WASHINGTON — President Bush, fighting to stave off Republican losses in next month's election, insisted Wednesday that a Capitol Hill sex scandal would not keep his party from retaining control of Congress.
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With polls showing Democrats with a growing edge in the Nov. 7 ballot, Bush said he found ex-Rep. Mark Foley's behavior toward teen-age aides "disgusting" but predicted voters would be swayed by the growing economy and national security when they go to the polls.
Bush's comments appeared aimed at containing the scandal's fallout for his fellow Republicans, who have already been feeling the heat over the unpopular Iraq war.
His administration is also beset by twin nuclear crises, with North Korea claiming it tested a nuclear device this week for the first time and Iran continuing to defy international demands to halt uranium enrichment.
National Security and economy
"I still stand by my prediction we'll have a Republican speaker and Republican leader of the Senate," Bush said at a news conference. 2006 key races
"I believe that we'll maintain control because we're on the right side of the economic issue and the security issue."
Bush has seen the congressional scandal involving disclosures that Foley, a Florida Republican, sent lewd electronic messages to former House pages, drown out his campaign message in recent days.
Taking the offensive Wednesday, Bush maintained that his administration and the Republican-led Congress had boosted the economy and kept the United States safe, and those issues were of greatest importance to voters.
"I know this Foley issue bothers a lot of people including me, but I think when they get in that booth they are going to be thinking about how best to secure the country from attack and how best to keep the economy going," Bush said.
He also defended Republican House speaker Dennis Hastert despite accusations that Hastert was negligent in the pursuit of the Foley case.
Renewed attack on Democrats
Returning to his main campaign themes, Bush depicted Democrats as soft on terrorism and accused them of pushing a "cut-and-run" approach to Iraq by calling for a U.S. troop withdrawal timetable he has refused to set.
Democrats charge that Bush has mishandled the war and allowed it to become a distraction from the war on terrorism declared after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Today we heard more hollow attacks from a president acting like campaigner in chief rather than being commander in chief," said Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat defeated by Bush in the 2004 election.
Seizing on another issue meant to rally the Republicans' conservative base, Bush again promised to keep taxes low and make recent tax cuts permanent, while charging "the Democrats will raise taxes" if they win control of Congress.
Democrats say Bush's economic policies and tax cuts have only benefited the rich and insist they want a lighter tax load for the middle class.
Democrats must pick up 15 House seats and six Senate seats in the Nov. 7 election to seize control of Congress.
The latest polls give Democratic candidates a growing edge of between 13 and 23 percentage points over Republicans on the November ballot, with Bush's approval ratings dropping back into the 30s after a slight bump into the low 40s in September. (Additional reporting by John Whitesides)
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