WASHINGTON — The Iraq war and congressional scandals hurt Republican candidates in the midterm elections, as the GOP lost the advantage on their central issue of terrorism, exit polls found.
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Three-fourths of voters said corruption and scandal were important to their votes, and they were more likely to vote for Democratic candidates for the House. Iraq was important for just two-thirds, and they also leaned toward supporting Democrats.
Voters who said terrorism was an important issue split their support between the two parties.
With many voters angry at President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress, Democrats were winning the vote among several groups that have usually been very closely contested — independents, moderates, the middle class and suburban women, according to exit polls.
A dozen years after Republicans won the support of middle-class voters, that group came home to Democrats. The middle-class leaned heavily toward the GOP in the last two elections.
Among white voters, Democrats and Republicans split the vote for the House — four years after the GOP dominated the white vote. And three-fourths of Hispanics backed Democrats and a fourth backed the GOP — a step backward after Republicans wooed Hispanics during the last few years.
Brakes on administration?
For some voters, it was important to have a balance of power in Washington.
Norman Moore, 70, a retired editor from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., decided to vote for Democratic Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. about two or three weeks ago. “I do think Democratic control of Congress would put the brakes on this administration,” he said.
Those most concerned about scandals and corruption — about four in 10 of all voters — were far more likely to vote Democratic. Most white evangelicals said corruption was very important in their vote and almost a third of them voted Democratic, according to a national exit poll of 11,798 voters conducted for AP and television networks by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 1 percentage point, higher for subgroups.
Four in 10 said they were voting to oppose Bush, almost twice the number who voted to back him.
Gwen McIntosh, 56, of Cincinnati, is a registered Democrat who voted a straight Democratic ticket.
“I know Ken Blackwell (the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Ohio), and I thought about crossing over on that one, but I decided I would stick with the Democrats,” McIntosh said. “I think in the back of my mind I probably was voting against Bush.”
Congress’ job approval was a little worse than the president’s. But GOP congressional leaders were less likely to be the target of voters’ anger — about a fifth of voters were mad at them, compared with nearly a third who were angry with Bush.
“There’s a good chance Democrats will take the House and Senate and I want to make sure they don’t,” said Rhonda Gordon, 50, of Arlington, Texas, who voted a straight Republican ticket.
Besides in-person interviews Tuesday, the survey included 1,500 absentee or early voters interviewed by telephone during the past week in 10 states with heavy early voting.
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