Mike Berman’s Washington Watch

October 16, 2009 11:56 PM

2010 Congressional Campaigns

In its mid-September survey NBC/WSJ found 66% disapproving of the job being done by Congress, with 22% approving.

In a Gallup survey 10 days later, 72% of American disapproved of the way Congress is handling its job. The 21% who approve represent fewer supporters than at any time since January 2009, when 19% had that view.

The drop from a month ago, when 31% had a positive view of Congress, is driven almost exclusively by the fall-off in support from Democrats whose approval rating for Congress dropped from 54% to 36% over the period of 1 month.

While Democrats in Congress fare slightly better than Republicans, neither Party's legislators are doing well. In September the Democratic members scored at 36% and the Republicans at 27%. This has now dropped for both Parties. [Gallup 10/09]

For the 1st week of October, Gallup reports that the Democratic margin on the generic question (will you vote Democrat or Republican) was only 2 points, 46% - 44%. This is a substantial fall from the 54% - 39% Democratic margin just before the 2008 election. This is also down from a 6-point margin in July 2009.

The change is driven primarily by Independents. At the time of the 2008 election, they supported the Democratic candidates by 7 points, 46% - 39%. By July 2009, a shift had begun, and there was a 1-point margin for the Republican candidates. That margin has now widened to a 9-point advantage for Republican candidates, with the Republicans leading 45% - 36%. [Gallup 10/09]

Historically, Gallup has found that this generic question put to registered voters favors the Democrats by 4 or 5 points. This suggests that 2010 is likely to be a close election in the House.

On a related question, 49% say that a new person should be given a chance to be their representative in Congress, which is 4 points higher than it was before the November 2006 election, when the Democrats regained majority control of the body. [NBC/WSJ 9/09]

48 of the seats currently held by Democrats were won by George Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. [Information in last Washington Watch was incorrect.]

Notwithstanding the fact that the problems facing the country do not seem to be getting much better, Americans still feel that Democrats, rather than Republicans, will do the best job of coping with the national problems over the next few years by 48% - 28%.

Mid-term elections are marked by at least two important characteristics.

First, in the last 4 general elections, voter turnout was 1/3 less than in Presidential election years than in mid-term elections. Or, said another way, the turnout in Presidential election years is 50% greater than mid-term elections.

Turnout of VEP
(voter-eligible population)
2008 62.4%
2006 41.3%
2004 60.7%
2002 40.5%
2000 55.3%

Second, the composition of the electorate in mid-term elections skews older. President Obama lost the 45 years of age and up class by 2 points in 2008.

2008 2006 2004 2002 2000
18-29 18% 12% 17% 11% 17%
30-44 29% 24% 29% 28% 33%
45-64 37% 44% 38% 42% 36%
65+ 16% 19% 16% 19% 14%
45 and older 53% 63% 54% 61% 50%

The U.S. Senate

The 2010 Senate races are particularly critical for in 2012 and 2014 (combined) the Democrats have 39 seats in play, while the Republicans have 22 seats in play: 2012 - 20D/9R and 2014 - 19D/13R.

What was a question of how many additional seats the Democrats might pick up in the Senate in 2010, has now become a question of whether they will hold the present number of 58.

Since the last Washington Watch the number of Toss Up seats has grown from 7 to 10, with the Democratic seats in Delaware and Nevada added to that category (5D) and Texas added to the Republican total (5R).

In Delaware, the decision by long-term House Republican Mike Castle (R- DE) to enter the chase for the remaining 4 years of the term to which Vice President Biden was elected, moves the seat from the Safe Democrat to Toss Up category. Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, who was earlier seen as likely to replace his father in the U.S. Senate, now faces a difficult choice. Should he run for the seat previously held by his father or instead go after the House seat being vacated by Castle.

Given Castle's age it is most likely that he will not run for re-election to a full term in 2014. Biden could relatively easily pick up the House seat and be in an excellent position to move to the Senate in 4 years. Or he could continue to serve as Attorney General, run for re-election when his current term ends in 2011, and then run for the Senate seat.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is running behind two less well-known opponents in early general election matchups, although one underestimates Reid at ones peril. To further complicate the picture in Nevada, his son, Rory Reid, currently a Clark County Commissioner, is running for Governor. Given the complexion of the Nevada race it is too early to make a hard assessment of his prospects. Although, one observer, trusted by WW, says he does have a chance to be the next Governor.

The other race worth keeping an eye on at the moment is the NY Senate race (Kristin Gillibrand, D-NY). Gillibrand, who was appointed to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has resolved any issues concerning her nomination by the Democratic Party. She seems to be in pretty good shape in the general election, except if former Republican Governor George Pataki decides to make the race.

  • Democrats 58
  • Republicans 40
  • Independents 2 (caucus Dem)
Here is how the 38 Senate elections (19 Democratic incumbents, 19 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 (9) Leaning Democratic (4) Toss-Up (10) Leaning Republican (3) Safe Republican (11)
Hawaii Arkansas
Connecticut Florida
Indiana California Delaware Louisiana
Maryland Colorado
Illinois No. Carolina Arizona
New York (A) No. Dakota
Kentucky   Georgia
New York (B) Missouri
Vermont New Hampshire   Kansas
Washington    Ohio   Oklahoma
   Pennsylvania   So. Carolina

   Texas   So. Dakota


  Democrats Republicans Ind
Seats not up in 2010 40 21 2
Safe in 2010 9 11 0
Leaning in 2010 4 3 0
Total 53 35 2
Toss-ups 10 (5R / 5D)    

Using the Cook Political Report as the standard (slightly more optimistic than WW for the Democrats), Democrats have increased from 9 to 11 the number of races in the Solid Democrat column. There were as many as 13 in that group as recently as August. However, the number of Toss Up races in which Democrats are the incumbents has grown from 2 to 4.

The number of races in which the Republicans are currently in control has remained steady. There were 13 races in the Solid or Likely column in April and there are the same number today.

Solid D Likely D Lean D Toss Up Lean R Likely R Solid R
Oct 11 1 3 9 1 2 11
August 13 1 3 7 1 2 11
June 12 2 2 6 2 1 12
April 9 5 2 7 1 2 11

The U.S. House of Representatives

It is roughly 12 months before the mid-term election, and anything can and will happen. Charlie Cook has suggested that as of now Democratic losses could result in Democrats losing control of the House. This would dramatically affect the ability of the House leadership to work its will in the next Congress.

As in the Senate races, the Cook Political Report House ratings show the number of races rated solidly Democratic has fallen steadily since April. There are 21 fewer races ranked as solid in October as in April, 204 to 183. However, the number of races ranked solid or likely Democrat have only dropped by 4 races in that same time frame. The number of Democratically held Toss Ups has grown from 2 to 9.

The number of solid Republican races has fallen by 4, from 147 to 143. However, the number of races ranked solid or likely Republican has dropped by 9. The number of Republican Toss Ups has increased from 0 to 2.

  • Democrats 256
  • Republicans 176
  • Vacancy 3

4/1/09 6/4/09 8/15/09 10/6/09
Total Dem 255 257 256 256
Solid Dem 204 198 195 183
Likely Dem 29 34 37 44
Lean Dem 20 21 17 20
Toss-Up 2 4 9 11
     D 2 4 7 9
     R 0 0 2 2
Lean GOP 6 6 9 10
Likely GOP 26 36 27 21
Solid GOP 147 134 138 143
Total GOP 179 176 176 176

As always, thanks to the Cook Political Report, which is the best when it comes to analysis of Congressional races (as well as other electoral matters).

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