The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times both lead with reports on their latest polls. The NYT emphasizes the public's strong disapproval of Congress, while the LAT registers an uptick in support for President Bush. The Washington Post leads with local news that may resonate nationally: Maryland's Republican governor is pushing for paper ballots in November after primaries revealed problems with electronic voting machines. The paper devotes its top nonlocal spot to the HP spying scandal. New documents tie HP's CEO to the company's potentially illegal investigation of media leaks. USA Today's front page checks in on New Orleans: The indictment of nursing-home owners whose patients drowned in Katrina takes the top spot, while the Superdome's reopening goes across the top. The Wall Street Journal tops its online world-wide newsbox with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's speech at the United Nations, in which he attacked Bush as "the devil."
Ambiguous: That's the word that best describes poll results from the NYT and the LAT. The NYT notes that Congress is as unpopular as it was in 1994, when the GOP swept to power. In a good sign for Democrats advocating withdrawal from Iraq, more than half the country does not equate a pullout with a loss. And unlike the LAT (or USAT earlier in the week), the paper sees no improvement in Bush's overall approval rating. (It does note his ratings on individual issues are inching up.) But the LAT finds Republicans' strength is improving as Bush's approval rating hits its highest point since January.
USAT explains that rise with a front-pager on the relationship between gas prices and Bush's popularity. The bad news for Dems? An industry analyst says prices are likely to drop 10 to 20 cents per gallon by Election Day. For its part, the Post is taking voters' pulse with a 500-mile trek through the Midwest: The paper's first report comes from Kentucky's second district, where the Democratic challenger, a 67-year-old retired Army colonel, is emphasizing his conservative values to woo voters. The piece is a good counterpoint to yesterday's NYT report on Republicans moving to the center. (The Post also fronts a more familiar race; an article at the fold examines the ongoing saga of Sen. George Allen's Jewish ancestry.)
Chávez's theatrical performance at the United Nations reflects rising discontent with the U.S. at the world body, the WSJ writes. The LAT, which plays the Chávez speech across the top, notes that the resentment could take a more concrete form should Venezuela win a spot on the Security Council this fall. The nation is using its oil wealth to draw votes from the U.S.-backed candidate, Guatemala, and an electoral showdown in the General Assembly is possible.
While Chávez may have had center stage in New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did his best to stay in the spotlight, the NYT writes. Iran's leader spent Wednesday evening at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he sparred with members of the U.S. foreign-policy elite. A highlight seems to have been the 40 minutes Ahmadinejad spent questioning the Holocaust.
The WSJ is the only paper to front the continuing unrest in Hungary. Protesters there are enraged by the prime minister's admission that he lied about the economy in the run-up to his re-election. Everyone stuffs the latest from Thailand, where, as USAT reports, coup leaders now say democracy will not be restored for a year.
The papers front a pair of setbacks to the Bush administration's friendly approach to the logging and oil industries. A federal judge in San Francisco struck down the White House's attempt to relax a road-building ban that protects vast swaths of national forests, the LAT reports. (Exactly how much forest is protected seems unclear; the WSJ says the decision affects about 60 million acres while the LAT says it's about 44 million.) The NYT, meanwhile, has details on a suit by government auditors who allege that the Interior Department blocked them from pursuing $30 million in royalties for Gulf of Mexico oil drilling that private companies fraudulently withheld from the government.
Also on Page One: The Post tracks scientists' ongoing investigation into the nation's E. coli outbreak, and the LAT reports that adult stem cells can help repair heart-attack damage. The NYT explains why in Japan, where "Sony's and Toyota's quality problems have frequently topped coverage of wars in Iraq and Lebanon," product recalls are testing national self-confidence.
Planet of the Ape-Humans: The Post and the NYT both front the discovery of a 3.3 million-year-old female skeleton that may help explain early human evolution. The young girl's remains, uncovered in Ethiopia, shed new details on a species with both ape and human characteristics. The NYT notes scientists are divided on whether the species walked like us or "maintained, to some degree, an arboreal component in its locomotor repertoire."