Less than four weeks before the November 7 mid-term elections, most political professionals from both major parties believe the Democrats not only will end the 12-year Republican reign in the House of Representatives, but also have a roughly even chance of taking back the Senate which they lost in 2002.

The stakes for the administration of President George W Bush are high: even if only the Lower House falls to the Democrats, they will have the ability not only to stymie his legislative agenda, but they are virtually certain to launch high-profile and potentially very damaging investigations of the administration’s performance, including allegations of corruption and gross incompetence, from Iraq to Hurricane Katrina. Until now, the Republican leadership in both Houses have protected the administration from that kind of scrutiny.

“If Bush loses Congress, he is likely to be the lamest duck in memory,” one veteran Capitol Hill staffer said. “Unless he shows that he’s capable of reaching out to the other side - to be a ‘uniter’, not a ‘divider’, as he used to say, he’s going to be a permanent defensive crouch for the last two years of his presidency.”

Dragged down by growing public frustration with the Iraq war, persistent and widespread disapproval of Bush’s performance, Republicans could lose as many as 40 seats in the House. While a sweep by Democrats of all 40 in the 435-seat chamber is unlikely, a net pick-up of 30, which most analysts believe possible, would give them a comfortable 15-seat majority and thus chairmanships of all House committees.

A National Journal survey released last Friday of 150 political pros equally divided between Republicans and Democrats rated the chances of a Democratic takeover of the House at nearly 75 per cent. While as much as 45 per cent of respondents told a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in mid-September that they approved of his performance, compared to 52 per cent who said they did not, that seven-point gap has since widened considerably. Last week, for example, two polls, by Newsweek and CBS/New York Times, found a record 26-point gap, with approval of Bush falling as low as 33 per cent. Even more remarkable was a USA Today/Gallup poll that found that 36-34 per cent gap in favour of Democrats among respondents who were asked which party in Congress was better able to uphold the country’s “moral standards” — a result that was no doubt prompted by the now-infamous scandal involving Florida Republican Mark Foley, who resigned abruptly last week after text messages he had sent to under-age Congressional pages were posted on the Internet.

“I was bullish before the Foley story broke,” one Democratic pro told the National Journal this

week. “And now I’m getting near irrational exuberance.” Much of Washington is eagerly awaiting next week’s release of a book by David Kuo, who worked as Bush’s special assistant on faith-based issues for the first five years of his presidency.

Tempting Faith reportedly accuses Bush’s top political aide, Karl Rove, and other White House officials of regularly referring to evangelicals as “boorish”, “nuts”, “ridiculous”, “out of control”, and “just plain goofy” and of “cynically hijacking” the faith-based movement to serve the administration’s political ends. — IPS