From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
Four weeks out, a flood of polling indicates that the Mark Foley scandal has at least temporarily worsened the GOP's already difficult midterm election outlook. After an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken right after the scandal broke showed that news and recent developments in Iraq making voters feel even less favorably disposed toward a GOP majority, a battery of new surveys taken a week or so later depict a party in dire straits and President Bush squarely back below 40% on job approval.
A new Gallup poll for USA Today shows Bush with a 37% job approval rating among adults, and Democrats with a 23-point edge over Republicans among likely voters on its version of the generic congressional ballot test. A new Washington Post/ABC poll shows Bush with a 39% job approval rating among adults, and Democrats with a 13-point edge over Republicans on the generic ballot test among registered voters. A New York Times/CBS survey shows Bush with a 34% job approval among adults, and Democrats leading Republicans on the generic by 14 points among registered voters. A CNN survey shows Bush with a 39% job approval rating among adults, and Democrats leading Republicans by 21 points among likely voters.
Hamstrung by its investments in Iraq, the Bush Administration continues to grapple diplomatically with the North Korea situation. Republican campaign committees are hitting Democrats for being weak on missile defense, while Democrats charge that North Korea is the latest example of how the war in Iraq has made the United States less safe. More on this below. But North Korea isn't the only hot security topic today -- the security of the nation's children is also at the forefront, as well. The White House convenes a conference on school safety in the wake of the recent shootings in three states. Both Bushes will take part; no new policy is expected. And the House also considers the security of minors in its care as the Ethics Committee continues its probe and the FBI interviews a former page who may have received electronic messages from Foley.
Not only have Republicans lost some of their traditional edge over Democrats on moral values, but they've also lost the edge on top crime issue for the cycle. If cracking down on white-collar criminals was the popular anti-crime position taken by congressional candidates in 2004 because of Enron and other corporate scandals, stopping Internet sex predators has been the hot topic for candidates this cycle, per Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks campaign advertising.
Crime has not registered among voters' top priorities in recent federal elections, though it tends to play more prominently in state and local races. Even now, with tales of Internet sexual predators popping up in the news on a weekly basis, the issue hasn't broken through the public's consciousness as a top concern. Congressional candidates also generally agree when it comes to being anti-crime, especially as the hot-button issues have shifted away from guns (and by association, guns rights and gun control). Tracey calls the Internet sex predator issue, like the corporate crime issue, a "straw man."
But for Republicans, the Foley scandal turns the issue into a double-edged sword. One example: Republicans had been touting the Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act, which includes a couple of provisions to protect children from sexual predators on the Internet. Footage of the late July bill-signing at the White House has been airing repeatedly on cable news -- but because Foley was standing behind Bush when Bush signed the bill into law.
"It's hard now for the GOP to run this spot and the Democrats now have a face for theirs," Tracey says. Coincidentally or not, Democratic House candidate Patricia Madrid, the New Mexico attorney general, began airing an ad focusing on Internet predators in her district just last Tuesday, as did Phil Kellam in his southeastern Virginia district. Both are in tight races against GOP incumbents. Vulnerable freshman Rep. Melissa Bean (D) of Illinois, who has championed ways to keep kids safe from Internet predators, will hold a forum on the issue in her district tomorrow.
On the other hand, some vulnerable GOP incumbents might opt to confront the issue head-on, going on the air with TV ads highlighting the need to stop Internet sex crimes since the Foley scandal broke. Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut began airing a spot last Thursday which mentions the need to stop Internet predators.