2008 record      

 

As economists have marked down growth prospects in the past six weeks, political analysts have been busy moving more Senate and House races into the GOP and tossup columns.

While analysts have said for months that Republicans have a decent shot at taking control of the House, the GOP is now seen as having a realistic chance of winning the Senate as well.

With the economy the No. 1 concern of voters, "Democrats are in even deeper trouble than they were just a month ago," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

"The Senate's on the bubble too," he said, offering a range of outcomes that could see Democrats retain a two-seat edge or lose their majority.

At the start of July, as evidence of an economic slowdown mounted, Vice President Joe Biden put up a brave face, saying Democrats would avoid a midterm debacle because the economy was poised to add 100,000-200,000 jobs a month until the election.

Instead, data point to stalled hiring. Even ignoring census-related layoffs, the U.S. added just 12,000 jobs in July. Last week's news that weekly jobless claims hit a nine-month high of 500,000 suggests little reason for optimism about the August employment report.

That will leave only the September jobs report before Election Day, meaning there is little chance to change perceptions of the economy.

With 39 pickups needed for Republicans to win the House, the Cook Political Report last week said it expected the GOP to gain 35 to 45 seats, up from an earlier range of 32 to 42.

In early July, Sabato expected GOP gains of 32 to 39 seats in the House and five to seven in the Senate. "Republicans are going to be delighted" with the new projections out in early September, he said.

Republicans need to pick up 10 seats for outright control of the Senate and nine for a 50-50 split. One uncertainty is which party Florida Gov. Charlie Crist would caucus with if elected as an independent.

RealClearPolitics puts five currently Democratic Senate seats in the Republican column (Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Pennsylvania and North Dakota) and another six Democratic seats in the tossup column.

Those tossups are in California, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin.

Recent polling suggests possible Republican momentum in those tight races. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., leads by 3.5 percentage points based on RealClearPolitics' average of surveys. But the latest poll, from SurveyUSA, showed GOP nominee Carly Fiorina with a 5-point edge.

In Colorado, the latest poll from Rasmussen Reports gave Republican candidate Ken Buck a 5-point edge. In Wisconsin, Rasmussen gave GOP candidate Ron Johnson a 1-point edge over Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold.

David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, which advises political groups and candidates, said "the Republican brand is not selling," but voters are holding President Obama and the Democrats responsible for the state of the economy.

"The blame-Bush strategy" is no longer working, Johnson said.

On the stump last week, Obama said the economy was recovering but that it would take time, and he warned against handing control back to the Republicans.

"They spent almost a decade driving the economy into a ditch" and now want the keys back, he said.

The argument over which party can better handle the economy is one Democrats seem to be losing, Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner wrote early this month.

"In rating which party could do a better job on this most important issue, likely voters pick the Republicans over Democrats by a 49% to 36% margin," it said.

The firm's polling from late July found that 35% thought the economy was improving, down 10 percentage points from April. Among Democrats, 60% thought the economy was improving, meaning perceptions of the economy were much worse among independents and Republicans.

IBD/TIPP polling and other surveys also show Republicans far more energized about the upcoming midterms than Democrats, with independents favoring the GOP this election cycle.

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