Reading this week's Election 2010 tea (party) leaves: more uncertainty

Democrats will be fortunate not to lose at least one house of Congress in Election 2010. But beyond that, major uncertainties remain, and in fact may be increasing.

Rob Carr/AP
Delaware Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons talks with reporters after a visit to Libby's Restaurant, Wednesday in Wilmington. Coons will face Republican Christine O'Donnell in the November election.

As analysts, pollsters, and pundits sort through the tea (party) leaves of this week’s primary elections, they’re finding that the general trend continues: Democrats will be fortunate not to lose at least one house of Congress.

But beyond that, major uncertainties remain, and in fact may be increasing.

Take political prognosticator Charlie Cook, one of the best in the business. As voters were going to the polls in Tuesday's primaries, he wrote: “Unless a large number of Republican officeholders and candidates begin taking stupid pills every morning, the odds of Republicans picking up more than the 39 seats needed to win a majority in the House is very high, and in the Senate, a net gain of between eight and 10 seats looks probable.” (Ten more seats would give the GOP a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate.)

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But the morning after, his view changed – at least regarding the Senate. That’s because of "tea party" favorite Christine O’Donnell’s win over Republican moderate Michael Castle in Delaware's GOP primary.

Democrats can 'bury O'Donnell'

The Cook Political Report now says Democrats have “enough fodder to bury O’Donnell” because of the dirt dug up on her by her own party, which preferred Mr. Castle. “With Delaware off the board for the GOP, the possibility that they can net the 10 seats needed to win the majority becomes significantly harder,” according to Cook.

Most voters agree that Republicans will do well in November, according to the analysis of Public Policy Polling this week. But it’s not all sweetness and light for the GOP.

“Although the election is looking more and more like a Republican romp, largely because of depressed Democratic turnout and an excited Republican base, those same Americans who recognize the likelihood of Republican gains would, at the same time, prefer to vote for the Democrats,” reports the PPP. “Democrats have retaken a 45-44 lead in the national generic congressional ballot, after being down 42-45 in August.”

And one more thing, according to PPP: “While they are still massively unpopular, Democrats in Congress also still are better liked than their Republican counterparts … congressional Democrats have a 34-54 job approval rating to Republicans’ 22-61.”

Both D's and R's in the doghouse

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll comes to the same pox-on-both-their-houses conclusion. The disapproval rate for congressional Republicans (68 percent) is 10 points higher than it is for Democrats (58 percent). Asked who they blame for the nation’s economic state of affairs, 58 percent blame the Bush administration and Wall Street, compared with just 16 percent who blame President Obama and Congress. Only 18 percent of those surveyed agreed that “Republicans in Congress have a clear plan for solving the nation’s problems.”

Still, Democrats probably shouldn’t take much heart from this as they try to cling to their lead in Congress,

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll shows more Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, disapprove of the job Mr. Obama is doing, and would prefer to have Republicans in control of Congress. (Even so, congressional Republicans’ disapproval rate is even higher than the disapproval rate for Democrats.)

Meanwhile, a new Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll shows an even 43-43 divide in which party surveyed voters would back in House and Senate races.

Some good news for Democrats?

“This is good news for Democrats and at odds with many other public polls, which have shown Republicans holding a single-digit edge,” write’s Charles Mahtesian and Jim VandeHei. “Better yet for Democrats, in several key regions with numerous House and Senate seats in play – namely, the Midwest and Northeast – they hold a 5-point advantage, suggesting the party’s congressional fortunes aren’t nearly as grim as the media coverage might suggest.”

There’s more to this regional analysis.

“In the West – defined as Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – Democrats hold a blowout 51-31 generic advantage,” Mr. Mahtesian and Mr. VandeHei write. “Those numbers, however, are tempered by findings that should send shudders down the spines of Democrats in the Mountain West: In that eight-state region, where the party has made significant recent inroads, the GOP held a 24-point lead.”

(The Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll was conducted by Democrat Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners and Republican Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group.)

Rousing the base

Polls aside, that “depressed Democratic turnout and an excited Republican base” referred to in the Public Policy Polling analysis is likely to be the key factor in November. So far, the base that got Obama elected two years ago – especially young voters and minorities – has yet to bestir itself.

That’s why Vice President Joe Biden went on MSNBC’s left-leaning “Rachel Maddow Show” Wednesday night.

“One of the reasons I wanted to be on your show is to tell the progressives out there, 'Get in gear, man’,” Mr. Biden said. “There's a lot at stake here and our progressive base, you should not stay home. You better get energized because the consequences are serious for the outcome of the things we care most about.”

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