Thursday, October 7, 2010

GOP Leads In 12 Races, But Dems Close

In a poll of 12 hotly contested races that could decide who controls the House in the 112th Congress, Republican challengers are beating freshman Democrats in 11 — and in the last one, the race is tied.

But The Hill/America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) poll also detected a glimmer of light for Democrats; not one of the 12 Republican challengers has reached 50 percent, and half of them have leads so small that they are within the margin of error.The 12 districts this week are the first of 42 in The Hill/ANGA polls that will be conducted in the next four weeks. The first week’s focus is on freshmen, next week’s is on open seats, the following week’s is on two-term incumbents, and finally, in the week before the election, the polls will be in districts of long-term incumbents thought to be in trouble.

“This is a particularly volatile set of districts,” said pollster Mark Penn. “Overall, we see a strong Republican trend in these districts, but given where these numbers are, the races haven’t broken yet.”

Republicans need to pick up a net 39 seats to win control of the House.

Despite leads for Republican challengers, the large number of undecided voters in most of these contests suggests they are still up for grabs.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has millions more dollars on hand than its Republican counterpart.

Still, capturing a majority of voters appears easier for the challengers than the incumbents in these districts, given high disapproval ratings for President Obama and Congress among likely voters.

Overall, just 20 percent approve of the job Congress is doing, while 76 percent of likely voters disapprove.

Fifty-five percent of likely voters fall into the “strongly disapprove” category. Among independents, that number is even more drastic — 83 percent disapprove of Congress, with 61 percent strongly disapproving.

The poll found that independent voters are breaking heavily for Republican challengers and that the GOP has a big “voter intensity” edge over Democrats.

In several of these districts, Obama was likely the difference-maker in 2008, helping then-Democratic challengers such as Mary Jo Kilroy (Ohio) and Tom Perriello (Va.) edge their GOP opponents. Kilroy and Perriello won the two tightest congressional races in the country in 2008, Kilroy by fewer than 3,000 votes and Perriello by fewer than 1,000.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) beat Obama in half of the 12 polled districts, sometimes by a fairly wide margin. In Maryland’s 1st district, for example, where Rep. Frank Kratovil (D) trails Andy Harris by three percentage points, McCain routed Obama two years ago, winning by 19 points. Kratovil’s ability to hang in the race despite the political winds and makeup of his district is attributable to his strong support among independents. Kratovil is one of just two Democrats in the 12 districts who leads among independents — 38 percent to 35 over Harris.

In New Mexico’s 2nd District, Rep. Harry Teague (D) holds a two-point edge among independents over Republican Steve Pearce.

Teague, Kratovil and Rep. Glenn Nye (Va.) are the only Democrats of the 12 who voted no on healthcare reform.

Nye is losing his race by 6 points. Despite some ominous signs for Democrats in Perriello’s district, he’s one of the incumbents in this group who shows clear signs of strength. Perriello is one of the only freshman Democrats who leads his Republican challenger among male voters — 46 percent to 45. Perriello is also within striking distance among independents, trailing by 9 points. That’s a smaller margin than some other freshmen, several of whom trail by double digits in that category.

The freshman Democrat in the worst shape in the Week 1 polls is from Obama’s home state of Illinois. Rep. Debbie Halvorson is losing to Adam Kinzinger by 18 points, 49 percent to 31. Kinzinger is ahead among most major demographic groups. He leads by 26 points among male voters, 11 among female voters; he leads all three age groups by 10 points or more.

The tightest race among the 12 is in Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, a contest that has been a focal point for both national party committees. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already spent more than $650,000 running independent-expenditure ads against Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.), but he remains tied with ex-Rep. Tim Walberg (R) at 41 percent in The Hill/ANGA poll. Independents are largely split, with 37 percent preferring Walberg to 35 percent for the incumbent, Schauer.

“Very few of these races are really put away one way or the other,” concludes Penn, who said the outcome in these districts lies in whether undecided voters will stick to historical trends and break largely for challengers or support their lawmakers.

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