Polls Show Growing Edge for Obama and Senate Dems
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Josh Boak
The Fiscal Times
September 20, 2012

Political winds are blowing the Democrats’ way as polls show President Obama running ahead of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney nationally and in key battleground states.  In a surprising shift, Democrats have better odds of retaining control of the Senate.

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Democratic Senate candidates have surged in Massachusetts, Virginia and Wisconsin after the party’s national convention this month in Charlotte, suggesting that Obama wasn’t the only candidate to enjoy a bounce from the event. Romney’s recent flubs may have helped the case as well.

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As for control of the House, Republicans are likely to hang on regardless of the outcome of the presidential contest. But even there, Democrats are looking a lot better than they did six months ago. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says her party has a “50-50” chance of taking back the House.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, claims the Democrats have the wind at their backs. And using a popular football analogy, he told MSNBC today that the Democrats have moved the ball from their own 20-yard line to the GOP’s 20-yard line, and could kick a field goal to win the election if events fall in line before the Nov. 6 election.

HERE’S HOW THINGS LOOK:
President: In a presidential race that had been neck-and-neck, Obama has started to pull away over the past weeks. A new Pew Research survey of more than 2,000 likely voters reports him as leading 51 percent to 43 percent. NBC News/Wall Street Journal assigns him a five-point edge over Romney.

Not all surveys show as wide a margin: An Associated Press poll, which has a wider margin of error than others, shows Romney down 46 percent to 47 percent. But the overall trend of momentum for Obama is clear across the polls. Of the 12 potential swing states, Obama leads in 10 of them, according to locally-focused polling.

Senate:  The Democrats currently hold a 53 to 47 majority, including two independents who caucus with them. For a long time it looked as if the Republicans were in great shape to win back control, especially since the Democrats had to protect 23 seats, including many that seemed vulnerable.

But all that is changing now, and toss-up races are moving toward the Dems. Of the eight close Senate elections tracked by RealClearPolitics, half of them – Connecticut, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Virginia – show solid gains for Democratic candidates in recent weeks. Republicans must win seven of those seats to secure a majority, and it’s a close call in two of the states – Montana and Nevada – and fresh public polling does not exist yet for the two others, Indiana and North Dakota.

In the Massachusetts Senate battle, Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren is leading Republican incumbent Scott Brown in four of the five polls conducted this month. Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is ahead of Republican challenger George Allen by an eight-point margin, according to the latest Washington Post survey.

And over the last month, the Wisconsin senate race has swung from a win for former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson to a nine-point lead for Democrat Tammy Baldwin, according to polls by Marquette University.

House:  The Democrats lost control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections in the wake of an historic 63-seat pick up by the Republicans, thanks in part to a surge in the influence of the Tea Party. The Democrats would have to pick up 25 seats in November to regain the majority.

In April, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, caused a stir when he said, "There's a one-in-three chance" that Republicans could lose control of the House this year.

Since then, he has upped his party’s odds. But both sides acknowledge that a wave election this fall could either put the Democrats back in control or within striking distance of a majority.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato’s latest “Crystal Ball” just out today says the GOP remains a heavy favorite to hold the lower chamber of Congress – projecting a Democratic gain of only four seats in November.

The new ratings show 195 safe seats for the Republicans and 156 safe seats for the Democrats, with 14 likely Republican seats and 13 likely Democratic seats. That leaves 23 leaning Republican and 20 leaning Democratic, with 14 toss-ups. Only 57 of 435 seats – 13 percent – are in the leaning or toss-up categories.

“Given the nature of the House – where many races are likely to be close to the end and where reliable polling is relatively scant, compared to Senate or gubernatorial races – our projections are bound to change, perhaps dramatically, in the last seven weeks before the election,” according to Sabato’s analysis. “But the center of gravity in this race – two sides locked in a close contest – is clear, and it favors the Republicans.”

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.