WASHINGTON (AFP) – Five days from US elections, President Barack Obama's Democratic allies got more bad news Thursday in a new poll that found his winning 2008 coalition had fractured amid deep anger at the economy.
As each side unleashed a barrage of brutal last-minute television ads, Democrats enlisted former president Bill Clinton to make the difference in some nail-biter contests while Republicans used Obama's own words against him.
Fired-up Republicans were widely expected to net more than the 39 seats they needed to take over the House of Representatives but fall short of the 10 seats they needed to recapture the Senate.
The new survey by The New York Times and CBS television found nearly two in three respondents willing to back political newcomers on November 2, and 28 percent more ready this year to back someone with views that "seem extreme."
By a broad 61-34 percent margin, the registered voters queried said the United States, still struggling to emerge from the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, was on the wrong track.
The survey, which had an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points, found that Republicans had wiped out the Democratic edge with women, Roman Catholics, less affluent Americans and independents, key to Obama's victory in 2008 and the Democratic capture of Congress in 2006.
While Democrats have beaten Republicans among women voters since 1982, Republicans held a four-percentage-point advantage in the final campaign sprint, and a 47-32 percent edge with independents who often sway US elections.
Obama planned an 11th-hour coast-to-coast campaign blitz through key battlegrounds, while Clinton lent his political star-power to Democrats in tight races, notably looking to pump up the party's get-out-the-vote efforts.
The former president was to attend three rallies with Democratic Representative Joe Sestak, who was locked in a bitter too-close-to-call Senate battle with Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.
In Nevada, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blistered Republican rival Sharron Angle with a television advertisement accusing her of leaving children at the mercy of sex offenders, dooming cancer patients to the grave, and shipping US jobs to China.
The commercial, which features shots of an empty playground swing and pallbearers carrying a coffin through a cemetery, also charges that Angle favored prison inmates receiving "massages in a radical Scientology program" -- a reference to a proposed treatment plan for women drug addicts behind bars.
Reid, the Republicans' higest-profile target, clawed his way back from double-digit poll deficits earlier this year but remained locked in the fight of his political life against Angle, a "Tea Party" darling who has raised millions of dollars to unseat him.
Her office did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, released an Internet ad warning voters: "Don't wake up on November third and realize you didn't do enough" and using Obama's own hopeful words about the economy against him.
The ad juxtaposes the US unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent and the 13.6-trillion-dollar national debt with the president's repeated assurances that the country is going "in the right direction."
All 435 House of Representatives seats, 37 of 100 Senate seats, and 37 governorships are up for grabs in the elections, which come amid stubbornly high unemployment of nearly 10 percent.
Historically, a sitting US president's party loses seats in his first mid-term elections, though such contests have not been good predictors of chances for a second term.
Taking control of even one chamber of Congress would give Republicans broad control over the legislative agenda in Washington and new power to investigate the Obama administration and probe government programs.
Winning over governorships and state legislatures would give Republicans an edge in once-per-decade re-drawing of political maps, a process often bent to partisan aims in a bid to maximize a party's presence in Congress.
NEW YORK – Oil prices rose on Thursday as the dollar lost some ground against the euro and other foreign currencies. At midday benchmark crude for December delivery added 33 cents at $82.27 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Gas pump prices are virtually unchanged from Wednesday at a national average of $2.808 for a gallon of regular, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That's 2.3 cents below a week ago and 12.5 cents higher than a year ago.
The price of crude oil and retail gasoline tend to move in tandem. Both have been listless for the past week, with oil prices drifting between about $80 and $83 a barrel. Most analysts think it's because traders and investors are in wait-and-see mode. "Investors await next week's bonanza: Fed meeting and midterm elections," said Addison Armstrong, senior director of market research at Tradition Energy.
"Oil is slightly higher, with the dollar trading lower and in the wake of yesterday's bearish inventory report," Armstrong said. "Speculation over the size and possible impact of the further quantitative easing (by the Fed) next week pushed the dollar lower."
Oil and other commodities priced in dollars become more affordable for buyers with foreign currencies as the dollar weakens.
On Wednesday the Energy Department said U.S. crude oil inventories expanded by 5 million barrels, considerably more than the 1.5 million many analysts expected. Supplies grew as more oil imports flowed into the country. Analyst Stephen Schork says it's the largest build for the period since 1993 and imports are at their highest point in two months.
The Energy Information Administration on Thursday said that natural gas supplies in the U.S. grew by 71 billion cubic feet, about what analysts expected, according the Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Co. Natural gas inventories are about the same as they were a year ago and 9.1 percent above the five-year average.
Colder weather may help reduce natural gas supplies as homes and businesses kick up the heat. Armstrong says forecasts for the next 10 days call for cooler temperatures in the eastern half of the country with a milder trend after that.
Natural gas fell 5 cents to $3.713 per 1,000 cubic feet on the Nymex. In other energy trading, heating oil gained 1.17 cents at $2.2500 per gallon. Gasoline picked up 1.28 cents at $2.1140 per gallon.
In London, Brent crude rose 47 cents to $83.70 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.
DETROIT – Chrysler Group LLC will invest $600 million in its Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant to build new cars starting in 2012, the company announced Thursday.
The investment won't create any new jobs, but the company said it will retain the 2,349 jobs currently at the assembly plant and a nearby parts stamping plant.
Work began last summer on a new 638,000-square-foot body shop, where body side panels, fenders and other parts are welded together, and Chrysler is installing new machinery as well. Completion is scheduled for sometime in 2011.
Company spokeswoman Jodi Tinson would not say what new vehicle the plant will build. But it's likely to be a replacement for the factory's current products, Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass and Patriot compact sport utility vehicles.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said the company intends to build a 40 mile-per-gallon small car for the U.S., in addition to the Fiat 500, which will go on sale in December.
The company has had poor-selling entries in the small car market, but Chrysler hopes the 500 will change that when it arrives at selected dealers across the U.S. The 500 is being built in Mexico.
The Belvidere complex is about 70 miles northwest of Chicago along Interstate 90 near the Wisconsin-Illinois border. The factories, which began operation in 1965, have built models such as the Town & Country station wagon, and the Neon and Omni compacts.
Chrysler says that with the Belvidere expansion, it has invested $2.1 billion in its U.S. facilities since leaving bankruptcy protection in June of last year.