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In Swing Districts, Democratic Enthusiasm Is Harder to Come By

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."

EYEING THE EXITS?

It's no fun to be a House Republican at the moment.

In the past few weeks, GOP lawmakers in districts narrowly divided along party lines -- Reps. Deborah Pryce (Ohio), Rick Renzi (Ariz.), Jim Ramstad (Minn.) and Jerry Weller (Ill.) come to mind -- have all taken a pass on another term, creating grumbles that a full-scale retreat is underway. And, according to financial reports filed late last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had $22 million in the bank at the end of August, compared with less than $2 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Given that dire outlook, here's a look at some Republican members who might bow out over the coming weeks and months:

Rep. Ralph Regula (Ohio)

His primary opponent invited Regula supporters to an upcoming fundraiser. Need we say more?

Rep. C.W. Bill Young (Fla.)

First he said he is running again, then he started equivocating. This veteran appropriator has been a rumored retiree for at least two cycles.

Rep. David L. Hobson (Ohio)

Republicans fear that the sudden recent death of Rep. Paul Gillmor, a 20-year home-state colleague, could help tip the balance for this popular veteran.

Rep. John M. McHugh (N.Y.)

He has made noises since '06 about wanting to go home. With Democrats more optimistic about their chances in Upstate New York, now might be the time.

Rep. John T. Doolittle (Calif.)

The scandal-plagued conservative has raised little money, and his party wants him to bow out.

Rep. Barbara Cubin (Wyo.)

Approximately 300 people are eyeing this potential open seat -- and that's just on the Republican side.

Bloomberg's Billions

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg just keeps getting richer.

According to Forbes magazine's annual look at the 400 most affluent Americans, the media mogul is worth $11.5 billion -- a total that's good for 25th place on this year's list.

It's quite a leap from last year, when Bloomberg placed 44th with a net worth of a now-paltry $5.3 billion.

Bloomberg continues to insist that he has no plans to run for president in 2008 as an independent. But the talk persists. And now that he has another $6.2 billion to play with . . .

16 days: After months of waiting and anticipating, former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) takes the stage -- ahem -- to debate his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. The scene? Dearborn, Mich. The script? A focus on economic issues.

45 days: A slew of presidential candidates gathers in New York City to raise money for someone other than themselves. The beneficiary is the Bob Woodruff Family Fund, a group formed by the ABC reporter injured while covering the war in Iraq. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), as well as former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.) and former governor Mitt Romney (R-Mass.), are helping to raise cash for wounded military men and women.

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