The Washington Times - December 26, 2013, 09:47AM

Republicans have lengthened their lead over Democrats in early polling for the 2014 elections, a CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday found.

About 49 percent of people said they would vote for a generic Republican candidate in the poll conducted earlier this month, compared to just 44 percent who said they would vote for a Democrat.

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Following the government shutdown two months ago, Democrats had the lead, with 50 percent of those polled saying they would vote for the candidate on the left and just 42 percent would vote for the one on the right. Last month, however, Republicans regained their lead, with 49 percent of those polled choosing a Republican candidate and 47 percent choosing the Democrat.

Most of that change has come from men, while Democratic support among women has remained relatively constant, according to CNN polling director Keating Holland. While 46 percent of men supported a Democratic candidate in October, just 35 percent do now.

Republicans already hold a 17-seat majority in the House and would need to win six seats from Democrats to win control of the Senate in November.

Former Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat, said Thursday on MSNBC it would be a “heavy lift” for the Republicans to retake the Senate. Former Rep. Tom Davis, Virginia Republican, was a little more optimistic on the Republican’s chances.

“Six is possible, but they’re going to need some luck to do it,” he said Thursday on MSNBC.

One of the biggest problems in Washington, Mr. Davis said, is that there are so few moderate members of Congress and not many opportunities to vote on middle-of-the-road proposals.

“Moderates don’t get votes now, votes tend to be on the right and on the left. You don’t get many middle choices,” he said. “You have very few choices that are kind of a compromise and in the center that both parties can agree to right now.”

The small, bipartisan budget deal that Congress passed last week doesn’t make Mr. Davis more optimistic that 2014 will bring more moderate reasoning to the Capitol, he said.

“The budget deal just keeps the lights on. This was a minimalist approach. Thank goodness they were able to get together,” Mr. Davis said. “But keeping the lights on and doing some of the basics, they’re not even good at that right now.”

Only about three in 10 voters are extremely or very enthusiastic about casting a ballot in the mid-term elections next year, down from four in 10 last year, the poll found. Democratic voters are even less excited than Republicans, which could benefit the GOP if more conservative voters hit the polls in November.

While the poll suggests good news for the GOP, Mr. Holland emphasized that the election is still nearly a year away and it’s too early to make an accurate prediction in individual elections.

“There is just under a year to go before any votes are actually cast and the ‘generic ballot’ question is not necessarily a good predictor of the actual outcome of 435 separate elections,” he said. “A year before the 2010 midterms, for example, the Democrats held a 6-point lead on the generic ballot but the GOP wound up regaining control of the House in that election cycle, thanks to an historic 63-seat pickup,” he added.

The poll surveyed more than 1,000 adults across the country by telephone Dec. 16-19. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.