Boo! Halloween for Democrats comes early with spooky poll numbers

It's scary times for Democrats. Some 100 House seats are now in play – almost all of them held by Democratic incumbents. And one-quarter of Obama's 2008 supporters are defecting to the GOP.

By , Staff writer

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    President Obama and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick wave to the crowd during a campaign rally for Patrick at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010.
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With Halloween approaching, it’s not goblins and witches and ghosts that Democrats have to fear. It’s mere numbers – poll numbers. And for majority Democrats in Congress and President Obama, those numbers are very spooky indeed.

National Public Radio’s “Battleground Survey” out Friday finds that “Republicans have a significant edge in November in competitive US congressional districts.” The number of House districts considered to be battlegrounds has increased from about 70 in June to nearly 100 in October – the vast majority held by Democrats.

Similarly, the Rothenberg Political Report puts the number of House seats in play at 100, 91 held by Democrats and just nine by Republicans.

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To the extent that midterm congressional races are seen as a test of the Obama administration, the news there for Democrats is mixed – at best.

President Obama’s job approval ratings have averaged 26 points higher than Congress’s approval ratings, according to Gallup. That’s better than 4 out of the last 5 presidents. (George H.W. Bush is the exception.)

But an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll finds that one-quarter of those who voted for Obama in 2008 “are defecting to the GOP or considering voting against the party in power this fall.”

“Just half of them say they definitely will show up Nov. 2,” reports the AP. Which is why Obama and first lady Michelle Obama (whose approval ratings are higher than her husband’s) are blitzing the country at get-out-the-vote campaign rallies and fund raisers.

"There is no doubt that this is a difficult election,” Obama said Saturday at a campaign rally in Boston for Gov. Deval Patrick.

It’s not just the numbers, it’s who pollsters now are focusing on that may be giving Democrats the creeps.

In his latest online column, independent political prognosticator Charlie Cook notes that most media polling organizations have switched from “registered voters” to “likely voters” in who they survey, “revealing more than in earlier polls … just how bad the terrain is for Democrats.”

“Keeping in mind that Democrats now hold 59 percent of all House seats, the Republicans' lead among likely voters in the CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll is 52-45 percent; CBS News has it at 45-37 percent, while the ABC News/Washington Post poll has it at 49-43 percent,” he writes. “If those margins hold in the eventual popular vote total, it would translate into considerably more than the 218 seats Republicans need for the barest majority.”

That is, it’s increasingly likely that Republicans will gain more than the 39 House seats they need to take control there.

What can Democrats do about this?

“At this point, Democratic campaign officials are faced with performing the painful triage process that their GOP counterparts had to engage in two and four years ago – cutting their losses on incumbents who look unlikely to be saved and shifting resources to those whose campaigns seem salvageable,” Cook writes. “It's never pretty, but to avoid doing so means spreading resources too thinly to have an impact.”

Oh, and there’s another set of political numbers that’s frightening to Democrats. These come with a $ in front of them.

According to the most recent quarterly report of campaign funds, at least 40 Democratic incumbents took in less money than their Republican challengers.

“In a particularly worrying sign for Democratic campaign officials, the list of incumbents who fell behind in raising funds includes members who were long thought to be safer,” reports Alex Isenstadt at Politico.com.

That included powerful House committee chairmen Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Ike Skelton of Missouri, as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California (whose opponent, John Dennis, outraised Pelosi by more than 3-to-1).

Charlie Cook’s advice to Democrats?

Don’t try to woo independent voters but stick to rousing partisan Democrats with the kind of “red meat messaging” that propels them to the polls.

“Focusing primarily on the base is simpler,” he writes. “It's not a winning strategy; indeed, some would call it defeatist. Instead, it is one Democrats hope will keep losses down to ‘really bad’ but maybe below the ‘catastrophic’ level. Maybe.”

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