Five days from US elections, President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies have got more bad news in a new poll that has found his winning 2008 coalition had fractured amid deep anger at the economy.
As each side unleashed a barrage of brutal last-minute television ads, Democrats enlisted former president Bill Clinton to make the difference in some nail-biter contests while Republicans used Obama’s own words against him.
Fired-up Republicans were widely expected to net more than the 39 seats they needed to take over the House of Representatives but fall short of the 10 seats they needed to recapture the Senate.
The new survey by The New York Times and CBS television on Thursday found nearly two in three respondents willing to back political newcomers on November 2, and 28 per cent more ready this year to back someone with views that “seem extreme.”
By a broad 61-34 per cent margin, the registered voters queried said the United States, still struggling to emerge from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, was on the wrong track.
The survey, which had an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points, found that Republicans had wiped out the Democratic edge with women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents, key to Obama’s victory in 2008 and the Democratic capture of Congress in 2006.
While Democrats have beaten Republicans among women voters since 1982, Republicans held a four-percentage-point advantage in the final campaign sprint, and a 47-32 per cent edge with independents who often sway US elections.
Obama planned an 11th-hour coast-to-coast campaign blitz through key battlegrounds, while Clinton lent his political star-power to Democrats in tight races, notably looking to pump up the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts.
The former president was to attend three rallies with Democratic Representative Joe Sestak, who was locked in a bitter too-close-to-call Senate battle with Republican Pat Toomeyin Pennsylvania.
In Nevada, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blistered Republican rival Sharron Angle with a television advertisement accusing her of leaving children at the mercy of sex offenders, dooming cancer patients to the grave, and shipping US jobs to China.
The commercial, which features shots of an empty playground swing and pallbearers carrying a coffin through a cemetery, also charges that Angle favoured prison inmates receiving “massages in a radical Scientology program” – a reference to a proposed treatment plan for women drug addicts behind bars.
Reid, the Republicans’ higest-profile target, clawed his way back from double-digit poll deficits earlier this year but remained locked in the fight of his political life against Angle, a “Tea Party” darling who has raised millions of dollars to unseat him.
Her office did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, released an internet ad warning voters: “Don’t wake up on November third and realise you didn’t do enough” and using Obama’s own hopeful words about the economy against him.
The ad juxtaposes the US unemployment rate of nearly 10 per cent and the $US13.6 trillion ($A14.03 trillion) national debt with the president’s repeated assurances that the country is going “in the right direction.”
All 435 House of Representatives seats, 37 of 100 Senate seats, and 37 governorships are up for grabs in the elections, which come amid stubbornly high unemployment of nearly 10 per cent.
Historically, a sitting US president’s party loses seats in his first mid-term elections, though such contests have not been good predictors of chances for a second term.
Taking control of even one chamber of Congress would give Republicans broad control over the legislative agenda in Washington and new power to investigate the Obama administration and probe government programs.
Winning over governorships and state legislatures would give Republicans an edge in once-per-decade re-drawing of political maps, a process often bent to partisan aims in a bid to maximise a party’s presence in Congress.