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Drama on the Hill: Americans shrug

As the Senate nears a showdown over filibusters, the answer to which party is winning the PR battle may be 'neither.'

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In Washington, the showdown is looming. Republicans and Democrats are filling their PR arsenals and spinning the news before it occurs, trying to liven up arcane subjects like cloture and calling their opponents names that range from Hitler to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, the latest Star Wars villain.

Inside the Beltway, it's shaping up to be the Great Filibuster Battle of 2005. The rest of America, however, seems to be giving the face-off a collective yawn. Many voters don't even know it's occurring, and many of those who do, don't care - or, worse, see it as more proof that Congress is wrapped up in its own partisan bickering when it should be dealing with issues that matter.

As the Senate heads toward an expected Tuesday vote on barring judicial filibusters, and the fight over judicial nominees grows nastier, the answer to which party is winning the battle for public opinion may be "neither."

Americans think "there's no direct relationship to their lives, and they have other things to be concerned about," says Larry Sabato, director of the center for politics at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "They see it as typical politicians fighting in the sandbox while Rome is burning."

That's not to say there aren't people who care passionately about the filibuster, or about the judges whose confirmation hearings are sparking the battle, particularly among voters with strong partisan ties. Opinion polls so far give a slight edge to the Democrats' mantra - that it's not right to change the rules in the middle of the game - over the Republicans' message that all judges deserve a fair vote. But observers caution that could change quickly if Democrats begin to seem as if they're slowing the gears of government.

Informal Monitor interviews with pedestrians and shoppers in Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Nashville reveal - aside from an extreme lack of knowledge about the issue - the expected party allegiances and occasional nuanced view, but also an overall distaste for much of what occurs in the nation's capital.


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