Republicans poised to make gains; House could fall, Senate unlikely

As Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress, outgoing speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) handed over her gavel to Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).
By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 31, 2010; 1:04 AM

Two days before Tuesday's midterm elections, Republicans appear poised to capture control of the House and are likely to make substantial gains in the Senate, an outcome that could dramatically alter the balance of power in Washington, according to a Washington Post analysis of competitive seats across the country.

President Obama is spending the weekend attempting to rally the Democratic base in an effort to hold down his party's losses. Only a significant surge in Democratic participation appears capable of offsetting big gains by the GOP, fueled by the most energized Republican base since 1994, when the party won the House and Senate.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows Republicans with an advantage in House races among those voters considered most likely to turn out Tuesday, with 49 percent saying they would vote for the GOP candidate in their district and 45 percent saying they would support the Democratic candidate. That represents a narrowing since September. Even so, the so-called enthusiasm gap has given Republicans confidence that they will see major gains.

Among all registered voters, a less reliable predictor of the outcome, Democrats have the edge, 49 percent to 44 percent.

In the House, Republicans need 39 seats to win back the majority that they lost four years ago and are competing on an enormous playing field heavily tilted in their direction.

According to The Post's analysis, 19 Democratic-held seats currently lean toward the Republicans, and Democratic strategists all but concede those contests. An additional 47 Democrat-held districts are considered tossups, while 38 other Democrat-held seats, while leaning toward the Democratic candidate, remain in potential jeopardy. Meanwhile, just four Republican-held seats appear truly competitive - three leaning toward the Democrats and one considered too close to call.

That gives Republicans multiple opportunities to win enough seats to claim the majority. Some independent forecasters are projecting GOP gains of 50 seats or more, which would offset all of the GOP's losses in the past two elections and rank in size with the party's historic 1994 landslide.

In the Senate, Republicans need to win 10 seats to take the majority. As of this weekend, they appear all but certain of winning three seats - Arkansas, Indiana and North Dakota - and probably a fourth in Wisconsin. According to The Post analysis, Republicans could gain as many as nine seats. But to do that they would have to run the table on the most competitive seats - Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington - and that appears unlikely.

In governor's races, Democrats hold 26 states to 24 for the Republicans (which counts Florida, although Gov. Charlie Crist quit the GOP in his campaign for the Senate). Republicans have set a goal of reaching 30 and appear likely to reach and possibly exceed that number.

Republicans are almost certain to pick up Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma and Tennessee. They are also favored in Maine, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Democrats could pick up Hawaii, Minnesota and California. The most competitive races are in Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts and Oregon, all currently held by Democrats; and in Florida, Connecticut and Vermont, which are in Republican hands. Rhode Island, held by the GOP, could go independent.

Nearly three-quarters of all voters disapprove of the way the Democratic Congress is handling its job, according to the new Post-ABC poll. Nearly as many are dissatisfied with the federal government more broadly, and the renewed optimism that was apparent at the start of the Obama administration has faded. More than seven in 10 now see the country as headed off course.

Almost all Americans say the economy is in bad shape, and barely more than a quarter see it improving at all.

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