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GOP Poll: Economy Is Top Issue

Concern over the faltering economy remains the top issue on voters’ minds even as U.S. forces continue their battle to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, according to a new internal Senate Republican poll.

“When asked what issue is most important in deciding how to vote for Congress, jobs, [the] economy and taxes combined are the highest at 32 percent,” according to a memo to Republican Senators distributed at Wednesday’s Steering Committee meeting. “Defense and terrorism are only 17 percent.”

But the new GOP data asserts that the American public has rallied around President Bush, pointing to a dramatic boost in his stewardship of the country. Senate Republicans claim their poll shows Democrats with high negatives on issues ranging from support for the war to obstructing Bush’s judicial nominations to the increasingly partisan atmosphere on the Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) also received a “net negative” number, according to the poll. “Their obstruction tactics and negativity is really beginning to hurt,” said a Senate GOP leadership aide.

Taxes make up the only issue on which Democrats scored a net positive, according to the survey conducted March 26 and 27 of 1,000 registered voters by GOP pollster David Winston. Republicans, meanwhile, netted positive scores on almost all issues.

“Senate Republicans are winning the messaging war, and Senate Democrats are struggling under growing negative perceptions of their tactics and agenda,” the memo reads.

Daschle’s spokeswoman quickly dismissed the poll’s numbers and chastised Republicans for highlighting the war.

“The war should not be for political gain,” said spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer. “With regard to the rest of the poll, without seeing the questions or who they are being asked to it is hard to respond. But if you ask most Americans about the president’s domestic policy initiatives they don’t support them.”

Since mid-March, Daschle has come under heavy pressure from Republicans for saying the president “failed miserably” in his diplomatic efforts before going to war with Iraq. The comments drew heated criticism from Congressional Republican leaders and radio talk-show hosts, which GOP aides suggest contributed to Daschle’s net negative ratings.

“Clearly the Democrats are digging a hole with their own tactics and quite frankly at this point we don’t need to push them in,” the GOP leadership aide said. “They are jumping in.”

But the survey warns Republican Senators that they must shift their message to focus on jobs and the economy. The memo said they must stay positive as the nation grapples with the Iraq conflict.

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