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Handling of Hurricane Katrina Still Lingers for GOP

Political analysts examine how the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is playing a role in the decision to alter the GOP convention as Hurricane Gustav threatens the Gulf Coast and how memories of the disaster could impact the general election.

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    We all recall that, three years ago, President Bush and the Republican Party were widely blamed for the slow response to and lack of preparation for Hurricane Katrina.

    Here to discuss how that storm affected both parties' political fortunes is Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press; and Amy Walter, editor-in-chief of the Hotline, National Journal's political daily.

    Andy, to you first. Refresh our memories. What was Katrina's effect on President Bush and the Republican Party?

  • ANDREW KOHUT, President, Pew Research Center:

    Well, not only did Katrina devastate New Orleans; it devastated President Bush, with virtually the whole country watching, because Katrina was followed as much as any event, save 9/11.

    You had 67 percent of the people saying that President Bush didn't do enough to deal with the people who were suffering down there. His approval ratings went down 4 points.

    But more importantly, his image as a competent president — as an incompetent president began to be reinforced and intensified. We saw 69 percent in a poll that we conducted two weeks later saying they want a president — the next president to be different than President Bush.

    And people were saying this is a president, in great numbers, 41 percent, who's not going to be successful in this second term. And the Republican Party as a consequence took a big hit.


    And that was a reaction almost immediately.

    Amy, what would you add to that? And what was the effect on the Democrats?

  • AMY WALTER, Editor-in-Chief, The Hotline:

    Well, I do agree exactly with what Andy is saying. And it did take a big toll on Republicans. I think, certainly in 2006, that was some of the aftereffects of the 2005 storm, because there was a sense among voters that, regardless of how they felt about Republicans maybe on some of the issues, they thought of them as a party that was competent, could get things done.

    When that competency issue failed, there wasn't much left for them. And that was on top of — right, so you had Katrina, and then you went to other scandals that involved Republicans.

    For Democrats, I think the pressure now is on them, actually, to live up to this idea about being a more competent party, in terms of getting things done.

    So if, indeed, we see Democrats in control of the House and the Senate, if there's a Democrat in the White House, I think there is a lot of pressure on Democrats to actually show that we can get things done and we're going to do it well.