By DONNA CASSATA
Associated Press Writer
Republicans are in jeopardy of losing their grip on Congress in November. With less than four months to the midterm elections, the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that Americans by an almost 3-to-1 margin hold the GOP-controlled Congress in low regard and profess a desire to see Democrats wrest control after a dozen years of Republican rule.
Further complicating the GOP outlook to turn things around is a solid percentage of liberals, moderates and even conservatives who say they'll vote Democratic. The party out of power also holds the edge among persuadable voters, a prospect that doesn't bode well for the Republicans.
The election ultimately will be decided in 435 House districts and 33 Senate contests, in which incumbents typically hold the upper hand. But the survey underscored the difficulty Republicans face in trying to persuade a skeptical public to return them to Washington.
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults conducted Monday through Wednesday found that President Bush has stopped his political freefall, with his approval rating of 36 percent basically unchanged from last month. Bush received slightly higher marks for his handling of the Iraq war and the fight against terrorism, weeks after his surprise trip to Baghdad and the killing of Iraqi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. airstrike last month.
But a Democratic takeover of either the House or Senate would be disastrous for the president, leaving both his agenda for the last two years in office and the chairmanship of investigative committees in the hands of the opposition party. To seize control of Congress, the Democrats must displace 15 Republicans from House seats and six Republicans from the Senate.
The AP-Ipsos survey asked 789 registered voters if the election for the House were held today, would they vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in their district. Democrats were favored 51 percent to 40 percent.
Not surprisingly, 81 percent of self-described liberals said they would vote for the Democrat. Among moderates, though, 56 percent backed a Democrat in their district and almost a quarter of conservatives _ 24 percent _ said they will vote Democratic.
Democrats also held the advantage among persuadable voters _ those who are undecided or wouldn't say whom they prefer. A total of 51 percent said they were leaning Democrat, while 41 percent were leaning Republican.
"We still have wind in our face. It's a midterm election in the president's second term," said Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Today is a little bit better in the atmospherics of Washington than it was maybe a month ago."
The president's party historically has lost seats in the sixth year of his service. Franklin D. Roosevelt lost 72 House seats in 1938; Dwight D. Eisenhower 48 in 1958. The exception was Bill Clinton in 1998.
By another comparison, polls in 1994 _ when a Republican tidal wave swept Democrats from power _ the two parties were in a dead heat in July on the question of whom voters preferred in their district.
"It comes down to a fairly simply question: Can Democrats nationalize all the elections? If Republicans prevent that, they have a shot. If they don't, they lose," said Doug Gross, the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Iowa in 2002 and the state finance director for the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign.
Overall, only 27 percent approved of the way Congress is doing its job. Lawmakers get favorable marks from 36 percent of conservatives, 28 percent of moderates and 17 percent of liberals.
Some criticism of Congress has focused on lawmakers' inability to control spending, with lawmakers tucking in special projects for their home districts.
"They used to say there's nothing worse than a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat," said Gary Wilson, 51, a self-described liberal from Gaithersburg, Md. "There is something worse: It's a borrow-and-spend Republican. This is going to come back to haunt us."
One bright spot for the GOP is that Republicans hold an advantage over Democrats on issues such as foreign policy and fighting terrorism _ 43 percent to 33 percent _ and a smaller edge on handling Iraq _ 36 percent to 32 percent.
The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted after the divisive Democratic debate in the Senate over setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. Potential voters were paying attention to the GOP complaint that Democrats want to "cut and run."
"It seems like the Democrats want to pull out or start to pull out, and I don't think that's the correct thing to do," said Eric Bean, 24, a college minister in Fort Worth, Texas. "I'd much rather see a Congress that would support our president. I think George Bush is doing the best he can. I think Republicans will support him."
John Dendahl, the Republican candidate for governor in New Mexico, said Democrats, with the help of some Republicans, have been successful at obstructing legislation in Congress while heaping the blame on the GOP.
Tom Courtney, a Democratic state senator in Iowa, said U.S. voters are ready to trust his party to lead.
"I honestly think it's ours to lose," Courtney said. "My experience, we're not above that. Americans are ready for change."
The poll of adults had a margin of error of 3 percentage points and the survey of registered voters had a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.