President, Candidates Make Final Campaign Push

The last full week of Campaign 2006 is underway, with President Bush making campaign appearances in Georgia and Texas. The president says Republicans will defy predictions that Democrats will win one, or both, houses of Congress.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Good morning.

The last full week of campaign 2006 gets underway this morning with President Bush making campaign appearances in Georgia and Texas. In a few minutes we'll check in on two close races in Georgia, where the president today attends what's being called a victory rally. The president says Republicans will defy predictions that Democrats will win one or both houses of Congress.

Joining us now, as she does every Monday, is NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS: Good morning, Renee. It's good to have you back safely in the country.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you, and glad to be back.

So, Cokie, the president says November 7th is going to be a good day for the Republicans, so is he seeing something different in the polls?

ROBERTS: Well, he's obviously cheerleading, and he says the Democrats are too quick to measure the drapes or do the dance in the end zone, to mix his metaphors. But he trying to do everything he can to make his predictions true. And we are seeing a certain tightening in the polls with the Democrats having a slight less of a lead, but still a double-digit lead over the Republicans going into next week's election.

But there are two groups that you have to watch here, Renee, because they are the people who swing elections, and those are independents and white Catholics. And in a Newsweek poll out this weekend, even though they are Democratic they are not as overwhelmingly Democratic as other groups in the population. So independents say they prefer Democrats by 39 to 34 percent; only five points. White Catholics 48 to 40 percent, only eight points; compared with a total of likely voters who, by 53 to 39, say they prefer Democrats.

Now we don't have many individual House race polls, although the Republicans tell us that those races are getting closer. And in the Senate races, they are really too close to call.

MONTAGNE: Now the president has been emphasizing terrorism, which has been traditionally a good issue for Republicans, and also the economy in his campaign appearances. Is the economy, as an issue, getting a lot of traction this year?

ROBERTS: In some pockets of the country, but it works both ways. Michigan, for instance, has been a problem for Democrats because they're the incumbents there and the economy there is very bad there. But the president touting a good economy is not resonating. In a Pew poll, two-thirds say the economy is bad or poor. But he probably can scare people about Democrats raising taxes, and that's what he's trying to do. And the economy is the second issue for everybody. Republicans, the first issue is terrorism. Democrats and independents, it's Iraq. Republicans have one problem there, which is a lot of conservatives are angry about the deficit, so they have to be careful when they talk about the economy

MONTAGNE: And what about social issues like gay marriage and stem cell research? For a while not so much was said, and then suddenly these last few weeks they're back on as issues.

ROBERTS: Well, because they're issues that are likely to get people out to the polls. But interestingly in this Newsweek survey on the question of which party represents moral values, the Democrats and Republicans were tied. That's bad for Republicans. The New Jersey court decision to allow some sort of gay union is probably not helpful to Democrats. But it's a question of what happens in the churches next weekend to some degree, to see who gets out and who cares about it.

The Democrats are hoping that stem cell research, which is on some ballots, will work for them, although, again it's not clear who it gets out. They're hoping that that's one that really gets the independents on their side. And in all these controversial ads that we've been hearing about in this campaign season, the one that voters say they have actually seen and responded to is the one of Michael J. Fox talking about stem cell research.

MONTAGNE: Cokie, thanks very much. NPR News analyst Cokie Roberts.

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