Pollapalooza, August 24 Edition

It appears several trends in the polls, both in things like President Obama’s approval ratings and in electoral polls, are beginning to intensify – which is leading a growing number of national poll experts to conclude the Republican wave of 2010 might be larger than anyone’s ever seen.

As Congressional Quarterly’s John McArdle noted over the weekend:

It’s hit that point in the election cycle where the competitive nature of Congressional races are shifting rapidly. Unfortunately for Democrats, the overwhelming majority of those shifts are in favor of Republicans.

The latest Senate race rating changes by CQ Politics includes five changes — in California, Washington, Wisconsin, Georgia and Iowa — that benefit Republican candidates. And Democrats can’t even catch a break on the sixth change, which moves Florida’s Senate race from Leans Republican to the more competitive Tossup category based solely of the strength of the Independent campaign run by Gov. Charlie Crist.

The five Senate races moving toward GOP candidates are just part of a wider movement underfoot as voters begin paying more attention to the upcoming elections as primary races come to a close across the country. In particular, though, those races show that good GOP candidates can beat established Democrats on hostile ground and that red states don’t seem to offer similar opportunities to blue candidates this year.

In California, for example, Carly Fiorina clearly has momentum against Barbara Boxer. McArdle describes the race like this…

In California, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina has surged since winning the early June GOP primary, while Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) has watched her numbers steadily slip. Fiorina has built her campaign on an economic and job creation message in a state that has been particularly hard hit by the financial downturn. She has argued that Boxer’s support of President Barak Obama’s agenda has only made the financial situation in California worse. Meanwhile, the Senator has laid the blame for the state’s economic situation at the feet of former President George W. Bush and the corporate establishment that Fiorina represents.

Last week’s SurveyUSA poll put Fiorina at plus-5, 47-42, over Boxer. The incumbent immediately put out an ad that anywhere but California would probably have come from her opponent…

Meanwhile, over the weekend it appears Dino Rossi has jumped ahead of Patty Murray in Washington. SurveyUSA released a poll showing Rossi ahead 52-45 on the incumbent, with numbers that appear fairly credible given the results of last week’s primary. Murray led the open field with 46 percent of the vote last Tuesday, with Rossi capturing 34 percent and Republican Clint Didier, a former NFL tight end, leading a number of minor candidates with 12 percent.

Rossi appears to be capturing the remaining non-Murray vote based on the SurveyUSA poll, but Didier is holding up an endorsement of the remaining GOP candidate in an effort to get him to strengthen a conservative position. As the Weekly Standard reports:

“I want to endorse Dino – I really do,” Didier said at a press conference Friday, according to a transcript of prepared remarks. “I want to beat Patty Murray.  I really want that.” But Didier said he could only endorse Rossi upon three conditions.

First:

We ask Dino to promise to introduce in the Senate the same bill that Ron Paul introduced in the House “The Sanctity of Life Act.”

This simple bill restores the authority of elected officials to pass laws regarding abortion without interference from the federal judicial branch. 

For example, federal courts have overturned state laws regarding parental consent and adult informed consent. 

Second:

We ask Dino to sign the pledge that I signed – It’s very simple and straightforward:

“I will not vote for any new taxes, or increases in existing taxes.”

Third:

I want Dino to pledge to vote no on any bill that increases over all federal spending.

But Rossi isn’t taking any pledges. This was his communications director Jennifer Morris in response:

“Dino will keep working to earn the support of anyone who will work to reduce spending, get the economy back on track, and put Washingtonians back to work.  He knows Washingtonians are principled and independent and expect their public servants to run on what they believe.  In that spirit, Dino will continue to campaign on the things he believes, and will not submit to a list of demands made by anyone even people with whom he agrees, in Washington State or Washington, DC.”

In other words, Rossi isn’t bowing to Didier’s demands but there isn’t a lot of sunlight between the two. The SurveyUSA poll seems to indicate that.

Of course, in Florida the trend seems to be working in the GOP’s favor in different ways; namely, that Kendrick Meek has now opened up a massive 51-27 advantage over billionaire Jeff Greene in the Democrat primary which takes place tonight. Meek is generally regarded as the guy the Republican candidate, Marco Rubio, is looking for – because independent candidate Charlie Crist, the sitting governor who shed his Republican affiliation when Rubio began pulling away in the GOP primary race months ago, is all but running as a Democrat and says he’ll caucus with the Dems if he wins.

The dynamic is that with Greene in the race, Crist can compete successfully for the 15 percent of the vote which is African-American and thus challenge Rubio for the plurality. But if it’s Meek on the Democrat ticket, that 15 percent is out the door, forcing Crist to compete with Rubio for the center while being denied the vote on both the left and the right. It’s the kind of squeeze no independent candidate has ever successfully escaped in a major American election with the possible exception of Jesse Ventura’s election as governor of Minnesota in the 1990’s.

Meanwhile, though no new polling has surfaced in the Ron Johnson-Russ Feingold race in Wisconsin it continues to look good for the Republican challenger. Feingold was quoted last week disparaging Johnson’s expressed doubts about global warming theory, though in a rather discombobulated position he said that while he’s on board with Al Gore’s narrative of carbon dioxide causing the world to burn up he opposes cap and trade legislation because Wisconsin’s power plants run on coal. In other words, Johnson is nuts for questioning Gore, Michael Mann and the East Anglia gang but Feingold is sane for believing what the “scientists” say but opposing legislation to do something about it.

There are several other hard-to-defend positions in Feingold’s quiver. He’s in trouble – after having spent nearly $9 million he’s still in a virtual dead heat with a candidate nobody had heard of who uncannily seems to be having fun with the campaign.

Iowa and Georgia are, it appears, blowout races – a major disappointment to Democrats who hoped to pick off GOP incumbents in one of them.

Meanwhile, RealClearPolitics.com now has the Senate field set with 48 seats likely Democrat, 44 Republican and eight tossups. Among the 48 is the Connecticut race, though, in which Linda McMahon has used $20 million of the $50 million she says she’ll spend if necessary in order to chop Richard Blumenthal’s lead from 25 points down to seven in the most recent poll. McMahon’s campaign has been an exemplar of message discipline, mistake-free communication and organization, while Blumenthal can’t seem to avoid falling down. Most recently the 20-year attorney general has been caught in a bear trap of his own making; while it was discovered he’s taken some $480,000 in PAC money after claiming never to have taken any (er, when he was running for attorney general), Blumenthal is spinning vigorously in an attempt to extricate himself from the kerfuffle:

For example, she said, he is not accepting money from people who work in the attorney general’s office or lawyers it hires as outside counsel. He also is taking no donations from individuals connected to companies under investigation by his office or in litigation with his office.

Among the PAC contributions to his Senate race, there are groups Mr. Blumenthal’s office has dealt with as recently as 2009 and 2010. For example, federal records show his campaign received $10,000 from the PAC organized by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. As recently as Thursday, Mr. Blumenthal was urging jet-engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney to reconsider its plans to lay off 129 union workers at its Cheshire plant.

In January, his office argued in federal court for an injunction blocking the transfer of another 1,000 jobs out of state.

Blumenthal’s contortions on the PAC issue come following a major hit he took over repeated statements indicating that he had served in the Marines “in” Vietnam, when in fact he only served “during” Vietnam. When you’re badly outresourced by a disciplined and smart campaign which seeks to define you as a liar, a seven point lead 10 weeks from Election Day isn’t much protection.

So if the Democrats only really have 47 seats they can count on and the Republicans have 44 (one of which is Kentucky, in which Democrat Jack Conway actually holds a one-point 42-41 lead in a CN2/Braun Research poll from last week, though a Rasmussen survey at the same time has Paul ahead 51-41), the concept of the Democrats as locks to hold the Senate seems to be losing its luster. In fact, Dick Morris on Fox News last night predicted 53-54 Republican Senators after the smoke clears on Nov. 2 together with 80 or more GOP House pickups.

Whether that bold prediction holds true is a question – but if in fact there is a wave election, Blumenthal’s slide in Connecticut could lead to the GOP gaining the numbers in the Senate Morris talks about. The eight toss-ups rated by RealClearPolitics include the Florida, California and Washington races which are beginning to look good for the Republicans, the Wisconsin race, the Nevada race in which Sharron Angle is now ahead 50-42 on Harry Reid despite the sitting Democrat Senate Majority Leader having spent $11.6 million so far and the Ohio race in which Rob Portman seems to be pulling rather comfortably ahead of Lee Fisher.

Those six toss-ups alone would get the GOP to 50 seats. The Illinois race in which Mark Kirk is in a dead heat with Democrat Alexi Giannoulias, whose family-owned ShoreBank was the subject of an FDIC-sponsored, nostril-stinging bailout this week, is another – neither candidate appears to have much to recommend him. And the Colorado race between appointed Democrat Michael Bennet, who has $1.7 million on hand, and Republican Ken Buck, who has just $400,000 but what appears to be a significant advantage in intensity of support (and the fact that GOP primary turnout was some 65,000 votes higher than Democrat primary turnout despite a higher profile in Bennet’s race against Andrew Romanoff), is another. If a wave should carry Kirk and Buck to victory and McMahon is able to spend Blumenthal into oblivion, the GOP could well snare 53 seats.

So why should there be a wave election this fall? Isn’t that just Republican chest-beating?

Here are a pair of poll results which support the theory of a major wave election…

1. The generic Congressional ballot. Republicans have been ahead in these numbers for some time, but despite a few outlying polls which likely oversample Democrats there is a clear advantage here. In Rasmussen’s latest number, polling likely voters, the GOP leads 47-38. Gallup has it 47-44 for the GOP, polling registered voters. Time, polling likely voters, has the GOP up 43-37. AP, polling registered voters, has Republicans up 49-45. In fact, no poll has shown the GOP up less than three points since an Aug. 5 Pew Research poll of registered voters had the Democrats with a 45-44 lead.

Gallup constructed a predictive model of House seats based on the share of the generic ballot…

The current RealClearPolitics average on the generic Congressional ballot has the Republicans with 46.1 percent and the Democrats at 41.1 percent. Under those numbers, the Democrats’ share of the “two-party” vote as reflected in Gallup’s model is currently 47 percent. That would indicate a mean total of 208 Democrat seats, or a loss of 47, with an additional 11 seats possibly going away (and the possibility of holding as many as 219 seats and keeping control of the House).

We’ll see if Gallup’s model holds up. Other analysts think it won’t adequately predict the House wipeout which is coming.

2. The President’s awful approval ratings. Rasmussen’s current Approval Index for President Obama stands at minus-18, with 43 percent strong disapproval and 25 percent strong approval. Overall, Rasmussen has Obama at 45 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval. And Gallup’s latest numbers have Obama at 43 percent approval, with 50 percent disapproving. The RealClearPolitics average currently stands at 46.0 approval, 49.6 disapproval. Historically, a president below 50 percent in a midterm election can expect an average of 36 lost House seats (since 1946). Two historical examples are perhaps most on point – in 1966, Lyndon Johnson stood at a 44 percent approval rating and lost 47 seats, and in 1994, Bill Clinton’s approval rating was 46 percent. He lost 53 seats.

Gallup has the complete history of the midterms and presidential approval in the post-World War Two era…

There are other sets of bad numbers which historically have informed mid-term elections – right track/wrong track numbers, economic confidence, unemployment and so on – and none of them make things any more palatable for the Democrats.

There are 10 weeks to Election Day. A lot can happen. But if the current trajectory maintains, there is every reason to see an electoral earthquake with Washington as its epicenter on Nov. 2.

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