- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Campaign analysts say mounting Republican momentum has yet to peak and predict more GOP candidates will gain inroads to toppling incumbent Democrats in November’s midterm elections, buoyed by independents’ dissatisfaction with President Obama’s policies and angry, anti-Washington voters.

Stuart Rothenberg, of the Rothenberg Political Report, predicts that in the coming weeks more Democratic-held congressional seats will move from “safe” to being considered contested or tossups.

“Our projection is still a Republican gain in the House of 25 to 30 seats and five to seven in the Senate. But I still think the House is in play,” he said. “I don’t see indications of any great Democratic surge — in fact there are some 70 Democratic seats that are now contested or not safe, to some degree.”

Republicans need to win more than three dozen seats to gain control of the House and 10 seats for control of the Senate.

“The playing field is big enough for Republicans to retake control,” Mr. Rothenberg said. “But it’s still early. People are not making real choices right now. They’re voting their temperature, and right now, their temperature says, ‘We want change.’”

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Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s closely watched primaries, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, will revise his projection that Republicans will gain 27 House seats.

“This idea that the Democrats have turned a corner, I just don’t see that. Not yet. Yes, the economic numbers are improving slowly — painfully slowly — and the health care reform impact is coming, supposedly. But people’s positions have hardened.”

Analysts predict that successful Democratic candidates in the fall will have to distance themselves from Mr. Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Washington in general — a game plan that was played to the hilt in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District by Democratic candidate Mark Critz who won his bid to fill the unexpired term of his boss, longtime Rep. John P. Murtha, who died in February.

Mr. Critz ran effectively as a pro-life, pro-gun, anti-Obamacare Democrat against Republican businessman Tim Burns.

Both political parties poured cash into the special election, with Republicans hoping a Burns victory would add to the momentum from the surprise victory of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts election to fill the open seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

A recent Gallup poll showing a bump in Democratic Party approval ratings in the wake of the health care vote has been cited as an indication that the party’s rebound is imminent, but Mr. Rothenberger and Mr. Sabato are skeptical.

“If you look,” Mr. Rothenberger said, “the numbers for independent voters went right back down, and without independents, neither party can win this fall.”

Mr. Sabato said the Republican Party is better positioned to benefit from the anti-incumbency mood and the traditional midterm drop in voter turnout.

“The Republicans have that enthusiasm-anger gap in their favor,” he said.

The anti-Washington sentiment appeared to play a big role in Kentucky, where “tea party” candidate Rand Paul seized the GOP nomination Tuesday in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, a Republican. He defeated the handpicked GOP “establishment” candidate, Trey Grayson, who was endorsed by congressional Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

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