Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Republicans have moved closer to the Democrats in a congressional voter-preference poll just as the election campaigns near the official Labor Day starting gate.

The surprising findings in a little-noticed Gallup Poll that were ignored by most of the national news media shows the Democrats barely leading the Republicans by just two points -- 47 percent to 45 percent.

After months of generic polling numbers by Gallup and others showing the GOP lagged far behind the Democrats by a seemingly insurmountable 9 to 10 points, the titanic political battle for control of Congress is virtually dead even. This means we may not experience the feared Category 5 political storm some election analysts have forecast that would topple the GOP's House majority and cut deeply into its grip on the Senate.

The venerable and respected Gallup organization, which did the poll for USA Today, said the GOP's unexpected rise in the polls "represents the Republicans' best performance in a single poll during the 2006 election cycle on this important measure of electoral strength."

In an analysis accompanying its findings last week, Gallup said, "The Republican increase does appear to be significant."

If the race is anywhere near as tight as Gallup said, it gives the GOP a much stronger edge in this year's elections. The chief reason: Republicans tend to turn out in larger numbers in midterm elections. Moreover, the GOP's high-tech, volunteer-driven, voter-turnout apparatus is far superior to anything the Democrats are attempting to patch together.

Who says so? Democrats themselves. "We're not going to be able to match their turnout system," a senior Democratic confessed to me earlier this month. Gallup also acknowledges that Republican voters "are likely to perform better at the polls in November than would be indicated by pre-election surveys based on registered voters."

What has moved the GOP's numbers upward so swiftly?

A big factor was Bush's upward movement in his job-approval polls to 42 percent, according to Gallup. That's still way below his presidency's highs, but the steady summer climb out of the 30s to 40 and, more recently, to 42 percent shows he has halted his downward spiral, especially among Republicans who are beginning to come back home as Bush sharpens the issues in the war on terrorism that divide the two parties.

Equally important was Bush's full-throated response to the foiled Islamic terrorist plot to blow up 10 passenger jets en route to the United States from Great Britain in the midst of the campaigns.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.