War on Iraq Gives Republicans the Spotlight as Elections near.(NATION)(NEWS ANALYSIS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 6, 2002 | Go to article overview

War on Iraq Gives Republicans the Spotlight as Elections near.(NATION)(NEWS ANALYSIS)


Byline: Donald Lambro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Congressional candidates are heading into the final four weeks of an election that is now focused on waging war in Iraq - an issue that pushes the economy into the background and plays to Republican strengths on protecting national security.

With voters about evenly split over who should run Congress and worried about the economy and the stock market's decline, the last thing in the world that Democrats wanted to spend time discussing this coming week is a war resolution to give President Bush authority to disarm and overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

But the House and Senate will be debating Iraq all of this week and possibly longer, eclipsing the economic and domestic social-welfare issues that Democratic officials want to make the focus of the elections. This emphasis on military action in Iraq, campaign analysts say, may work to the Republican Party's favor and against the Democrats.

"The party able to control the spotlight going into Election Day will undoubtedly win the majority of close races," election tracker Charlie Cook said in his latest campaign analysis.

A year of voter surveys by the Ipsos-Reid U.S. Public Affairs polling firm for his Cook Political Report shows that when the national campaign debate turned to the economy, jobs and the falling stock market, Mr. Bush's numbers fell and so did the generic vote for the Republicans. But when voters' attention turned to national security, the war on terrorism and the threat of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the president's and the Republican Party's poll numbers rose significantly.

"If the election is about the economy, then expect Democrats to catch a break in the closest races on Nov. 5. If voters place a premium on supporting their commander in chief, then Republicans would likely catch the late breaks and win a disproportionate share of the closest races," Mr. Cook said.

For the past month or more, the White House has kept the focus on Iraq and the president's war plans to destroy Saddam's arsenal of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear weapons. Republican strategists said last week that they expect the administration will keep this issue front and center right up through Election Day Nov. 5.

Clearly, the issue is helping Republicans in their House and Senate races, according to the latest polls and key strategists in both parties.

"Democrats need to refocus attention on the economy and Wall Street if they are to create - or take advantage of - a partisan wave in November that could enhance their chances in House and Senate races. That could still happen, but it hasn't happened yet," Stuart Rothenberg told his clients in the latest Rothenberg Political Report.

The Democrats need a seven-seat net gain to recapture control of the House, but virtually all analysts now say that gain appears unlikely because not enough congressional races are truly competitive. "If the House elections were held today, the Republicans would likely gain one to three seats," Mr. …

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