In Swing Districts, Democratic Enthusiasm Is Harder to Come By

A poll found that if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton tops the ticket in 2008, some vulnerable Democratic House incumbents will have reason to worry.
A poll found that if Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton tops the ticket in 2008, some vulnerable Democratic House incumbents will have reason to worry. (By Alan Diaz -- Associated Press)
By Chris Cillizza And Shailagh Murray
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Conventional wisdom dictates that Democratic voters are thrilled with their choices for president, bursting at the seams to rally behind Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) or whoever gets the party's nod next year.

A recent survey by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, however, showed Clinton and Obama trailing former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R) in the 31 Democratic-held House districts regarded as most imperiled in 2008, and even potentially serving as a drag on those lawmakers' reelection chances.

The poll was conducted in August but has not been previously reported. It paints a "sobering picture" for Democrats, according to a memo by Lake and Daniel Gotoff that accompanies the poll report.

Giuliani takes 49 percent to Clinton's 39 percent, while the former mayor's lead over Obama is far smaller, 41 percent to 40 percent. "Despite Obama's relative advantage over Clinton, both candidates are significantly underperforming against the generic Democratic edge in the presidential and even against party identification," Lake and Gotoff wrote.

The news gets worse for Obama and Clinton as one delves deeper into the survey.

While the average lead of Democratic House members stands at 19 percentage points in the 31 vulnerable districts -- all but two of which are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's incumbent-protection program known as Frontline -- that number sinks considerably when the lawmakers are linked to either front-runner.

"Some people say [your Democratic incumbent] is a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton and will support her liberal agenda of big government and higher taxes if she becomes president," the poll stated, before asking respondents whether they would still vote for their incumbent or choose a Republican candidate.

Whether the question named Clinton or Obama, the Democratic incumbent's lead shrank to an average of six points: 47 percent to 41 percent with Clinton leading the ticket, 44 percent to 38 percent with Obama as the nominee.

"The images of the two early favorites are part of the problem," Lake and Gotoff wrote. Clinton has a "very polarized image" in the districts, while Obama's "image is soft, and one-fifth of voters do not have a firm impression of him."

Not surprisingly, the Obama and Clinton campaigns sought to play down the poll's findings.

"I find all of these polls with these questions tend to overestimate any real ticket effect, especially when accompanied by leading phrases like 'liberal policies,' " said Clinton's chief pollster and strategist, Mark Penn.

Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, said his boss "has a vision to change politics [that] appeals to people of all political stripes in all parts of the country."

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