Republican strategists see an opening in the fact independent voters like President Obama but are nervous about his economic policies.
The Republican advocacy group Resurgent Republic conducted five focus groups in August among independents who voted for Mr. Obama in the presidential election but were undecided about whether to support a Republican or Democrat in the 2010 congressional race.
According to Whit Ayres, a founder of Resurgent Republic and a veteran Republican pollster, there were two clear findings from the focus groups. First, voters still like Obama. “They want him to succeed. They find him to be an appealing figure,” Mr. Ayres said at Monitor breakfast Monday.
On the flip side, independent voters “are very discomforted by the degree of debt, for the proposals for spending, and by what they see as mortgaging their children’s future. So words like nervous, uncertain, stressful, hurting were all part of the discussion about the economy and our fiscal situation,” Ayres said.
“If these trends you see with independents continue, the Republicans could have a very good year” in the 2010 election, he said. Ayres cautioned that much can change between now the congressional elections. “But I can tell you that the climate is significantly different today than it was at this point in the 2006 or the 2008 election cycle. So there is something going on. Whether that continues or not is going to be driven by events.”
One sign of the change in climate is that Pollster.com’s average of major national polls shows Republicans having a slight edge for the first time in several years when voters are asked which party they favor in the 2010 congressional election. The GOP leads by 41.8 percent to 40.4 percent for the Democratic Party.
Nonpartisan observers share Ayres's view that Republican prospects could be improving. Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report recently wrote that during the summer the political situation “slipped completely out of control for President Obama and congressional Democrats.” Mr. Cook said there was a consensus that “the chances of Democratic losses going higher than 20 seats is just as good as the chances of Democratic losses going lower than 20 seats.”
And, Cook says, “a political environment that culls the Democratic herd in the House would very likely cost Democrats two to four senators, people whose votes are anything but expendable.”
Democrats have great deal riding on Obama’s ability to win passage of heathcare reform bill.
Ed Gillespie, the other founder of Resurgent Republic and a former chairman of the Republican Party, told the breakfast gathering that the Obama administration has “pretty much pushed all of the chips into the middle of the table on” healthcare.
Mr. Gillespie added that if the president “gets a bill to his desk that he can sign that has genuine bipartisan support – not bipartisan with Democrat only votes – then I think he will have pulled his presidency back from the brink. But they have taken themselves to the brink in a fairly remarkable way.”
While the GOP’s prospects for picking up seats in Congress may be improving, the party faces daunting challenges in electing a president since the party only won 31 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2008 presidential election.
“Hispanics are a growing percentage of the electorate. We are getting a decreasing share of their vote,” Gillespie said. “We have to correct that…. It is hard to see a path to the White House that doesn’t include us a getting a bigger share of the Hispanic vote than 31 percent.”
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