By Mark Preston
CNN Political Editor
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats began the 2006 election cycle hoping to capitalize on Americans' discontent with the Iraq war. Heading into Election Day, the minority party continued to play on this dissatisfaction.
Many analysts predict Democrats will take back control of the House for the first time since the GOP charged into office following the 1994 Republican revolution. Across the Capitol, the GOP has better odds this year of retaining a majority in the Senate.
"There are no signs that the wave is ebbing," Amy Walter, senior editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said of the sweeping changes she predicts will occur in the House on Tuesday. "The reality is, the list of vulnerable Republican seats continues to grow."
A CNN poll of likely voters released on October 30 showed 53 percent of Americans favoring a generic Democratic candidate in the election, while 42 percent prefer a Republican. The poll was conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corp.
Republicans, however, dismiss such polls, arguing the midterm elections will be about two main themes: Fighting the war on terror and local issues. Democrats, by contrast, maintain that Tuesday will be a national referendum on President Bush, his stewardship of the country and his execution of the Iraq war.
War could tip balance
Poll believers, meanwhile, say Iraq appears to be the single-most important issue that could tip the balance of congressional power in favor of Democrats.
The CNN poll shows only 38 percent of Americans favor the Iraq war, while 59 percent oppose it. And Bush's handling of it has come into question. His approval rating is 37 percent, according to the same poll.
"The burden on the Republican Party now is to somehow change the national discussion away from Iraq and the president's shortcomings and over to the war against terrorism," said Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report.
It has been a difficult year for Republican candidates, who have had to campaign against a backdrop of Iraq, an unpopular president, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and the resignation of four GOP House members.
Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California will be trading in their House seats for prison cells. Former Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas is fighting charges that he broke Texas campaign finance laws. And Florida Rep. Mark Foley left office after it was revealed he engaged in sexually charged electronic communication with teenage House pages. Foley is now in treatment for alcoholism.
Turnout is the key
Heading into Election Day, the federal investigations continue, but they are not exclusive to one party. Federal authorities are probing the official actions of another Republican, Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. And a Democrat, Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana, is under investigation for bribery.
Weldon and Jefferson are in danger of losing re-election. Weldon could fall to a Democrat, giving Democrats a pick-up. If Jefferson loses, it too would likely be to a Democrat and not cost his party a seat.
Ultimately, a win or a loss Tuesday comes down to one thing: turnout. Both political parties claim they have a motivated base that will show up at the polls. Who was right will be clear come Wednesday.
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