Campaign 2010: 100 Days Left, GOP Has High Hopes but Many Races are Too Close to Call by Gregory Hilton

There are now 100 days left before the 2010 election. The polls continue to be favorable for Republicans, but many key races are in the toss-up category. If the election were held today, the GOP would pick up at least six seats in the U.S. Senate, 11 Governors, 26 seats in the House of Representatives, and control of an additional 8 state legislative chambers.
On Capitol Hill, Republicans need 10 Senate seats and 39 House seats to gain control. Unlike 2004, 2006 and 2008, few Republican incumbents are vulnerable.
In the Gallup Poll, the GOP has gained 16% since 2008. The CNN and Quinnipiac generic ballot polls both give the GOP a 5% advantage, which is the best the party has done since 1994, a year they took back both legislative chambers. This would translate into at least a 38 seat House gain using statistical averages.
The Good News for Democrats
Republicans are confident of winning seats of three retiring Senate Democrats in Delaware, North Dakota and Indiana. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is losing by 30% and that seat is also being added to the GOP column. That leaves 10 Senate races in the toss-up category.

  • Republicans would have to keep their vulnerable seats in Florida, Ohio and Missouri, and then capture six of the seven Democratic toss-ups states to take control. The odds favor a continued Democratic Senate.
  • For several months the various political rating agencies had listed Nevada as a probable Republican gain, but the seat of Majority Leader Harry Reid has now shifted back to the Democrats. Reid has high negative ratings, but has still managed to again 24% among independents since the Republican primary two months ago. The GOP nominated a controversial candidate. The recent Las Vegas Review-Journal poll gives the Senator a 7% lead.
  • Four recent polls have an independent candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist, in the lead for a GOP open seat in Florida. Crist has not said if he will caucus with Republicans or Democrats, but many of his recent policy statements have been favorable to the Democrats.
  • Control of the House of Representatives will be determined in the 31 toss-up races, and Speaker Pelosi would stay in power if Democrats won half of those districts.
  • Democrats are also likely to take over gubernatorial offices from Republicans in Hawaii and Connecticut.
  • Retirements for the 2010 cycle are normal and Democrats do not have endure an excessive number of open seats.
  • A number of vulnerable Democrats have significant cash advantages over their GOP challengers.

The Good News for Republicans
President Obama’s approval rating is below 50% which is a dangerous sign. The Quinnipiac Poll puts him at 44%. He is in the same range as Jimmy Carter (40%), Ronald Reagan (42%) and Bill Clinton (43%).
Since World War II, every President below 50% approval has had a substantial setback in the midterm elections. George W. Bush in 2006, Bill Clinton in 1994 and Harry Truman in 1946 all lost control of both House of Congress. Lyndon Johnson in 1966, Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Ronald Reagan in1982 saw the loss of 47, 15 and 27 seats respectively.

  • Even if Republicans do not win control, a Senate with 47 or 48 GOP lawmakers would be completely different from the Democratic super majority of the 111th Congress. The Democrats would no longer be able to cut off debate, and bipartisan compromises would be necessary if they wanted to make progress.
  • Republicans are winning or tied in gubernatorial elections in 7 of the 8 largest states. These states represent 48% of the American population and in 2008 they were firmly in President Obama’s column. A switch of even one of these states would be a significant boost to the GOP’s prospects of gaining a 2012 majority in the electoral college.
  • House elections often reflect presidential approval scores. President Obama has a rating below 50% in 70 to 80 congressional districts now represented by Democrats.
  • The President has the support of only 38% of independent voters, and this is the group that decides elections. Obama’s score represents an 18-point drop from January of 2009.
  • The most prominent Democrat who will be consistently on the campaign trail over the next 100 days is Vice President Joe Biden, but he has a 26% approval rating and a 45% disapproval score.

Many of the prominent issues in 2006 and 2008 are no longer on the list of major concerns. Issues that have faded include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, global warming, stem cell research, a health care public option and social issues.
Voters are now telling pollsters they will support candidates who pledge to reduce the deficit and taxes, and restore economic growth. Voters are worried the nation is mired in debt and the Congress has been unable to impose spending discipline. These concerns have traditionally been favorable to the GOP.

Many things can happen in 100 days but anxiety about the deficit, the economy and unemployment will not be going away.

GOP candidates are emphasizing the spending levels of the 111th Congress. The interest payment on the debt is now $202 billion. According to the Obama administration’s OMB, those payments will rise to over $700 billion by 2019. An additional $500 billion a year in interest payments would total more than the present combined budgets for education, energy, agriculture, transportation, commerce, homeland security and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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