Polls Spell Trouble for GOP in November
NOAH ADAMS, host:
Political polls out this week paint a picture of voter discontent. With November elections just three months away, this ought to be good news for the party out of power, the Democrats, and bad news for Republicans. But GOP campaign strategists think they know how they can still win in November.
And joining us now from Washington, as he does every Friday, is NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams.
JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:
Good to be with you, Noah.
ADAMS: Let's analyze this starting right where you are with the Maryland Senate race and the GOP candidate Michael Steele. He's currently the lieutenant governor of that state. He's made some off the record comments - well, once off the record comments - separating himself from the national GOP. What's that all about?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that in a state like Maryland where you have a two to one advantage for Democrats in the state in terms of voter registration, Michael Steele, who's an African-American, sees that it's to his advantage to one: appeal to African-Americans who disproportionately - even in larger numbers than two to one - are registered as Democrats. And secondly, to even moderate Republicans, but certainly to Independent voters - by saying that he is distancing himself from President Bush. He was critical of the war in Iraq, critical of the way the government responded to Hurricane Katrina, had his criticisms about the way things are going economically for the middle class, referring to high gas prices.
All of that is intended, I think Noah, to signal to Independent voters most of all that he is someone who is a fresh face, and that that they shouldn't think of him as purely a Republican who's in lockstep with the Bush administration.
ADAMS: Are there Republicans around the country kind of watching this strategy and figuring out if it might work for them?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think they're all doing much the same thing. I think we're - you know, it's funny. You know, you talk with people, the casual voters; they don't realize the election is already underway in full throat, if you will. And so what you see is Republicans emphasizing local issues. Voters focused heavily on local issues are less likely want to express any anger at President Bush over the war, gas prices, Iraq, that kind of thing. So what you see is, constantly now, the Republicans trying to create the image - and especially in the mind of Independent voters just like Michael Steele - that they are not one and the same with the Republicans who are in power at the moment.
ADAMS: And they can gain some attention from doing that. What is a Democrat to do? They're not doing well in the polls at all.
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, it's really interesting. If you look at the president's approval rating - the Wall Street Journal poll this week had the president at 39 percent, slightly up, but it's still 56 percent disapprove. But when you look at the Congress, it's only 25 percent approval, so they're even less popular than the president. But what you have to understand Noah, is that for the parties, the Democrats are about 32 percent positive in terms of the way the voters perceive them right now, Republicans, 33.
So for Democrats, what they're trying to do is to build on issues where they believe voters will see a large difference, a chasm if you will, between the way that they proceed and the way that the Republicans proceed. And what they're trying to do is not focus on the war in Iraq. Instead, they want issues like minimum wage, arguing they will increase the minimum wage. Secondly, issues like energy, and the environment, and even national security. You know, saying we can do a better job of protecting the ports, the airports. All of those kind of basic items, Democrats are really trying to bring it back home.
So even as Republicans say they want to run on local issues, here are Democrats trying to preempt them and keep them away from what they view as a real opportunity to win voters, and win those Independent voters, for the November elections.
ADAMS: NPR's senior correspondent Juan Williams talking with us from Washington.
Thank you, Juan.
WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Noah.
ADAMS: Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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