Congressional election fails to stir voters
GEORGETOWN, Kentucky (Reuters) - Democratic control of Congress and the fate of President Barack Obama's agenda are on the line in congressional elections this November, but some voters do not seem thrilled with their choices.
Discontent with Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress as the economy struggles and the deficit soars has energized some conservatives, including the Tea Party movement, and boosted Republican chances of winning the House of Representatives and perhaps even the Senate.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday for Ohio confirmed national surveys showing Republicans with a big advantage in enthusiasm, with 75 percent of registered Republicans in the battleground state certain they would vote, compared with 52 percent of Democrats.
But not all Republican voters are necessarily enthusiastic about the prospect of their party's resurgence.
Take Joe Reitz, a farmer leaning against his pickup truck and eating a burger at a combined gas station and fast-food restaurant in the northern Kentucky town of Georgetown.
A bumper sticker on his truck reads: "McCain - Palin 2008," but Reitz, 50, said he was a conservative first, then a Republican.
"I didn't vote for him (John McCain), I voted for her (Sarah Palin)," he said, jerking a thumb at the sticker for the losing Republican ticket in the 2008 presidential election.
"I'm certainly not one of those Republicans who misses George W. Bush," he added, complaining of rampant spending under Obama's Republican predecessor. "And everything has got so much worse under Obama and (House Speaker Nancy) Pelosi with all the bailouts and ramming that healthcare bill down our throats."
"But after the mess they made the last time, I'm not convinced the Republicans will do right and cut spending."
More than 100 miles north near downtown Dayton, Ohio, retiree Jeni Wilson, 68, a conservative independent, said she saw little difference between the two parties and was still weighing which side to vote for, or whether to vote at all.
"We're stuck between a party of bad ideas and one of no ideas," she said as she walked her small dog. "I wouldn't say we're spoiled for choice."
The past few years have not been easy for America's voters. A housing crisis and the deepest recession since the 1930s have left the country with stubbornly high unemployment -- 9.5 percent in July.
Bailouts for the banking sector have been unpopular both among those angry at Wall Street's role in fueling the financial crisis and people who argue that big firms should be allowed to fail. Stimulus spending and bailouts for automakers have also drawn fire as well as Obama's signature legislative triumph, healthcare reform.
Obama's approval ratings have fallen into the mid- to lower 40 percent range. Congress fares even worse, with an approval rating hovering around 20 percent.
Pessimism about the economy could hurt both parties in the November elections, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Wednesday. It found only 24 percent voiced positive feelings about the Republican Party, with Democrats only slightly more popular.
In Democratic strongholds like the New York City area, voters are glum and complain of politics as usual.
"Our political system is the biggest block to creating change in our country," said Joseph Doron, a Democrat who lives on Long Island. "Politicians are still spending too much time making phone calls and raising money for their campaigns."
Democrat and retiree Queenie Huling, 65, said, "A lot of people are suffering," but defended Obama's performance.
"I think he's doing the best he can given all the problems he inherited when he took office."
Even in areas like Cedar County, Iowa, where the popular vote has generally mirrored the results of the past five presidential elections, voters do not appear energized.
"There's a real weariness here," said Tom Fiegen, a 51-year-old bankruptcy attorney and former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination to face Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.
He said many Democrats were disappointed with Obama's first 18 months in office.
"It's hard for Democrats to get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to work 20 hours today to elect a Democrat' because there just isn't a sense that it's a) going to happen, and b) make a difference."
The lethargy is not confined to Democrats. Scott Pearson, owner of an auto repair shop in Tipton, Iowa, dropped his Republican registration seven years ago to protest the Bush administration's Patriot Act national security law. He now considers himself an independent, with no idea how he will vote in November.
Pearson said he would not vote for Grassley's Democratic opponent, Roxanne Conlin, but was not eager to see Grassley, a senator since 1981, win another term.
"It's time for him to come home."
(Additional reporting by Karina Ioffee in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)