Americans say that Republican Congressional leaders put their political interests ahead of protecting the safety of teenage pages, and that House leaders knew of Mark Foley’s sexually charged messages to pages well before he was forced to quit Congress, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.These numbers must be giving the Republicans nightmares. The article rightly points out that national survey data may be different from polling results in local constituencies, and thus district by district analysis is required to determine how strong Democratic takeover chances are. Moreover, the GOP retains advantages in fundraising and voter mobilization, which might help forestall a broad rout on election day (I wrote a detailed post on the GOP's structual electoral advantages in June).
The poll, completed before North Korea announced that it had detonated its first nuclear test, also found that the war in Iraq was continuing to take a toll on President Bush and the Republican Party, and that the White House was having difficulty retaining its edge in handling terrorism.
The number of Americans who approve of Mr. Bush’s handling of the campaign against terrorism dropped to 46 percent from 54 percent in the past two weeks, suggesting that he failed to gain any political lift from an orchestrated set of ceremonies marking the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. In addition, the poll shows that Americans are now evenly divided over which party they think can better handle terrorism, the first time in the Bush presidency that Democrats have matched Republicans on national security, despite a concerted White House effort to seize the advantage on the issue this month.
With four weeks left before Election Day, the poll indicates that the scandal involving Mr. Foley, a former Republican congressman from Florida, is alienating Americans from Congress, and weakening a Republican Party that was already struggling to keep control of the House and Senate. By overwhelming numbers, including majorities of Republicans, Americans said that most members of Congress did not follow the same rules of behavior as average Americans, and that most members of Congress considered themselves above the law.
Over at the Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook discounts the Foley factor amid voters' ballot calculations and suggests that the Iraq War will be the deciding factor this year:
In the big scheme of things, the development that poses far more of a danger to the Republican majorities is that, after a respite of five weeks or so, attention is shifting back to the war in Iraq, and away from 9/11, terrorism, national security, and falling gasoline prices. If the public's focus had remained on that terrorism/lower-gas-prices constellation of issues, Republicans had a 50-50 chance of holding the House. In all likelihood, they would have held their Senate majority as well. But if the spotlight is on Iraq for much of the final stage of the campaign, the Republicans could well lose both chambers.Cook may be right to discount the Foley scandal as the driving factor for voters. I would note, though, that public perceptions of Rebublican competence and credibility have declined dramatically this last week (see my post on the Republicans' "brouhaha on the Hill"), so that combined all the negative publicity is creating a perfect storm for the prospects of a Democratic congressional majority come January.