Election up for grabs in 180 days

The White House, Senate and the House are up for grabs with 180 days to go before the election. 

The tightness of races up and down the ballot suggest the party that avoids major missteps, turns out its base and wins the battle for independent voters could control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in 2013.

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The presidential election has drawn to a dead heat, with the Real Clear Politics average of recent national polls showing President Obama leading Mitt Romney by fractions of a percent. Although the president continues to hold leads in key battleground states — including Ohio, Virginia and Iowa — his Republican opponent is within clear striking distance in each, and has seen his poll numbers on the rise after escaping a bruising primary.

Romney must contend with what now appears to be a narrow path to the presidency that would require a sweep of the traditionally Republican states where Obama made inroads in 2008. But a softening economy that saw a disappointing April jobs report has slowed the president's momentum on the issue, and given Romney a foothold among voters concerned about the country lapsing back into recession.

"People across the country are having hard times and wondering why it is. And I'll tell you why it is, it's because President Obama is out of ideas, he's out of excuses, and in 2012 we need to put him out of office," Romney told supporters in Pittsburgh last week.

Still, both candidates have been besieged by off-message comments in recent weeks that have forced their campaigns to scramble.

At a town-hall event in Cleveland earlier this week, Romney's attempt to hammer the president on the economy was overshadowed by a suggestion by a supporter that Obama "should be tried for treason."

Romney initially ignored the comments, drawing howls from the Obama campaign.

“Time after time in this campaign, Mitt Romney has had the opportunity to show that he has the fortitude to stand up to hateful and over-the-line rhetoric, and time after time, he has failed to do so," said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith.

But Obama's campaign was grappling with its own political firestorm after Vice President Biden broke from the administration's stated position and said Sunday he would be "comfortable" with the legalization of same-sex marriage.

With North Carolina voters weighing — and ultimately approving — a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, scrutiny on the president to clarify his position on the issue intensified throughout the week. On Wednesday, Obama came out in favor of same-sex marriage, becoming the first American president to do so — but is risking support among crucial swing demographics.

Meanwhile, the rippling effects of redistricting have been felt by candidates in the House and Senate, where some long-term incumbents have lost primaries or face tough reelection prospects.

In the Senate, Democrats' outlook has improved slightly after six-term Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) lost his primary challenge to Tea Party-backed state Treasurer Richard Mourdock. However, Mourdock is still viewed as the favorite in the red state.

Targeted Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are all considered favorites to retain their seats. Yet, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) was a heavy favorite in the spring of 2010 before losing to now-Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

Should Obama win a second term, Republicans will need to pick up a net four seats to claim the majority in the upper chamber. The Hill projects that Democrats will narrowly hold on to the Senate. 

In the House, Democrats are bullish, and Republicans appear a bit anxious. Some freshman Republicans  were outraised by their Democratic challengers in the first quarter.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently acknowledged that there is a 33 percent chance that Democrats will grab control of the House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has said there is a greater than 50-50 chance that Democrats will grab back the gavel.

But the size of the Republican majority and the incumbent advantage likely remains too large of a challenge for Democrats. While Democrats are looking to play offense this cycle, they will have to worry about incumbent Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and Larry Kissell (D-N.C.). 

Boehner stressed on Wednesday that he is confident about his party’s chances.

“If the election were held today, I think there's a 100 percent chance that we're going to hold the House," Boehner told Fox Business on Wednesday. "But the election is not today. It's six months from now. My job as the leader is to ensure that even if everything falls apart, we still have control of the House."

According to new House ratings from The Hill, Democrats will likely pick up between 12 and 17 seats, falling short of the 25-member shift necessary to regain the lower chamber.



This post was corrected at 11:50 a.m. on May 11, 2012 to reflect that Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) was not outraised by his Democratic challenger.