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Democrats Brace For Big Losses In US Congress

WASHINGTON :  The economic fear and general anger gripping many Americans is translating a month before nationwide elections into real and reasonable fear among Democrats who represent voters in Congress. Two years after the party
PTI September 30, 2010 11:32 IST
WASHINGTON :  The economic fear and general anger gripping many Americans is translating a month before nationwide elections into real and reasonable fear among Democrats who represent voters in Congress.

Two years after the party expanded its majority in the House of Representatives and Senate, coasting to victory on the political coattails of Barack Obama as he swept into the White House, seasoned forecasters say the Republicans are odds-on favorites to take back the majority in the House and come within a handful of seats of capturing control in the 100-seat Senate. The answer to how things changed so quickly is no secret.

It is the economy. It is the ultraconservative tea party movement. It is an American citizenry battered by the complexities of a ravaging recession and declining living standards, baffling hardships that are hard to understand but easy to blame on Washington politicians.

Halfway through his term, President Obama and his Democratic majority in Congress should be coasting along, riding high on health care reform and an overhaul of the system that regulates the financial system. The president and the Democrats managed as well to put in place a nearly $800 billion package of stimulus spending that most economists credit with having kept the economy from falling into an even deeper trough.

Unemployment, however, remains near 10 percent, almost double what it is in more prosperous times, and millions of Americans have seen retirement savings vanish along with equity in homes that have been lost to mortgage foreclosures.

What's more, minority Republicans have run a highly effective campaign that has raised doubts among Americans, fears even, of the changes put forth by Obama and passed by congressional Democrats. Republicans have gained significant traction with claims that Obama is taking the country toward socialism and runaway indebtedness.

Obama adversaries also have had success even in raising doubts about the president's American birthright and his religious beliefs. Polls show about 18 percent of Americans believe Obama is Muslim, which he is not. Many are certain he was not born in the United States, a requirement for the presidency; he was born in Hawaii, a U.S. state.

Through Obama's first two years, Republicans, with very few individual exceptions, have voted as a bloc against every major initiative the president and the Democrats have sought the pass through Congress.

They have been joined by the ultraconservative tea party movement in insisting that what ails America is only being made worse by what they claim is an expansion of government power and a false insistence that Obama is raising taxes, both an anathema to the American political right.

With a political tidal wave building against Democrats, Obama has been dashing through the country in recent days to try to counter what he sees as clear misinterpretations about what he and the Democrats have accomplished. His focus is on the economy.

"This is all by way of saying that the challenges the economy faces are still great, and they're not going to go away tomorrow or the next day," he said Wednesday in suburban Des Moines, Iowa, the state where his unlikely bid for the presidency caught fire nearly three years ago. "But we're on the right path; we're on the right track."

He also is always quick to remind that the devastating economic decline happened on the watch of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In the many appearances of late, he also has tried to shame Democrats into becoming fired up and eager to vote in November, even though he is not on the ballot until 2012.

 The real difficulty Democrats are facing in holding their Congressional majority is bigger than just the economy. It is complacency and a disinclination among core voters to go to the polls.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll this month shows that the public is fed up with both parties. Only 38 percent approve of how congressional Democrats are handling their jobs, and just 31 percent like how Republicans are doing theirs.

Fifty-nine percent are unhappy with how Democrats are nursing the economy, 64 percent are upset by the Republican's work on the country's top issue. More than half have negative views of both parties.

Even so, Republicans have the upper hand because their supporters seem significantly likelier to show up Election Day and vote. Political scientists say people are likeliest to vote based on present conditions, which today means a wounded economy, rather than choosing between competing philosophies for the future.

In the AP-GfK Poll, 54 percent who strongly dislike Democrats express intense interest in the election, compared with just 40 percent of those with very negative views of Republicans.

Nearly six in 10 who say their November vote will signal opposition to Obama also say they are extremely interested in the campaign, compared with only about four in 10 who say their vote will show support for him.

Overall, 49 percent of those supporting their Republican congressional candidates are very interested in the election, compared with 39 percent of those backing the Democrat in their local race.

Having even a scant edge in motivated supporters can make a big difference, especially in elections halfway through a president's four-year term. In those midterm exercises, only about 40 percent of voters nationally have been bothering to cast ballots, a figure than can dip to 30 percent in some states.

Much of that edge for the Republicans is built upon voter anger and fear, exacerbated by tea party candidates running under the Republican banner, who have managed to convince voters that they have a simple answer: lower taxes and smaller government.

"Most voters aspire to a simpler time," said James Riddlesperger, professor and chairman of the Texas Christian University political science department . "The problems are very complex, but and people are looking for a simplified device to help them make decisions. The Republicans and the tea party have done just that," AP