’s decline around the nation, even in the Republican-friendly South.
Two years after giving the Republican president another term, more than half of these voters — 57 percent — disapprove of the job Bush is doing.
"The numbers … are similar to what I’m hearing out in the streets," said Democrat Ed Perlmutter, a primary winner Tuesday in a competitive House race in Colorado. "I talked to so many people and they’ve had enough and want to see a change."
Democrats need to gain 15 seats in the House to seize control after a dozen years of Republican rule, and the party is optimistic about its chances amid diminishing support for Bush and the GOP-led Congress.
Republicans argue that elections will be decided in the 435 districts and the 33 Senate races based on local issues with the power of incumbency looming large.
"This election will be less about a political climate that is challenging for both parties, and instead about the actual candidates and how their policies impact voters on the local level," said Tracey Schmitt, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman.
But fewer than 100 days before the Nov. 7 election, the AP-Ipsos poll suggested the midterms are clearly turning into a national referendum on Bush.
The number of voters who say their congressional vote this fall will be in part to express opposition to the president jumped from 20 percent last month to 29 percent, driven by double-digit increases among males, minorities, moderate and conservative Democrats and Northeasterners.
"I don’t feel like the war was the answer," said Paula Lohler, 54, an independent from Worcester, Mass., who is inclined to vote her opposition to Bush. "It seems like it’s going on and on and on and nothing’s being done."
That attitude propelled anti-war challenger Ned Lamont to Tuesday’s Democratic primary win over Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a stalwart supporter of Bush on the war.
"I think it’s going to be similar to what we saw in 1994 and the tremendous dissatisfaction with Democrats," said Dick Harpootlian, the former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. "Republicans are going to feel the wrath, feel the pain of being associated with President Bush."
In the South, Bush’s approval ratings dropped from 43 percent last month to 34 percent as the GOP advantage with Southern women disappeared.
House Republican candidates looking to oust incumbent Democrats seized on the silver lining of the AP-Ipsos poll. Many of the 1,001 adults and 871 registered voters surveyed Aug. 7-9 said they’ve had enough with the status quo. Only 26 percent of adults said the country was on the right track, and just 29 percent approved of the job Congress is doing.
"It’s a good year to be running against an incumbent," said Republican David McSweeney, an investment banker looking to unseat first-term Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean in the Chicago suburbs.
"Approval ratings for Congress are below where the president is," said Jeff Lamberti, a Republican taking on five-term Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell (news, bio, voting record). "It’s a real opportunity for a challenger."
On the generic question of whether voters would back the Democrat or Republican, 55 percent of registered voters chose the Democrat and 37 percent chose the Republican, a slight increase for Democrats from last month.
"I’m not too happy with Bush at the moment," said dental lab employee Chrissie Clement, 36, of Poynette, Wis. "I think he could do more for this country. We need to get somebody new in there and get a different party in charge."
Charles Taylor, 56, who works on newspaper presses and lives near Roanoke, Va., said, "I would like to see Republicans keep control of Congress. I vote Republican to support the president."
Republican consultant Kevin Spillane said August polls typically have been filled with bad news for Bush and the GOP, but they eventually turn it around in November. Still, he said, "The bottom line from the numbers is no Republican incumbent should be caught unprepared for November."
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for adults and 3.5 percentage points for registered voters.