Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Republicans have been hit hard in the past few weeks on the Iraq war and the Mark Foley page scandal, halting their comeback in the polls and raising Democratic hopes of retaking the House.

The party-preference polls, which turned upward in September for the GOP, were down sharply again in a roller-coaster election ride that has four weeks to go before it comes to an abrupt and merciful stop on Nov. 7.

A Washington Post front-page headline Tuesday blared its poll findings, showing a "strong shift of support to Democrats." Congress' job-approval score had plunged to 32 percent, its lowest in a decade, and Americans, by 54 percent to 35 percent, said they trusted Democrats more than Republicans to solve the nation's problems.

Even more depressing for the GOP, Democrats led Republicans by 55 percent to 39 percent on the question of which party deserved to be re-elected next month.

But in politics, as in other quintessential American challenges, hope springs eternal. If the numbers remain the same or worsen, the GOP could lose as many as 30 seats, said Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, the GOP's former congressional campaign chairman. But top Republican officials think they have time to turn things around between now and Election Day.

For starters, GOP strategists took comfort in the Post's finding (buried deeply in the story) that "60 percent of those surveyed in the new poll said they approve of the performance of their own member."

As for the House-page scandal, polls show it will have little impact on how people vote. Only two in 10 said it would in the Post survey. This is confirmed by the GOP's own internal polling in the past week. "The anger at the grassroots is geared toward one man, Mark Foley," a senior party official said. Meanwhile, despite the Democrats' relentless criticism that Iraq has little or nothing to do with the war on terrorism, 51 percent still "agreed with (President) Bush's argument that Iraq is a front in the global campaign against terrorism," the Post said.

As for the Democrats' anti-war push for getting out of Iraq, "there is no significant support for withdrawing U.S. forces immediately," the Post said. Only one-fifth would support such a move.

Republican officials hope to hold their ground on Iraq as they regroup for the final weeks of a campaign offensive marked by a major TV-ad blitz that will, among other things, warn voters of the Democrats' far-left agenda if they take control of the House. That agenda includes:

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.