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September 4, 2006
Losing The House?

The New York Times paints a pretty depressing picture for the GOP in the upcoming midterms, but has little data on which to base its analysis. The article by Robin Toner and Kate Zernike seems long on anecdotes and short on actual polling:

After a year of political turmoil, Republicans enter the fall campaign with their control of the House in serious jeopardy, the possibility of major losses in the Senate, and a national mood so unsettled that districts once considered safely Republican are now competitive, analysts and strategists in both parties say.

Sixty-five days before the election, the signs of Republican vulnerability are widespread.

Indiana, which President Bush carried by 21 percentage points in 2004, now has three Republican House incumbents in fiercely contested races. Around the country, some of the most senior Republicans are facing their stiffest challenges in years, including Representative E. Clay Shaw Jr. of Florida, the veteran Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee; Representative Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, a state increasingly symbolic of this year’s political unrest; and Representative Deborah Pryce of Ohio, the No. 4 Republican in the House.

Two independent political analysts have, in recent weeks, forecast a narrow Democratic takeover of the House, if current political conditions persist. Stuart Rothenberg, who had predicted Democratic gains of 8 to 12 seats in the House, now projects 15 to 20. Democrats need 15 to regain the majority. Charles Cook, the other analyst, said: “If nothing changes, I think the House will turn. The key is, if nothing changes.”

Plenty will change between now and November, but the question is what will change and in which direction. The polling has continued to change, but not in the manner in which the Times describes. Rasmussen notes a seven-point improvement for the GOP in the generic Congressional ballot, with only an eight-point gap. USA Today/Gallup shows a two-point gap, a nine-point improvement for Republicans and a dead heat that would indicate almost no change in House composition at all. Pew Research shows a decline in the gap over the summer, as does Hotline, which shows the race at a complete dead heat.

These numbers do not get mentioned in the Times article. The only numbers produced by Toner and Zernicke are the numbers for general dissatisfaction in America's direction, which have approached the lows set in 1994, when the Republicans took control of the House. However, while the number does have some correlation to political movement, it isn't a direct correlation. That number includes many conservatives who feel that the Bush administration and the GOP majority in Congress have not upheld conservative principles during their tenure. Those voters will not support Democrats in November. They may stay home, but that's probably less likely considering the impact on national security that these elections will have.

The only solid numbers used by the Times are prices of gasoline, but even then they manage to be somewhat misleading. Gas prices have actually fallen well ahead of their normal drop-off point, Labor Day, down significantly from a couple of months ago. Now that the family-vacation season has concluded, prices will fall even farther. If significant resources do not get clobbered by hurricanes in the Gulf Coast this season, prices will fall even further. Democrats relying on commodity pricing to gain political traction may be building their houses on sand.

Midterm elections always prove trying for the party in power, especially when one controls both houses of Congress and the White House. No one ever thought that this election would be a cakewalk, especially with the situation in Iraq providing even more dissonance than usual. The GOP will have a tough time holding onto both chambers of Congress. The picture does not look as bleak as it did two months ago, however, and the Times should have done better research for its analysis than that presented here.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 4, 2006 9:44 AM

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