Parties Crank Up Voter Turnout Efforts

Campaigning for Democrat Lois Murphy in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., Brandon Slattery, left, urges Darrell Smith to vote.
Campaigning for Democrat Lois Murphy in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., Brandon Slattery, left, urges Darrell Smith to vote. (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Balz and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, November 6, 2006

Republicans seized on signs of movement in their direction yesterday as they unleashed a massive election-eve voter mobilization operation in an effort to stave off potentially substantial losses in the House and preserve at least a slender majority in the Senate.

Democrats answered the Republicans' get-out-the-vote machinery with intensified efforts to contact infrequent and still-undecided voters in a handful of tight Senate races as well as in more than two dozen GOP-held House districts where races were too close to call.

A Pew Research Center poll showed a significant narrowing in the partisan advantage in House races that the Democrats have enjoyed for much of the year, findings that echoed those of a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Saturday showing the Democrats with a six-point edge.

The Pew poll showed that the Democratic advantage had dropped to 47 percent to Republicans' 43 percent among likely voters, down from 50 percent to 39 percent two weeks ago. The poll found a drop in Democratic support among independents, but Pew Director Andrew Kohut said the most significant change over the past two weeks is that Republicans now outnumber Democrats among likely voters.

Separately, a USA Today/Gallup Poll showed Democrats leading Republicans by 51 percent to 44 percent among likely voters on the "generic vote" -- the question of which party voters intend to support in House races -- down from a 13-percentage-point advantage two weeks ago. But the newspaper noted Republicans enjoyed a similar 7-point edge on the eve of their 1994 landslide victory.

Other weekend polls by Time and Newsweek magazines continued to show Republicans at a steep disadvantage, with Democrats enjoying double-digit margins in party preferences for the House.

GOP strategists said they think their prospects continue to improve as voters digest the guilty verdict against former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, positive economic statistics and the prospect of Democrats taking control of one or both chambers of the legislative branch. "I have always believed that Republican voters in many cases come home later, particularly this year," said Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

President Bush campaigned yesterday in two conservative Plains states, Nebraska and Kansas, where there are no competitive statewide races but where Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun (R) is in trouble and where Nebraska state Sen. Adrian Smith (R) is struggling to win an open seat in a heavily Republican district.

A senior GOP strategist said party officials anticipated that the generic vote would tighten, but they do not consider the shift significant enough to change the contours of this election. More than 20 GOP incumbents are tied with their opponents heading into the final days. "It is the 50-50 districts that turnout can help," said the strategist, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk about strategy.

Democrats, mindful of the Republicans' success in getting their voters to the polls in the past two elections, expressed nervousness at signs of tightening in some national polls. But they said private and some public polling in contested House districts continued to show their party in a position to win enough seats to claim the majority.

"I don't know what to make of it," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Senate races in Virginia, Missouri and Montana, all for seats currently held by Republicans, remained among the closest in the country. Contests in Republican-held Tennessee and Democratic-held Maryland looked tight as well, depending on the poll. One survey showed the race in Rhode Island, a state Democrats must take to win the Senate, very close.

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