Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

June 29, 2008 8:57 AM

2008 Congressional Campaigns

The most recent NBC/WSJ and Washington Post/ABC surveys continue to show a strong preference for the election of a Democratic Congress.

NBC/WSJ (6/6-9) 52 33 19
WP/ABC (6/12-15) 53 38 15

However, the job performance rating of the Congress, both Houses of which are controlled by the Democrats, continues to be in the basement.

The NBC/WSJ survey referenced above shows that 79% disapprove of the job Congress is doing, with a paltry 13% approving its work. This is the worst performance rating in the history of that poll.

Recent surveys by Fox News, Gallup, and AP-Ipsos found an average disapproval of 72% and an approval of 20%.

In yet another measurement of attitudes toward the Congress, Gallup finds that confidence in the Congress is the lowest it has found for any institution in the 35 years it has been testing confidence in various U.S. institutions.

Only 12% have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the Congress. As recently as May 2004, that number was 30%. Back in May 1973 it was 42%.

As a matter of comparison, in 2008 HMOs are rated at 13%, big business at 20%, the Presidency at 26%, and the military is at the top of the list with 71%.

[Military 71%, small business 60%, the police 58%, church or organized religion 48%, the medical system 35%, public schools 33%, U.S. Supreme Court 32%, banks 32%, Presidency 26%, TV news 24%, newspapers 24%, organized labor 20%, criminal justice system 20%, big business 20%, HMOs 13%, Congress 12%.]

The U.S. Senate

  • Democrats 49
  • Republicans 49
  • Independents 2 (caucus Dem)

It appears that the low water mark for the Democrats in the coming Senate races is 53. Assuming the two Independents continue to caucus with the Democrats, Majority Leader Harry Reid, will have 55 votes for his re-election as leader.

The total number of Senate races this year has grown to 35 as a result of there being two Senate seats on the ballot in Mississippi and Wyoming this year. In Mississippi Roger Wicker was appointed to fill the seat vacated early by Senator Trent Lott. John Bassaro was appointed to the Wyoming seat vacated by the death of Senator Craig Thomas.

Among the 6 Toss Up races, Democrats are likely to capture Colorado, New Hampshire and New Mexico.

As of today, Minnesota is likely to stay in Republican hands. Al Franken, who recently secured the Democratic endorsement has had a series of missteps. These include failure to pay certain taxes in States other than Minnesota, and exposure of some of his comedy routines and statements from yesteryear.

Surprisingly, the race in Mississippi appears to be dead even. The Democratic candidate will be helped by what is likely to be the largest turnout of African-Americans in the State's history.

The other even race is Alaska. A variety of scandals have tarnished long-serving incumbent Ted Stevens (R), and Mark Begich the Democratic Mayor of Anchorage, is doing well.

So, the potential for the Democrats today is 57 seats, just 3 seats short of a theoretically filibuster proof majority.

Here is how the 35 Senate elections (12 Democratic incumbents, 23 Republican incumbents) look to me at this time (underlining reflects retirement). (D=Dem incumbent in office, R=GOP incumbent in office, I=Ind. incumbent in office)

Safe Democratic (11) Leaning Democratic (2) Toss-Up (6 Leaning Republican (4) Safe Republican (10)
Arkansas Louisiana Alaska Maine Alabama
Delaware South Dakota Colorado Nebraska Georgia
North Carolina Idaho
Iowa   Mississippi(B) Oregon Kansas
Massachusetts   New Hampshire 
Michigan   New Mexico
Montana       South Carolina
New Jersey       Tennessee
Rhode Island
Virginia       Wyoming(A)
West Virginia       Wyoming(B)

  Democrats Republicans Ind
Seats not up in 2008 37 26 2
Safe in 2008 11 12 0
Leaning in 2008 2 4 0
Total 50 42 2
Toss-ups 6 (6R) (Leaning 3D, 1R, 2 Tossups)    

The U.S. House of Representatives

  • Democrats 236
  • Republicans 199

Generally speaking, the question does not seem to be whether the Democrats will pick up House seats in the 2008, but how many seats will be added to their current majority.

For the sake of argument, assume that the Democrats go into election day having as a base all of the solid, likely and leaning Democratic seats (they will probably lose a few), a total of 238 seats.

That leaves the current 26 Toss Up seats.

Of the 7 Toss Up seats that are currently held by Democrats, all of them have Republican PVIs* averaging +8.0.

Of the 19 Toss Up seats currently held by Republicans, 7 have PVIs of D+2.7. The remaining 12 seats have PVIs of +3.8.

Boiled down, of the 26 Toss Up seats 19 of them have Republican PVIs.

WW's best guess at the moment - 8 to 17 Democratic pickups.

Solid Dem 203
Likely Dem 14
Lean Dem 14
Total Dem 238

TossUp 26
          D 7
          R 19

Lean GOP 8
Likely GOP 18
Solid GOP 152
Total GOP 197

[* The Partisan Voting Index is a feature of the Cook Political Report. Using the 2000 and 2004 Presidential race it ranks each Congressional District by how well it performs in terms of the national performance for each Party's Presidential candidate. For example, a PVI of R+2 means the District performed 2 points better than Republican Presidential performance nationally.]

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