By Shane D’Aprile and Emily Goodin - 10/13/10 09:05 AM EDT
Republicans are winning eight out of 10 competitive open House seats surveyed in a groundbreaking new poll by The Hill.
Taken on top of 11 GOP leads out of 12 freshman Democratic districts polled last week, The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll points toward 19 Republican victories out of 22 races, while Democrats win only two and one is tied.
The Week 2 focus on open seats vacated by Democrats suggests a string of important pickup victories by the GOP in the midterm election just three weeks away.
Republican candidates have taken big leads in two districts Democrats have held for nearly a century and a half-century, respectively, according to The Hill’s survey. A Republican is also ahead in the heavily Democratic district that contains President Obama’s hometown of Honolulu.
Many races are tight — 12 of the 22 fall within the margin of error — but the margins, though slim, preponderantly favor the GOP.
The Oct. 2-7 poll examined 10 competitive open House seats; Republicans hold two of the districts and Democrats control all the others. Republicans are winning in eight of those races, while Democrats are leading in two. Six races fell within the poll’s margin of error.
There are over 40 open seats this cycle and almost half of them are considered competitive.
The poll’s findings offer a small spark of good news for Democrats compared to last week — they have two apparent leads, compared to none in the first wave of polling.
“There are a couple of bright spots for Democrats, but you’re still seeing strong Republican performance across the country, no question about it,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll. He also noted that Republican pick-up opportunities in longtime Democratic strongholds are thanks to the national trend cutting against the president and the party.
Democrats are leading in a seat they have coveted for years — Illinois’s 10th congressional district. Democrat Dan Seals is up by 12 points after failing to win the seat in two previous tries. With Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) running for Senate, Democrats appear poised to flip this heavily Democratic district.
Democrats are also up slightly in West Virginia’s 1st district, where Democrat Mike Oliverio defeated Rep. Alan Mollohan in May’s Democratic primary. Oliverio leads Republican opponent David McKinley by three points.
Victories in both of those districts would make it tougher for Republicans to win back their majority. The GOP needs a net gain of 39 seats to take control of the House.
But the survey offered even more good news for Republicans.
The GOP appears ready to take retiring Rep. David Obey’s (D-Wis.) seat. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee announced his retirement in May, and Republican Sean Duffy holds a nine-point lead over Democrat Julie Lassa.
Democrats have held Arkansas’s 1st congressional district for almost a century, but Republicans have a solid lead going into November. The Hill’s poll found Republican candidate Rick Crawford leads by 12 points, 46 percent to Democrat Chad Causey’s 34. Rep. Marion Berry is retiring.
And in Hawaii, Republican Charles Djou has a slim lead over Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, 45 percent to 41. Djou won the seat in a May special election, but he hasn’t won in a general election or served a full term in the House.
Several of the trends benefiting the GOP that were reflected in the poll of freshman lawmakers, including GOP voter enthusiasm and low approval of Obama, were also apparent in the poll of open-seat districts.
This week’s poll suggested Democrats face an enthusiasm gap in the districts surveyed despite efforts by Obama and national Democrats to close the difference. Ninety percent of Republicans surveyed said they will definitely vote, versus 85 percent for Democrats and 84 percent for independents.
Obama’s approval ratings were a net negative in the 10 districts, with 51 percent of likely voters voicing disapproval of the job he is doing. Among independent voters that number is higher, with 56 percent disapproving; 42 percent of independents “strongly disapprove” of the president.
But 50 percent of female voters approve of Obama, compared to 47 percent who disapprove.
Approval ratings for Congress are worse: Seventy-two percent of likely voters disapprove of the job Congress is doing, including 81 percent of independents.
On the generic ballot question, Republicans hold a three-point edge, with 43 percent of likely voters saying they intend to vote for the Republican this fall, compared to 40 percent who picked the Democrat. Among independents, that generic ballot lead stretches to 11 points in favor of the GOP.
In the 12 battleground districts being defended by freshman Democrats last week, Obama’s approval rating was even lower, at 42 percent, and the approval rating of Congress was only 20 percent.
The president continues to be a factor for voters in picking their next member of Congress. In the 10 open seats polled, a majority of voters said Obama will be an important consideration when they go to the ballot box.
Independent voters broke toward Republicans, 44 percent to 33. Male voters are also leaning toward the GOP, while females favor the Democrats.
On the whole, Democratic candidates are performing slightly better in these contests, but this set of districts represents some of the most favorable territory for the party anywhere in the country -- and Democratic candidates still trail in eight of ten districts. Obama topped John McCain in seven of these districts in the 2008 presidential race and Democrats hold party registration advantages in half of them.These 10 races are some of the most competitive in the country, and both parties are investing heavily. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent around $3.4 million in these districts, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent around $2.2 million.
The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll was conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, which surveyed 4,047 likely voters in 10 open districts. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.
This is the second batch of results from 42 districts The Hill is polling over a four-week period. The first week examined 12 endangered freshman lawmakers. Next week will focus on two-term incumbents, and finally, in the week before the election, the polls will be in districts of long-term incumbents thought to be in trouble.
Kevin Cullum contributed to this article.