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Republicans Face Possibility of Big Losses in US Congressional Races

Republicans face the prospect of significant losses in the House of Representatives during next month U.S. election. Most analysts see Republicans losing at least 20 House seats, but some predictions put potential losses at 30 or more in the 435-seat House. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, while Americans have generally negative views of Congress, Democrats have taken advantage of a general trend of dissatisfaction.

Although a number of issues will be on the minds of Americans when they go to the polls on November 4, the most dominant is the global financial crisis which most analysts agree is pushing voters toward making major changes in Washington, and Republican candidates are vulnerable across the country.

Currently, Democrats hold a 235 to 199 advantage in the 435-member House, with one seat vacant. Though Republican leaders have tried to maintain an optimistic public face, there were some early negative signs in 2008.

Early in the year, three key state districts held by Republicans for decades shifted to Democrats in special elections seen as important early indicators.

Among them was the seat held by former Republican House speaker Dennis Hastert, where a Democratic candidate benefited from fundraising and an endorsement by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. In the southern states of Louisiana and Mississippi, two key seats also fell to Democrats.

At the same time, since the 2006 mid-term election, Republicans leaving Congress, either retiring or running for higher office, outnumber Democratic departures by a margin of 29 to six.

Debates in House races reflect concerns about the economy and the recent government rescue plan for the financial markets.

Democrats and Republicans contrast what they would do in Washington if elected, but also reflect a lot of common ground on the financial mess.

In Ohio's 15th district, which narrowly went Republican in 2006, Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy faces Republican Steve Stivers.

"We need to move in quickly to eliminate and put more oversight and more regulation so the risky behaviors on Wall Street and [in] the banking industry that brought us to this crisis, come to an end," says Kilroy.

"We need to make sure that what they are going to do is going to work," Stivers says. "We need to make sure that it is going to be a smart investment and that the taxpayers aren't going to be left holding the bag for Wall Street."

In Colorado, where opinion polls show Barack Obama has opened a significant lead over John McCain, the House contest between Republican House incumbent Marlyn Musgrave and Democrat Betsey Markey featured this exchange about energy policy.

"My opponent has voted against every piece of renewable energy legislation that has come before the Congress in the past four years," says Markey.

"I will always vote against a bill if it has pork [extraneous spending] in it, and a tax increase and those are the reasons for my no votes on those bills," Musgrave says.

In addition to the economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also worked against Republicans, who are also weighed down by President Bush's poor public approval ratings.

Democrats are out-spending Republicans in House races by almost four to one, with Republican congressional campaign managers forced to make tough choices on where to direct funds.

An internal Republican party document recently reported by U.S. News & World Report, and the multimedia political news organization Politico, described 58 Republican House seats as being at some level of risk, with as many as 34 seats in serious danger of shifting to Democrats.

Among interesting shifts, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann's chances for re-election were damaged by controversy that followed her call for investigations of members of Congress that she suggested had anti-American views.

Democrats are not without their problems. In Florida, a Democrat Tim Mahoney's chances of winning a key Republican seat are threatened by a personal scandal, while Democrats faced tough races in some key states, such as Pennsylvania.

While Democrats could sharply increase their majority in the House, the picture in the 100 member Senate is less hopeful, where Republicans may still maintain enough seats to block legislation.