- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Nine months after Republicans suffered their worst political defeat in decades, President Obama and the Democrats are slipping in the polls and the Republican Party is expected to make gubernatorial and congressional gains in the 2009-10 election cycle, according to pollsters and election analysts.

Six months into his presidency, Mr. Obama’s approval ratings have fallen from the 70s to the low 50s or less and the Democrats’ once-muscular lead in the polls also has shrunk. Republicans are leading in this year’s two governorship races, in Virginia and New Jersey, and analysts say they likely will capture several more governor’s mansions next year.

“It would be hard to envision a political landscape as tilted against Republicans as it was in 2006 and 2008. There is now a body of polling data to suggest that the generic congressional ballot has closed. In the NBC/Wall Street Journal, Democrats have a seven-point advantage, the smallest it’s been since April of 2006,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior elections analyst at the Cook Political Report.

“That is all good news for Republicans,” Ms. Duffy said.

Even in the Senate, where campaign analysts say five open Republican seats give Democrats more to shoot at, Republican recruiting and missteps by Democrats are putting some unexpected seats into play.

• In Connecticut, five-term Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, weakened by charges that he received low-interest mortgage loans from a Countrywide executive, is running behind or is tied with two of his potential Republican challengers in the latest polls.

• In California, former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina was trailing three-term Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer by just 4 percentage points, according to a recent Rasmussen poll.

• In Illinois, Republican chances of filling Mr. Obama’s former Senate seat improved significantly when state Attorney General Lisa Madigan turned down White House pleas to run. The Republican Party is fielding its strongest candidate, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, who has crossover appeal to Democrats. The race is being called a tossup.

• In Pennsylvania, early surveys suggest voters may be cooling to Sen. Arlen Specter’s party switch from the Republicans to the Democrats. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that he is in a dead heat with former Rep. Pat Toomey, the expected Republican nominee.

Pollsters say the shift in voter attitudes is fueled by rising unemployment that economists say will hit 10 percent before year’s end, unhappiness with the administration’s economic stimulus bill, growing concern over sharply higher federal spending, a mushrooming budget deficit expected to hit $1.8 trillion this year and a divisive debate over the trillion-dollar costs of government health care legislation pending in Congress.

“Democrats still have more opportunities than does the GOP, but the public’s growing nervousness about the economy and the deficit could develop into a problem for Democratic candidates next year, particularly in open seats such as Missouri and Ohio,” said the Rothenberg Political Report, which tracks election campaigns.

“But the tide may be shifting slightly away from the Democrats,” veteran analyst Stuart Rothenberg reported last week.

The Rasmussen daily presidential tracking poll showed late last week “that 28 percent of the nation’s voters now strongly approve of the way that Barack Obama is performing his role as president. Forty percent strongly disapprove, giving Mr. Obama a presidential approval index rating of minus 12. That’s the lowest rating yet recorded by President Obama,” the pollsters said.

There is also growing disapproval of the Democratic Congress, which has begun to erode the Democrats’ political support in next year’s elections.

The Gallup poll reported late last week: “If the elections were held today, 50 percent of U.S. registered voters say they would vote for the Democratic candidate in their district and 44 percent for the Republican candidate.”

The Democrats’ shrinking margin of support “suggests the 2010 election could be quite close if it were held today given low turnout in midterm elections and the usual Republican advantages in turnout,” Gallup said.

“Thus, at this early stage, 2010 does not look like it is shaping up to be as strong a Democratic year as 2006 was, and that could make it difficult for the party to hold onto the gains it made in the 2006 midterm and 2008 presidential elections,” the polling organization said.

Democrats outraised Republicans in House and Senate races last year, but the Republican Party, with some exceptions, appears to be doing better on the fundraising front this year as it stakes out bedrock conservative positions on spending and taxes.

The Republican National Committee beat the Democratic National Committee in fundraising by almost $7 million a month last year, but the money race is much tighter in this election cycle, Republican officials said.

The RNC, in a strong fundraising performance, reported that it had raised $8.9 million in June, with a total of $23.7 million in cash on hand, compared to $6.8 million for the DNC, which had $13 million in the bank.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it raised $30.8 million in the first two quarters, compared to $17.5 million at the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, chaired by Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, has improved fundraising significantly over its dismal record last year, raising more than $20.1 million in the first two quarters, virtually matching the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s $20.9 million for the same period.

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