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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Angry voters want changes in Congress

Dissatisfied with Congress, voters would probably hang a "Help Wanted" sign on the U.S. Capitol if given the chance.

Dissatisfied with Congress, voters would probably hang a “Help Wanted” sign on the U.S. Capitol if given the chance.

“They’re not doing their job,” says Scott Newland, 39, an independent voter who backed President Bush in 2004.

The factory worker had harsh words for congressional Republicans and Democrats as he helped close his sister’s New Castle deli one recent evening. “You need people that care. They don’t care.”

Such angry sentiments echo up and down the Ohio River Valley as it cuts through Republican-held congressional districts in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio — politically pivotal House seats in an election year in which Democrats hope to end 12 years in the minority.

At lunch counters, post offices, city parks and downtown streets, voters in this region and nationally are quick to voice their frustration with the GOP-controlled Congress, and their desire for more responsive replacements for the current crop of lawmakers.

It’s a general disgust that may lead to firings of some politicians on Nov. 7. People already have hinted as much in Republican and Democratic primaries.

Kenny Brown, an independent, knows precisely what he’s looking for in a congressman. “Somebody who cares for the working man,” the supermarket employee, 66, says before picking up his mail at the Pewee Valley, Ky., post office.

Judging by the past few years, Brown said, Bush and Republicans don’t care. “Maybe the Democrats do, or maybe they don’t.”


With congressional elections less two months away, the public is consistently giving the GOP-run Congress dismal marks. An Associated Press-Ipsos poll in August found that only 29 percent of the public approve of the job Congress is doing.

A CNN poll earlier this month found that 55 percent of Americans are more likely to vote for the challenger in any election this fall. And an ABC News/Washington Post poll in August found that 53 percent of Americans call themselves “anti-incumbent,” a figure as high as it was in the summer 1994 shortly before Republicans seized control from Democrats.

The party in power typically loses congressional seats in the sixth year of a presidency, and both Republican and Democratic strategists say this fall is on track to follow suit. GOP losses are expected in the House and, perhaps, the Senate.

But it’s also possible that such voter angst won’t translate into a sweeping throw-the-bumbs-out election year.

“Typically, Americans have a really negative view of Congress but love their congressman,” said Marybeth Beller, a political science professor at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va.

That explains why House and Senate members rarely lose their re-election bids.

Nevertheless, four incumbents — including a governor and a senator — have lost primaries so far this year, providing some evidence that voters want fresh blood in positions of power. Neither political party may be immune.

Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski, a Republican, was the most recent casualty of what may end up being an anti-incumbent wave of the 2006 elections. He finished last in a three-way GOP primary in August, getting just 19 percent of the vote.

A fifth upset could occur Tuesday.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, a moderate Republican in Rhode Island, is facing a fierce primary against Stephen Laffey, the mayor of Cranston. Polls show a tight race.

National Republicans are backing Chafee even though he often departs from the party line, including opposing the Iraq war. GOP operatives believe he is their best shot of keeping the seat in Republican hands. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has attacked Laffey on television and in mass mailings.

Laffey has the support of the conservative, pro-business Club for Growth, which also contributed to the defeat of freshman Rep. Joe Schwarz, a moderate Republican in Michigan.

Democrats have fared about the same.

In the biggest upset yet this year, voters in Connecticut sent a message to Sen. Joe Lieberman, a moderate Democrat, by giving the Democratic nomination to newcomer Ned Lamont.

The Iraq war played heavily in the race. Lieberman supports it. Lamont does not and his anti-war stance attracted enough votes from liberals and others to secure the nomination. Lieberman promptly signed up as an independent candidate for the November balloting.

Down south, another Democrat, Georgia Rep. Cynthia McKinney, also lost her primary.

Despite the Democratic losses, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the head of the Senate Democrat’s campaign effort, declared: “This is not an anti-incumbent election. This is an anti-Republican incumbent election.”

“I don’t see an anti-incumbent wave,” countered Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Republicans’ campaign committee, dismissing the notion as Democratic propaganda.


Voters outside the capital clearly aren’t happy with their elected officials of either political party.

Paula Waltz, 31 and a self-described political “fence rider,” is among the people who said they are considering voting against their sitting congressmen to make that point.

Many lawmakers have “been there a little too long” and have “lost touch with the problems we’re facing now,” said Waltz, a surgical assistant who talked politics after finishing a hospital shift in Madison, Ind.

“They’re out of reality,” said Loyd Candler, 61 and a Republican who supervises autoparts stores, after a meal in Scottsburg, Ind. “I don’t think you can just keep voting the same people in because they’ve been there.”

In Crestwood, Ky., Glenn Proctor, 47, a construction worker and a Republican, said lawmakers in Washington never come through.

“They all promise you the world and then when they get in there, they’re all the same,” he complained, climbing into his car after buying a few supplies at a Dollar General.

Upriver near Cincinnati, Sari Thoman, 55, a Democrat, wants term limits for members of Congress.

“These people make it their life jobs” and because of that “Congress is so out of touch,” said the Cincinnati symphony violist as she stretched after a brisk walk around a park in Springfield Township.

Across the park, Curtis Kelley, 62 and “mostly a Democrat,” was down on the president and his opinion of lawmakers on Capitol Hill was almost as negative.

“I don’t have any confidence in them either,” Kelley said, as he worked at the dock on the park’s 188-acre lake. But, he said, voters share some of the blame. “We don’t hold them accountable.”

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press