Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dash of Cold Water

Because I've posted too much optimistic stuff recently, today I have the requisite dash of cold water. Mickey notes that the latest Majority Watch Robopoll shows Democrats leading outside the margin of error in 222 House races. And Today's piece by Mort Kondracke in Roll Call (subscription required) has a simple and straightforward title:

Practically No One Thinks Republicans Can Hold the House
October 19, 2006
By Morton M. Kondracke,
Roll Call Executive Editor

Except at the White House and the top reaches of the Republican National Committee, I can hardly find a single politician, consultant or pollster, Democratic or Republican, who thinks the GOP can retain control of the House.

And even at the White House, the messages are mixed. Strategist-in-chief Karl Rove is proclaiming that Republicans will pull out a victory. On the other hand, one aide also told me that the chances of Republicans retaining narrow control is in the 40 percent to 45 percent range — that is, less than a 50-50 shot — while Democrats’ chances of winning either narrowly or with a bigger margin are greater.

Republicans are more optimistic about the Senate, where they think retaining contested seats in Arizona, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia will leave them with a 51-seat majority, assuming they lose in Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and fail to pick up New Jersey...

Republican consultants I’ve talked to say they expect House losses to range anywhere from 20 seats — five more than Democrats need to take over — up to 30 or more.

Democrats say they frantically are trying to keep up with new House opportunities that previously were deemed second- or third-tier contests — as many as 60 seats potentially in play, up from 50 a few weeks ago. “The field is vast,” one consultant told me...

Among the seats Democrats now consider in play are Colorado’s 5th district, which came open with the retirement of GOP Rep. Joel Hefley. President Bush carried the district with 66 percent of the vote in 2004. Also considered in play is Michigan’s 7th, where Bush won 54 percent and moderate Rep. Joe Schwarz lost the GOP primary to conservative Tim Walberg.

Other potential new targets are Reps. Jim Leach in Iowa’s 2nd district; Jean Schmidt in Ohio’s 2nd; Gil Gutknecht in Minnesota’s 1st; Mike Ferguson in New Jersey’s 7th; Charles Bass in New Hampshire’s 2nd; Robin Hayes in North Carolina’s 8th; and Cathy McMorris in Washington’s 5th, plus Nevada’s 2nd, an open seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons.

Bush carried those 10 districts by an average of 54.7 percent...

Bush’s overall approval rating in the latest Gallup Poll was 37 percent, 4 points below what former President Bill Clinton’s was in 1994. Dealing with North Korea’s nuclear threat may help him marginally, but it hurts that the threat is worsening on his watch.

The latest generic ballot gives Democrats a 14-point edge in House races. In 1994, Republicans outpolled Democrats by just 7 points, and Democratic experts calculate that, factoring in gerrymandering of House districts, they need a national vote margin of just 7 points to 8 points to capture 15 seats.

In a joint survey for National Public Radio, the first-rate GOP and Democratic polling firms Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner reported this week that in the 48 most-contested House districts, when voters were asked, by name, which candidate they favored, 50 percent chose the Democrat to 43 percent for the Republican. Six percent were undecided...

One GOP pollster told me that the Democratic tilt of swing voters — especially independents and white women — is the main factor operating against his party this year. “They are frustrated with the lack of success in Iraq. They are scared about the future of the economy. They doubt us on social issues. And, they say, ‘We let you run things for 12 years. We want something different...’”

The result, he said, is that “Democrats are sitting on our three-yard line. It’s first and goal. Maybe we can hold them, but they’ve got four plays to score. If they don’t, it’s their fault.” The bottom line is that Republicans need to be better at defense than the Chicago Bears.

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