Washington Republicans battling to keep control of the House and Senate kept up attacks on Democrats across the country Saturday as the president and other GOP leaders kicked off the final weekend of the campaign with dire warnings about higher taxes and defeat in Iraq if Democrats take control of Congress.
But even as President Bush claimed credit for Friday's report of declining unemployment, the administration had to contend with renewed calls for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, this time from four influential newspapers that cover the military.
And the party's "values" message - highlighted again Saturday by Bush at a rally for Colorado Rep. Marilyn Musgrave - competed for headlines with news that an influential Colorado evangelical leader resigned after allegations that he had sex with a male prostitute and admitted purchasing methamphetamine.
Bush is in the midst of crisscrossing the country rallying the GOP faithful; he still plans to visit Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Arkansas and Texas before polls close Tuesday.
On Saturday, he delivered his weekly radio address from the Mile High Coffee Shop in Englewood, Colo., where he tried to link his party to the success of small businesses.
"The last thing American families and small businesses need now is a higher tax bill, and that is what you'll get if the Democrats take control of the Congress," the president said.
Democrats, meanwhile, continued to try to keep the focus on trouble in Iraq, even on the eve of an expected guilty verdict in the trial of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.
"George Bush and his Republican Congress don't get it, but the military papers do," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, R-Nev., said in response to an editorial to be published Monday in the civilian-owned Army Times and its three sister papers. The newspapers previously criticized Rumsfeld for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
Earlier this week, Bush said Rumsfeld is doing a "fantastic" job and that he wants him to stay on the job for the rest of his term. The newspapers said the defense secretary "has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed."
The Democratic response to Bush's radio address was delivered by Pennsylvania congressional candidate Lois Murphy, who promised that Democrats would "fight for a new direction in Iraq to change the president's failed course so that our troops can finally come home." Murphy is trying to unseat Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach in a suburban Philadelphia district.
Democrats, who are benefiting from widespread dissatisfaction with the course of the war in Iraq, must pick up 15 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate to secure majorities in both chambers.
Some Republican candidates were showing increased strength, but polls nationwide indicate a growing likelihood that the Democrats can recapture the House. On Saturday, the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report estimated that Democrats will pick up 34 to 40 seats, versus a week-earlier projection of 18-28 seats. "Slightly larger gains" are "not impossible," it said.
The race for the Senate remains extremely close. And as the two parties sparred nationally over the war and the economy Saturday, more local battles continued to rage in states considered pivotal to the balance of power in the Senate.
In Montana, farmer and state lawmaker Jon Tester for months held a strong lead over three-term Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, who was tarnished by his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
But Burns has been airing a series of tough ads accusing Tester of raising taxes. And in the past week, the race has tightened considerably.
In Virginia, Republican Sen. George Allen, who has been locked in a close race with former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, continued to pummel his opponent with accusations that Webb did not treat allegations of sexual harassment seriously in the Navy. Webb, who has won endorsements from most of the state's major newspapers, has fiercely denied the charges.