Video: Dems gaining ground as election nears

By Deputy political director
NBC News

WASHINGTON — After what they have seen and heard over the past few weeks -- events including the news of a Republican congressman's improper correspondence with a teenage page and the recent release of journalist Bob Woodward's unfavorable portrayal of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq - respondents to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, by more than a 2-to-1 ratio, say they have a less favorable impression of the Republicans maintaining control of Congress.

What's more, a strong plurality believes the Iraq war is hurting the country's ability to win the war on terrorism, a significant shift from a month ago.

Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, who conducted this survey with the Republican Bill McInturff, says that there is the point in every election when it becomes crystallized for voters. And the events from the past week, he notes, could very well be that point for the upcoming midterms.

"On balance, you have to say the people are telling you that the cumulative weight of this is having a consequence," adds McInturff. But he points out that other measures in the survey, including Bush's standing, are relatively stable.

Presidential approval
In the poll, Bush's job approval rating is at 39 percent among registered voters, a drop of three points since September, when his rating had increased to its highest level in months after he gave a series of speeches on national security leading into the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The three-point drop, however, is within the poll's margin of error of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.

The survey, which was conducted from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2 of 805 registered voters, comes in the wake of unfavorable news for a Republican Party trying to hold onto its majorities in Congress. A week ago, the Bush administration declassified portions of a National Intelligence Estimate, which called the Iraq war a "cause célèbre" for Islamic militants (although the NIE also said that success in Iraq could reduce the number of them wanting to carry on the fight).

Then later that week, reports of journalist Bob Woodward's new book "State of Denial" -- which notes, among other things, that the White House ignored a plea in 2003 for more troops to quell the insurgency there -- dominated the news cycle. Finally, word came out that not only had U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., sent suggestive emails and messages to a male teenage page, but that Republican House leaders had known about some of that correspondence for months. Foley resigned from Congress on Friday and then checked himself into rehab for alcohol abuse.

Iraq factor
And those events, it seems, have shifted some of the political terrain. According to the NBC/Journal poll, 46 percent of registered voters believe the war in Iraq has hurt the United States in its ability to win the war on terrorism, compared with 32 percent who think it has helped. That's a significant change from September, when respondents were evenly split on whether Iraq is hurting or helping the war on terrorism.

Moreover, an eye-popping 41 percent say that the things they have seen and heard over the last few weeks have given them a less favorable impression of Republicans holding onto control of Congress. Just 18 percent say they have a more favorable impression.

Conversely, 34 percent believe the events over the past few weeks have given them a more favorable impression of Democrats becoming the majority party in Congress, while 23 percent say the events have given them a less favorable impression. Thirty-seven percent say the events have had no effect. 

And Hart, the Democratic pollster, says this finding is good news for Democrats looking to win control. "It is not a full-scale endorsement, but it is a positive indication."

Mark Murray covers politics for NBC News.

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