With the GOP in free fall, the White House hopes for safety in terrorism

Americans say that House Republicans put politics over the safety of pages and that Bush isn't telling the truth about Iraq.

Published October 10, 2006 1:24PM (EDT)

With less than a month to go until the midterm congressional elections, Republicans are getting a quadruple dose of bad news today from four new national polls.

It would be cruel to list all the findings of the new Washington Post/ABC, USA Today/Gallup, CNN and CBS/New York Times polls here. A brief sampling: Seventy-nine percent of Americans think the House Republican leadership put politics ahead of any concern for the safety of teenage pages. By a 21-point margin -- it has grown five points in just a week -- likely voters tell CNN's pollsters that they plan to vote for Democrats, not Republicans, in November. Only 32 percent of Americans say they approve of the job the Republican-controlled Congress is doing. And in what may be the cruelest cut of all, Americans now say -- by a nine-point margin, no less -- that Democrats, not Republicans, are more likely to share their own "moral values."

What will the GOP do?

The Washington Post has the story, and it's hardly news if you've been paying attention. As House Republican leaders work to blame Democrats for "politicizing" the Mark Foley scandal, the White House "plans to amplify national security issues, especially the threat of terrorism," as a way to scare conservative voters back to the polls.

It's not that the White House has a great story to tell right now. Five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. Four years after George W. Bush vowed to keep Iran and North Korea from threatening us with weapons of mass destruction, both seem to be on the road to doing just that. And three and a half years into the president's Iraq adventure, the U.S. death rate is spiking even as hopes of a happy ending are tanking.

If it seems that an all-terrorism, all-the-time approach might be a hard sell right now, well, it is. Only 46 percent of Americans approve of the way Bush is handling terrorism now, an eight-point drop in two weeks. Only 40 percent think the United States did the right thing in invading Iraq. Worse still for the GOP: It's hard to see how Bush can turn those numbers around. According to the CBS/New York Times poll, 83 percent of Americans believe the president is either "hiding something" or "mostly lying" when he talks about Iraq. Bush's approval rating has dropped to 34 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll; it's at 37 percent in the USA Today/Gallup poll and at 39 percent in the two other polls.

What does it all mean? The Post says House Republicans expect to lose between seven and 30 seats in November; 15 would cost them control of the chamber. Charlie Cook says 25 House seats are "toss-ups" -- nine more than he put in that category before Foleygate broke. CQ Politics keeps moving its ratings on races from "Republican favored" to "no clear favorite." It's a "one-way street," the editors say, "a reflection of the year's toxic political environment for the Republicans." Just yesterday, they moved the seat of New York Rep. Tom Reynolds -- the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee -- all the way from "leans Republican" to "leans Democrat." Democratic control of the Senate increasingly seems like a 50-50 proposition.

Things change. Karl Rove finds ways to win. Democrats find ways to lose. And it's never over until somebody counts, or doesn't, the votes that have been cast. But we're inside a month now, and the time for a sea change is running pretty short. As Republican Rep. Tom Davis tells the Post, "If you are a Democrat, you have to like the atmosphere."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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