Monday, October 4, 2010

Dems See November Improvement...They Hope

Once-despondent Democrats now believe that they may be able to avert a total midterm wipeout, as a series of important states now appears to be trending in their direction or growing more competitive.

The bad news: In a sign of how hostile the election environment remains for the party, the cautious optimism is largely due to the view that the impending political hurricane could be downgraded from category 5 to category 4.

One month out from Election Day, strategists in both parties still think that Republicans will make major gains.

They don’t believe the underlying factors driving the race – the sour economy and unpopularity of President Obama’s policies – can be reversed. But there are some hopeful signs, and Democrats are seizing on them.

Democratic-held Senate seats in Washington, California and Illinois that party strategists once fretted about appear to be returning to blue state form – and, along with Delaware, the result may be to ultimately ensure that Republicans don’t seize control of the 10 seats necessary to win back the Senate.

In open seat governors’ races in such mega-states as California and New York, recent developments have benefited Democrats. And incumbent Democratic governors in Ohio and Illinois, both saddled with stunningly low approval ratings, somehow remain close in the polls—giving the party hope that they’ll be able to win in some statehouse races that previously seemed in jeopardy.

The improving gubernatorial outlook is especially important because of what it means for the most hard-fought battle this year: the House. If Democrats can elect governors in high-population states or at least keep it close—as it also appears now in Texas and Florida—it will be more difficult for down-ballot Republicans to win.

“It obviously is a tough election for us, but the doomsday stories have always been exaggerations,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in an interview with POLITICO Sunday.

Top Democratic officials are convinced, and even some Republicans privately concede, that what’s happening is party loyalists are coming home and other voters are beginning to assess both candidates in individual races.

“The early polls were really a gauge of people’s anger, but more recent polls are a gauge of people’s options,” Delaware Gov. and Democratic Governors Association Chairman Jack Markell told POLITICO.

What’s driving Democratic optimism is improving polling numbers—in both individual races and in generic indicators—ramped up fundraising and their field efforts.

In the Ohio and Illinois governors’ races, Democratic candidates have sliced into Republican margins and are now effectively tied or slightly trailing their GOP opponents. And in California and New York, Republican gubernatorial hopefuls have suffered major self-inflicted wounds.

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