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Polls looking up for GOP

- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

Capitol Hill Republicans say a recent swing in polling numbers might translate into fewer losses in November elections - and maybe some unexpected victories - as they recover from massive midterm losses in 2006 that gave Democrats control of Congress.

Republican congressional candidates, who trailed Democrats by double digits in several generic polls during the past year, have drawn to within three percentage points in a recent USA Today/Gallup survey.

"There's no 'generic' vote for Congress. ... These congressional seats are won one at a time," said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. "But there's no doubt that the wind is not in our face like it's been the last three years."

With Democrats holding significant fundraising advantages and Republicans having to defend several congressional seats left open by retirements, Democrats say they're confident they'll increase their 36-seat advantage in the House and two-seat lead in the Senate.

"With less than two months until the election, polls will fluctuate," said Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The reality is, Democrats hold significant structural advantages over the GOP."

A Gallup survey released Friday shows Democrats leading Republicans 48 percent to 45 percent among registered voters when respondents were asked, "If the elections were being held today, which party's candidate would you vote for in your congressional district?"

Democrats had held double-digit leads over Republicans in Gallup polling for most of the past year, maintaining an 11-point advantage as recently as August.

Among "likely voters," the Gallup poll shows Republican candidates lead Democratic candidates, 50 percent to 45 percent.

The Sept. 5-7 survey was conducted immediately after the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., and mirrors other polls that show improved public standing of Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.

A CNN/Opinion Research generic poll conducted during the same period also showed congressional Democrats with a three-point lead, 49 percent to 46 percent, over Republicans.

Republicans say their polling gains also are a result in large part of their recent efforts to expand domestic oil drilling, which surveys show the public favors.

"With a significant increase in Republican intensity sparked by the strength of our presidential ticket, and the Democrats' repeated refusal to pass meaningful energy legislation to lower the cost of gasoline, Republicans are better-positioned to compete at the congressional playing level," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Mr. McCain naming Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate also has been credited with energizing the party faithful.

"I haven't talked to a single member of Congress on the Republican side who didn't say that activity at their [election] headquarters, the requests for yard signs - theirs and the McCain-Palin signs - and the volunteers coming in, didn't change dramatically after the announcement of Governor Palin," Mr. Blunt said.

Other polls showed Republicans making much smaller gains on Democrats.

A Rasmussen Reports survey released Thursday showed that 45 percent of voters would choose their district's Democratic candidate, while 37 percent would choose the Republican candidate.

The Democrats' eight-point lead in the poll, conducted Sept. 7, is two points less than results of a similar poll from Aug. 31, on the eve of the Republican convention.

And a Diageo/Hotline survey taken Sept. 5 to 7 showed Democrats running for Congress with a nine-point lead over Republicans.

"If you look at the polls, we're doing fine and will continue to do fine," said Brendan Daley, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. "If we have a seven- or eight-point lead in a generic poll on Election Day, we'll be very pleased."

Mr. Daley added that Democrats had only about a five-point advantage before the 2006 elections, when Democrats took control of the House for the first time in a 12 years.

David Wasserman, who follows House races for the Cook Political Report, said Friday that Democrats are "absolutely in the driver's seat" for this year's congressional races, with a large edge in polls on generic party preferences and an unprecedented money edge over Republicans to aid candidates.

House Democrats also scored impressive special-election victories earlier this year in previously long-held Republican districts in Illinois, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Because the Democrats had a net gain of 29 House seats just two years ago, "there's only so many more seats that they can realistically gain this time," Mr. Wasserman said.

"Right now, we predict a gain in the low to mid teens for Democrats in the House, but because of the money advantage, the Democrats are throwing all of their resources at GOP seats that look remotely vulnerable," he said.

David R. Sands contributed to this report.