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Will Katrina Relief Failure Affect the Election?

The first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was marked by an all-out PR offensive by the Bush Administration to hype its limp relief efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The Bush blitz, which deployed First Lady Laura Bush bragging about the restoration of a few libraries, as well as a host of GOP spin doctors, was calculated to offset media coverage revealing the continuing mess on the Gulf and the weak federal response. It seems doubtful that the media campaign will have much of an effect. But the stakes are high, particularly if the issue affects the outcome of the November elections.

So far there are no polls asking respondents how the Katrina relief response will affect their votes in November's congressional elections. But today's WaPo features Chris Cillizza's article "Parsing the Polls: Hurrican Katrina," discussing how Bush's approval ratings have been adversely impacted by public perceptions of the federal Katrina relief effort. The polls Cillizza mulls over, taken just before the Bush media blitz, are bad news for the Administration, and Democrats hope public disapproval will extend to the GOP-lead, do-nothing congress. Regarding the polls, Cillizza notes:

Consider the poll conducted Aug. 24-25 by Princeton Survey Research for Newsweek. Asked whether Bush had followed through on his promise to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, 32 percent of the 1,002 adults surveyed said he had, 51 percent said he had not...Independents clearly thought Bush had not kept his promise (26/60).

Those results were confirmed in a number of other surveys taken earlier this month. In a CBS News/New York Times poll, 41 percent of voters approved of "the way George W. Bush is responding to the needs of people affected by Hurricane Katrina," while 51 percent disapproved. A CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation showed even more negative numbers: Just 34 percent of the sample approved of "the way George W. Bush has handled the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina," while 64 percent disapproved.

There is little doubt that the latest numbers continue a trend that began in the spring of 2005 and accelerated in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, when Bush's disapproval numbers spiked to historic highs. For the most part, he has not recovered.

Cillizza quotes DSCC Chairman Senator Chuck Schumer's contention that Bush's inept Katrina response was a defining moment in the eyes of the public:

"It's like the Wizard of Oz. "It showed the man behind the screen."

Clearly, Democrats have a lot to gain by reminding voters that Bush is the leader of his party, and by forcing GOP candidates to defend his ineptitude and indifference. Cillizza concludes:

While they may have passively disapproved of the chief executive prior to Katrina, they became ardent opponents following the disaster and the administration's handling of it. And, remember that in midterm elections only the most passionate (or most angry) of voters tend to turn out -- a factor that could lead to major Democratic gains this November.

Another question being pondered in southern states in particular is what affect hundreds of thousands of Katrina evacuees -- 250 thousand in Texas and 40 thousand in Georgia alone -- will have in their new congressional district elections and state-wide races. If a healthy majority of them are as angry as media interviews indicate, they may provide margins of Democratic victory in key state and local races.