Iraq pivotal campaign issue

WASHINGTON - A substantial majority of Americans expect Democrats to reduce or end U.S. military involvement in Iraq if they win control of Congress next Tuesday, according to the final New York Times/CBS News poll before the midterm election.

A majority also say Republicans will maintain or increase troop levels to try to win the war if they hold on to power on Capitol Hill, according to the poll.

The poll showed that 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war in Iraq, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent said Bush does not have a plan to end the war, and 80 percent said Bush's latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.

Bush endorsements

Meanwhile, Bush on Wednesday reiterated his support for two of the principal architects of the Iraq War: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. He said they both would remain with him until the end of his presidency, extending a job guarantee to two of the most-vilified members of his administration.

"Both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them," Bush said.

Kerry criticized

Days before Tuesday's election, however, polls show voters aren't inclined to buy that line.

So, in the final week of the campaign, the White House has sought traction on Iraq by seizing on a remark by Democrat John Kerry - the president's 2004 rival - in which the Massachusetts senator appeared to suggest that those who don't get an education "get stuck in Iraq."

Americans cited Iraq as the most important issue affecting their vote in the upcoming election, and majorities of Republicans and Democrats said they want a change in approach. Twenty percent said they thought the United States was winning in Iraq, down from a high of 36 percent in January.

In a year when there are many close races, and when the parties' success at turning out their voters could prove crucial, Democrats were more enthusiastic than Republicans about voting and more likely to say they would support their party's candidates, although Republicans were slightly more likely to say they would turn out.

Fifty percent of independent voters, a closely watched segment of the electorate in such polarized times, said they intended to vote for the Democratic candidate, versus 23 percent who said they would vote for a Republican.

Among registered voters, 33 percent said they planned to support Republicans, and 52 percent said they would vote for Democrats.

As a rule, generic questions like those, while providing broad insights into the national mood, are often imprecise as a predictor of the outcomes of hundreds of congressional races, where local issues and personalities can shape the result.

Voters said that neither Democrats nor Republicans had offered a plan for governing should they win on Tuesday, the poll found.

The nationwide poll was conducted Friday through Tuesday with 1,084 adults, including 932 registered voters. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points.