In run-up to midterms, glimmers of hope for Democrats?

President Obama talked about health care and taxes during a backyard speech in Iowa, then headed to Virginia.
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 8:21 PM

The story line for Election 2010 has been set for months. Republicans are on the march, Democrats in deep trouble. Is it now possible that Democrats have begun a comeback?

A number of Democrats say there is modest movement in their direction and some reason for optimism after many dismal months. But late September can be a fickle time in an election year. It was four years ago. So are signs of more enthusiasm for Democrats false indicators or the start of something real?

Here are some reasons Democrats feel better today than they did a month ago.

- A Washington Post poll in Maryland shows Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley opening up an 11-point lead over former Republican governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. A few months ago, the race was essentially even.

- In Ohio, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has bounced back against former Republican representative John Kasich. Most of the latest polls show Strickland almost even with Kasich, although still not looking as strong as he should.

- For the past several weeks, Gallup's measure of voting intentions among registered voters has shown parity between Democrats and Republicans - after earlier showing a sizable Republican advantage - though Gallup officials caution that among likely voters Republicans look stronger.

- President Obama drew 25,000 people at a rally on the campus of the University of Wisconsin on Tuesday in the first of a series of events designed to energize young voters.

These signs alone are not enough to suggest there is a dramatic turn underway. But for Democrats struggling to hold their House and Senate majorities, they are reason for hope.

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One Democratic strategist e-mailed Wednesday morning to say, "I don't want to overstate the trend, or suggest it is happening everywhere, but in several places I definitely have seen Democrats starting to come home and feel more strongly about the importance of preventing a Republican takeover of the Congress."

This strategist said he had seen several new polls in competitive races where Democratic Party identification had started to rise - and in places where it had previously declined. He also said there is growing preference for a Democratic Congress.

Much has been made about the parallels between this year and 1994, when Republicans captured the House and Senate in a landslide. For most of this year, the overall climate for Democrats has appeared as bleak as it was then, if not worse. But some Democratic strategists now say, hold on, the comparisons are not necessarily accurate.

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