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US Republicans try to change subject from Bush

Written by: Staff

Washington, Mar 25: Republicans, beset by an array of political troubles, are cranking up the attacks on Democrats and trying to change the subject from President George W Bush ahead of November's congressional elections.

With Bush slumping in the polls and Republicans on the defensive over the Iraq war and a series of ethics scandals, the party wants to shift the spotlight away from the White House by convincing voters that Democratic rule would be a dangerous choice.

Republicans hope the strategy will limit the national momentum that Democrats might ride into November and fire up the party's conservative base to ensure they turn up at the polls.

A Time magazine poll released yesterday showed Democrats favored for House seats by a 9-point margin over Republicans. Among the 1,003 respondents, fewer than two in five approved of the job either party was doing in Congress.

The poll was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

''What the Democrats are trying to do is make this a referendum about Bush,'' said Republican pollster David Winston. ''What we are saying is, 'Look, this is about a choice.' The strategy is to go out and define what this choice is going to be about and that's what you are beginning to see.'' Vice President Dick Cheney fired the latest salvos against Democrats on Friday, saying their ''sorry record'' on security issues proved they were not capable of leading the war on terrorism.

''Some Democrats in Congress have decided that the president is the enemy,'' Cheney said at a fund-raiser in Orlando, Florida, referring to objections raised against Bush's domestic surveillance program.

Republican Party chief Ken Mehlman has led attacks on Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold's push for a censure resolution against Bush and Democratic calls for a phased withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. ''The Democrats' plan for 2006? Take the House and Senate and impeach the president,''Mehlman said in a fund-raising e-mail sent to Republicans on Thursday. ''With our nation at war, is this the kind of Congress you want?''

Political woes

Republicans say the strategy is designed to get them off the defensive about their recent political problems, including scandals involving high-profile party leaders and uproars over a now-dead Arab port deal and a secret eavesdropping program.

Those difficulties have eaten away at public support for Bush and the Republican-led Congress in recent polls. But Republicans also believe Democrats, who have yet to develop a unified approach on Iraq or a uniform domestic agenda for the fall, remain vulnerable.

''When you have a climate like we currently have the last thing Republicans want is a nationalized election,'' said Republican consultant Whit Ayres. ''But there is no assurance that even voters who are upset with Republicans will necessarily choose a worse alternative in Democrats.'' All 435 House seats and 33 of the 100 Senate seats will be on the ballot in November, when Democrats must gain six Senate seats and 15 House seats to regain control of each chamber.

Bush's slump in the polls has included a drop in Republican support but raising alarms about the prospects of a Democratic takeover can help bring the disenchanted back to the fold, strategists said.

A series of votes planned in Congress over the next few months on hot-button social issues like abortion, gay marriage and flag burning also should solidify the party base, analysts said.

''Midterm elections are all about rallying the base,'' said Steven Schier, a political analyst at Carleton College in Minnesota.

''If you can bring up censure and impeachment, maybe you can get back the 10 or 15 percent of Republicans who have peeled off in the recent polls.''


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