Republicans and Democrats alike voice optimism about midterm elections

By Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 26, 2010

With six months remaining before the November midterm elections, partisans in both parties are finding evidence -- some of it contradictory -- that things are looking up.

Gains are a near-certainty for Republicans in both the House and the Senate. But defining the extent of those pickups, as well as the criteria by which each side might be able to declare victory in November, remains a pitched partisan battle at the moment.

In fundraising, for instance, the three Democratic campaign committees -- the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- ended March with $22 million more in the bank than their Republican counterparts.

But Senate Republicans were quick to note that while they trailed the DSCC by $2 million in cash on hand, that was a far smaller deficit than at this time in 2006 ($15.6 million less) and 2008 ($20.6 million less).

"Considering the Democrats control the White House and have 59 senators, shouldn't the trend be going in the opposite direction, instead of so rapidly in the Republicans' direction?" asked National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director Brian Walsh.

In polling, the debate over the health-care law's ultimate impact on the political landscape is also rife with countervailing data points.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted earlier this month showed that 55 percent of those surveyed admitted to "confusion" about the health-care law and 56 percent acknowledged that they were not yet sure how the legislation would affect them.

While Republicans trumpeted those results, senior Democrats were pointing to a Quinnipiac University poll in Florida -- a central battleground in the midterms, with competitive races for Senate and governor -- that suggested GOP calls to repeal elements of the law were decidedly unpopular.

A majority of voters -- 54 percent -- said it was a "bad idea" for state Attorney General Bill McCollum, the Republicans' leading candidate for governor, to file a lawsuit challenging the health-care overhaul. Nearly four in 10 Florida voters (38 percent) said that McCollum's decision made it less likely that they would vote for him in the fall, while 28 percent said it made them more likely to back him and 31 percent said it made no difference.

Even two upcoming special elections for House seats in southwestern Pennsylvania and Hawaii seem likely to resist easy analysis of what they mean for the fall campaign.

In Hawaii, two Democrats -- former congressman Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa -- as well as Honolulu City Council member Charles Djou (R) will all appear on the same special-election ballot on May 22, an electoral quirk that has endangered a Democratic seat where President Obama won 70 percent of the vote in 2008.

In Pennsylvania, national Republicans are spending heavily -- $482,000 at last count -- to win the May 18 special election for the 12th District seat long held by the late Rep. John Murtha (D). It is the only congressional district in the country that was carried by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004 and by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in 2008.

Both parties acknowledge that a split result is possible. And while a Republican victory in either one would break the DCCC's remarkable winning streak of five House special elections (dating back to 2008), such a divided result would make grand predictions about what it all means decidedly difficult.

History suggests that Democrats are headed for losses in both the House and Senate, as the president's party has lost ground in the first midterm election of his presidency all but once since World War II. (The exception was 2002, a result largely ascribable to the aftereffects of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.)

But even professional political prognosticators are not in lock step about the severity of Democratic losses this fall.

Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report, described 2010 as a "classic wave election," adding: "It would take something very significant to change the trajectory of this election" and for Democrats to avoid "very large" losses. Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report, has also predicted widespread Republicans gains -- 25 to 30 seats in the House as of April 9 -- but noted that he is abiding by the wait-and-see strategy he adopted during the Democratic-friendly 2006 cycle. "I think it only fair to adopt the same approach -- to see if Democrats can use their financial advantage to localize enough contests to keep the House," Rothenberg said.

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