Donald Lambro

There are a slew of generic polls, however, that find more Americans saying they will vote Democratic this year, but generic polls, which are not based on actual candidates, are notoriously inaccurate. The same polls projected similar results in 2004 and 2002 when in fact Republicans made gains in Congress.

Nevertheless, veteran election pollsters have sent notes of warning to both parties in the unfolding scandal.

"Generic polls are not predictive at all at this point, but it's a good indicator of the general mood of the country at this point," said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

"Voters will make distinctions about their own representatives and senators, regarding their own actions in connection with Mr. Abramoff, but the problem is the image of Congress which is not healthy at the moment and which is likely to take another Democratic hit," he said.

Democrats are vulnerable on this score, too. "The Democrats' tendency to portray the Republican Congress as the most corrupt in years could backfire on them because clearly that opens the door to Democrats who have received money from Abramoff," independent pollster John Zogby told me. But most scandals are not born and do not grow in a political vacuum.

There are always competing issues and factors and this is an election year when there are a lot of them and big ones, too. Pollsters I have talked to in the past week tell me that Iraq will have a much bigger impact on how people vote in November, along with the U.S. economy, gas prices and even the stock market.

In other words, whatever happens in the lobbying scandal, it will have to compete with some potential developments this year on several Republican-friendly fronts: The likelihood of troop withdrawals from Iraq as the Iraqi army grows in strength, the Fed's expected decision sometime soon to halt the climb in interest rates, a bull rally in the stock market that is boosting pension funds and a job-producing economy that is expected to grow by 3.5 percent this year.

Meanwhile, the first big political battle of the year does not bode well for the Democrats' future prospects. They came out this week with both guns blazing against Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court.

But the Post-ABC poll showed that 53 percent of Americans believe the Senate should confirm him, 27 said he should not and 20 percent have no opinion. Not an auspicious start for the Democrats and maybe an omen of how the 2006 elections could turn out.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.