Cover Story

For better or for worse

Big spenders who run away from war and immigration reform-and that's just the Republicans. If the choices in this season's elections look bewildering and the temptation to stay home is high, strategists warn: Disgruntled voters should think hard about the wake-up call they want to send

Issue: "Red & blue all over," Sept. 23, 2006

Rob Port is a grown man, but the North Dakotan wants to "hide under the bed and cry" when he thinks of one thing: the Democratic Party overseeing national security and what Port calls "a battle against Islamic fascism."

That fear alone will be enough to drive Port to the polls to vote Republican in this fall's mid-term elections. But his vote for the GOP won't be a full vote of confidence in the party he usually supports. "I'm not exactly happy with Republicans," Port told WORLD, "but with Democrats it would be even worse."

Port, 26, chronicles his mixed feelings about Republicans and his fear of a Democratic takeover in Congress on his political blog Say Anything (sayanythingblog.com). He especially commiserates with Republicans who are disgruntled over the party's drift from fiscal conservatism: "A lot of the problem with the GOP is that they've lost their commitment to small government."

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Beefed-up federal entitlement programs and swelling government waste anger Port, and he laments that some of the worst pork-barrel spenders in Congress are Republicans. (Citizens Against Government Waste identified $29 billion in pork-barrel spending for the fiscal year 2006, and Alaska's Republican Senator Ted Stevens topped the report's list for pork-barrel spending per capita.) "Republicans shouldn't just be Republicans," Port says. "They should be conservative."

Another concern: how Republicans are handling issues like immigration and ethics. But all his angst won't keep him from supporting the party come November. He doesn't like Democrats' stance on pro-life issues, and he doesn't like their stance on the war, which he thinks is essential to national security. "It's absolutely vital," he says, "and I don't think Democrats have the will to finish it out."

Port understands why some Republicans say they'll send the GOP a message this fall by not voting, even if it means the party loses power. But with Democrats in charge, he insists, the alternative would be worse. "It would be nice to be able to send Republicans a wake-up call," he says, "but how long will we have to live with the consequences of it?"

Port, of course, is far from the only disgruntled voter heading into the mid-term election season. A Sept. 12 Gallup poll reported President Bush's approval rating at 39 percent, and Congress' overall approval rating at 29 percent. Just 32 percent of those polled said they are satisfied with the way things are going in the country.

In a recent Pew Research Center poll gauging voter enthusiasm, some 46 percent of Democrats surveyed said they were more enthusiastic than normal about voting. Only 30 percent of Republicans answered the same question the same way.

Statistics like those have led scores of pundits to predict a Democratic takeover of at least one house of Congress this fall after a decade of Republican control. In order to pull that off, Democrats would have to take six seats in the Senate and 15 seats in the House of Representatives. A Senate takeover seems unlikely, but Democrats are eyeing possibilities in Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Even if Democrats take seats in all those states, they still must also grab a victory in at least one Republican stronghold while defending their own incumbents in other states.

Democratic prospects are more promising in the House, where all 435 seats are up for grabs and they need only to gain 15. The party is likely to pick up seats in Arizona, Colorado, and Iowa. It could take seats in Connecticut and Pennsylvania as well. Republicans in Ohio and Indiana, usually GOP strongholds, are also preparing for possible upsets, with the unpopularity of Republican governors in both states pulling the party down.

Though plenty of red flags are flapping before Republicans, a Gallup poll in late August found the GOP edging closer to Democrats in voter preferences for congressional elections. Pollsters asked voters: "If the election were being held today, which party's candidate would you vote for in your congressional district? In late June, Democrats held a 54 percent to 38 percent lead over Republicans. But by the end of last month, the Democrats' edge had narrowed to a slim 47 percent to 45 percent.

Conflicting polls and voter indecision make the mid-term elections too close to call for now, according to Michael Franc, vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation. "It's too early," he says. "An awful lot can still happen in either direction."

One thing is sure to happen over the next six weeks: Both parties will start rolling out millions of dollars worth of campaign ads. "Eighty percent of the money that's going to be spent in campaigns hasn't been spent yet," says Franc. Many voters won't make up their minds until the last 30 days before the elections, he adds.

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