WASHINGTON – While President Bush has high hopes for today's elections in Iraq, his Republican Party faces a different challenge at home: quelling the political insurgency among elderly American voters like Virginia Renfro.Will it be the discontent of the seniors that upsets the Republican ship rather than corruption and the war in Iraq?
"They should shake [Washington] up a little bit," says Ms. Renfro, 68 years old, a retired school-cafeteria worker in LaPorte, Ind. Displeased with Mr. Bush's Social Security ideas, confused by Medicare's prescription-drug benefit and unhappy with illegal immigration, Ms. Renfro isn't sure she will vote again for her fellow Republican, Rep. Chris Chocola, in November's midterm elections.
The new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll makes clear that Ms. Renfro has plenty of company. In a period of broad-ranging public discontent, that among senior citizens stands out as most worrisome for Republicans aiming to keep control of the House and Senate in the fall.This is a really big opportunity for the Democrats. In spite of the spin the seniors are seeing the true colors of the Republicans and they don't like what they see. This is a natural for the progressive policies of the Democrats. And don't forget, seniors vote and are more likely to vote in non presidential elections. And all the Democrats have to do is point out that the Republicans don't care about the seniors and that the Democrats do.
"They're a pretty cranked up bunch and they've got to be handled with enormous care by incumbents," says Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who helps conduct the Journal/NBC survey. So far, adds his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart, "the Bush administration has done more to alienate them than to gain their support."
The results can be seen in Americans' attitudes toward Congress 11 months before Election Day 2006. By a 65%-19% margin, Americans age 65 and above disapprove of the performance of Congress; those under 65 are also negative but less lopsidedly, 58%-27%. Moreover, senior citizens say by 47%-37% that they want Democrats rather than Republicans to win control of Capitol Hill. Those under 65 prefer a Democratic victory by a narrower 45%-39% margin.