Just weeks before the US mid-term elections, Thomas Mann, a congressional expert with the Washington-based Brookings Institute, says: "I think there will be much more pressure and focus on the administration and its plans.

 

"Pressure to take a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations; pressure to initiate direct contact negotiations with Syria and Iran," he told Aljazeera.net.

 

"But [whether] the president responds to it, is anybody's guess."

 

A poll taken by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press in early September indicated that more than twice as many Americans are preoccupied with foreign policy issues as they are with economic ones.

 

Polls show that a growing number of Americans are mostly dissatisfied with the war in Iraq, which has drawn even more attention with the leak of a US intelligence report that suggested the conflict was helping to fuel recruitment to radical groups.

 

The Iraq swamp

 

Foreign policy issues are playing a significant role in the direction of the mid-term elections. And Iraq is a festering sore for George Bush and his party, even though many Democrats voted to give the president authority to go to war.

 

The Iraq war has cost the US more than $400 billion and the lives of 2,760 soldiers, and at least 22,000 troops have been wounded - facts and figures that do not go down well with American voters.

 

A report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health indicates that up to 655,000 Iraqis may have also died since the invasion in March 2003.

 

Arab-Israeli conflict

 

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, believes the Iraq issue will play a role in Congress, especially if Democrats make strong gains in the November 7 elections.

 

"But I don't expect it to make an enormous difference on how we conduct policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict or for that matter anything regarding Israel," he said.

 

"I look forward to a situation where there will be accountability. There has been tyranny and uncritical one-party rule that this administration was taking advantage of," Zogby told Aljazeera.net.

 

Further alienating voters from the Republicans is journalist Bob Woodward's book State of Denial, which unveils an administration in crisis, claiming that Bush and his top officials deliberately covered up the seriousness of the violence in Iraq.

 

It has badly dented Republican claims to be trustworthy on issues of national security.

 

Sex scandal woes

 

But a more recent scandal in the House of Representatives may prove even more lethal to the party. Mark Foley, a Republican congressman from Florida, resigned last week after being confronted with sexually explicit messages he had sent to teenage congressional pages.

 

Up for grabs

 

House of Representatives

Republicans 231 seats
Democrats: 201

Independent: 1

Vacant: 2

 

Senate

Republicans: 55

Democrats: 44

Independent: 1

Foley was the Republican co-chairman of the Congressional Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, a group whose declared purpose includes fighting against "online child sexual exploitation".

 

Bush hailed Foley and his colleagues as a "Swat team for kids" just two months ago - at a time when Foley's conduct was apparently widely known within the Republican leadership.

 

All this is grim news for a party that portrays itself as a guardian of family values and morality. Bush, who owes his 2004 re-election victory to the party's conservative Christian base, seems to be losing its support too.

 

According to opinion polls taken since the Foley scandal, the Democrats lead the Republicans by between 11 and 23 percentage points in the mid-term campaign.

 

Congressional woes

 

Political analyst Charlie Cook of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, says Bush's approval ratings and Republican success at the mid-term elections both depend on what the media focuses on at the time of the elections.

 

"When the spotlight is on the war in Iraq, that's really bad for President Bush and his party.

 

"But if the spotlight stays in the next few weeks on terrorism, national security, falling gasoline prices with the exception of Republican members of congress, then that's a very good situation for the president and the Republican party," he says.

 

Bush's job approval rating dropped to 33 per cent from 42 per cent earlier this month. It puts him even with his predecessor Bill Clinton's rating in 1994 before opposition Republicans crushed his Democrats and took control of the House.

 

Forty-six per cent of Americans also think the war in Iraq is hurting America's ability to win the "war on terror".

 

The November mid-term elections will see all 435 members of the House of Representatives standing, along with 33 of the 100 members of the Senate.