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  •   Poll: Democrats Gaining Support in Hill Contests

    By Dan Balz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, November 2, 1998; Page A08

    Support for Democratic congressional candidates has risen in the final days of the 1998 midterm election campaign, according to a new, independent poll. The survey shows likely voters evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats in the vote for the House.

    The figures represent clear improvement in the position of Democratic candidates since a similar poll was taken earlier in October. The findings suggest that neither party holds a distinct advantage in House races on the eve of Tuesday's vote.

    The Pew Research Center found that 46 percent of likely voters said they will support a Democrat for the House, while 44 percent said they will support a Republican. Two weeks ago, 48 percent of likely voters favored the Republicans, while 43 percent favored Democrats.

    The survey underscored the uncertainty that surrounds Tuesday's vote. The leaders of the Republican and Democratic congressional campaign committees -- Rep. John Linder (R-Ga.) and Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.) -- both predicted yesterday their party would gain House seats Tuesday. Normally, the party that holds the White House -- in this case the Democrats -- loses seats in midterm elections.

    A month ago, Republicans anticipated significant gains in the Senate and House because of President Clinton's problems. But Democrats have since rebounded, and predictions have been scaled back. More than half a dozen Senate races remain competitive, including contests in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada and California.

    Last week, House Republicans announced a $10 million advertising campaign, with some of the money used on ads that raise the issue of Clinton's behavior and implicitly the pending impeachment inquiry. The ad campaign represented a political gamble that appeared designed to energize GOP-leaning voters.

    But Linder said yesterday Republican loyalists already were motivated to vote. "We tested these ads among soft Democrats and independents, and that's who we are trying to energize," he said on ABC's "This Week."

    The Pew survey of 1,714 registered voters was begun just as the advertising campaign was launched and concluded on Saturday night. Andrew Kohut, who directed the survey, said the poll suggested there has been a negative reaction to the publicity surrounding the GOP ad campaign, but was not conclusive on that point.

    "There is some kind of a Democratic rally here," Kohut said. "It may be transient, but it's here for now."

    Democrats have gained ground among older voters, minority voters and voters in the East and West.

    The survey underscored how polarized this election has become. Tuesday's voting could be a battle between core Democrats and core Republicans, with independent voters less inclined to participate, Kohut said.

    The poll found 94 percent of Republicans said they would support a Republican for the House and 92 percent of Democrats favored a Democrat. Among independents, 40 percent said they favored Republicans and 37 percent favored Democrats; 23 percent were undecided.

    Roughly one-fifth of all voters have not made a firm decision about who they will support on Tuesday, according to the Pew survey, and the outcome in many close races hinges on just who turns out to vote. The survey's margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

    A new study by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate projected turnout will be "down slightly or substantially" from 1994, when 39 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

    The study said voter registration has reached its highest level since 1970, but that participation in statewide primaries this year fell to a historic low. Just 17.5 percent of eligible voters turned out in the 36 states with statewide primaries. Democrat turnout was an abysmal 9.3 percent.

    Curtis Gans, who directed the study, said the impeachment issue makes predictions about voter turnout -- and Tuesday's results -- more perilous than in normal midterm elections.

    The Pew survey showed Clinton's job approval at 65 percent. Almost two in three voters (64 percent) said they want to see their House member reelected. Just 28 percent of those surveyed said they wanted Clinton impeached, down slightly from earlier in October.

    A majority (54 percent) said they felt mostly or very unfavorable toward House members who supported the decision to launch impeachment proceedings, compared to 40 percent who said they felt favorable. Earlier in October, the public was almost evenly divided on that question.

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