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September 30, 2010

Could Democrats hold the House after all?

Are the Democrats fighting back? Could they limit their losses and keep control of the House after all?
The White House thinks so. After President Barack Obama’s three-day swing through battleground states this week, aides pointed to big crowds and an uptick in recent polling as signs that it might not be as bad for the Democrats as pundits have predicted.

“Certainly the public polling suggests that Democrats are doing better in recent days than they have been recently,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Alfred G. Cuzan, a political scientist at the University of West Florida, thinks so. He wrote this week that his analysis of historical trends and elections models suggests the odds favor the Democrats losing fewer than 39 seats – and thus keeping majority control.

And Rep. James Clyburn, R-SC., his party’s number three man in the House leadership, thinks things are getting better – or maybe less bad – for his party.

""I've been out there every weekend for the last three or four weeks," he told MSNBC. "And I can tell you, I was in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware on this past Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and people are upbeat."

Not everyone is convinced.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, on Thursday repeats his forecast that the Democrats will lose 47 House seats in November. He also maintained his forecast that the Democrats will lose of 7-8 Senate seats, and 8 governorships.

"In the summer, a lot of people went too far, predicting Republican gains of 60 seats," he said. "Now a lot of people are saying it's right on the bubble, that the Democrats are going to retain control. Has the economy gotten better? No. Have Obama's numbers improved? No."

Also, while some are looking at a Democratic gain in party preference as measured in the Gallup Poll, a deeper look reveals that the Republicans still have an edge.

The Gallup Poll shows Americans evenly divided, 46-46, when asked whether they’ll vote for a Democrat or Republican for Congress.

That is a big shift from August, when they leaned toward the Republicans by a margin of 51-41 percent.

"The generic ballot among registered voters so far this year has shown four phases in the election campaign," Gallup said. "The two parties were roughly tied from March through June, Democrats did better in July, Republicans had a strong month in August, and in September the two parties have returned to parity."

Still, voters are more enthusiastic about voting for Republicans, with 48 percent of those planning to vote for a Republican excited about it, and just 28 percent of those intending to vote for a Democrat excited about it.

That “enthusiasm gap” suggests that, even while voters overall may be evenly divided in their sentiment, Republican voters are more likely to turn out on Nov. 2.

"Turnout is crucial in midterm elections," said Gallup. "With at least 80% of Americans registered to vote but only about half that number likely to vote in the midterm elections, registered voter and actual voter preferences can differ significantly."


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"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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