By Sean J. Miller - 10/20/10 03:00 AM EDT
Two-term Democrats, whose victories helped secure the Speaker’s job for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), are facing the possibility of a near-wipeout in the Nov. 2 election.
Of 10 reelection races involving sophomore Democrats, Republican challengers are ahead in six and tied in two more, according to The Hill 2010 Midterm Election Poll.
Of 32 battleground districts polled so far by The Hill this fall, Democrats are leading in only three, with four races tied. Republicans are ahead in 25.
Thirty of the 32 seats surveyed are now held by Democrats.
“Out of the 10 districts of the second-term incumbents, only one of them is outside the margin of error,” said pollster Mark Penn of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll. “So virtually every one of these incumbents remains vulnerable.”
A majority of voters in all 10 districts had a negative opinion of Obama. Overall, 69 percent of voters said their views of the president will be very or somewhat important when they cast their ballots — a bad sign for Democrats.
There is still a large pool of undecided voters, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing for the Democrats, as most, Penn added, “typically will swing against an incumbent in these situations.”
Linda Fowler, a political science professor at Dartmouth College, said there is little doubt Democrats are heading to a major defeat in November.
“Disgruntled voters are concentrated in one party, so a relatively small percent of voters can cause a shift,” she said. “Democrats are always at a disadvantage in off-season elections. You need the excitement of a presidential campaign to get young voters and minority voters to pay attention.”
Perhaps the most striking example of a Democrat trailing in once-safe territory is Rep. Phil Hare, from President Obama’s home state of Illinois. Hare easily won the union-heavy district in 2006 and didn’t face an opponent in 2008. Hare now trails Republican Bobby Schilling by seven points, according to The Hill’s poll.
Obama won Hare’s district by 15 percentage points in the 2008 presidential contest, but 52 percent there disapprove of his job performance, while 39 percent said they had a negative view of Hare.
In Mississippi, Blue Dog Democratic Rep. Travis Childers is fighting to save his seat. Childers, who voted against healthcare reform, trails his Republican challenger, Alan Nunnelee, by five points.
In New Hampshire, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), who rode the anti-war sentiment into office in 2006, is also trailing her Republican opponent by five points.
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D) is faring slightly better in Arizona. He trails Republican David Schweikert by three points, with 10 percent undecided. Mitchell easily defeated Schweikert two years ago.
In order to close the gap, Mitchell will have to appeal to men, who are breaking for Schweikert, a small-business owner, 54 percent to 33.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) predicted the GOP could gain 50 seats.
“If you’re a Democrat under 45 percent at this point, be prepared to pack it in,” said Davis, a former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
Not all the news is bad for Democrats.
Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) is beating his Republican challenger, Richard Hanna, by 10 points — 47 to 37 percent. The Hill poll finds that Arcuri leads Hanna, a wealthy businessman who ran against him in 2008, by almost 20 points among independents.
Arcuri and Childers are the only Democrats of the 10 races polled to have rejected healthcare reform.
In Pennsylvania’s 8th district, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) is ahead of former Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R), 46 to 43 percent, in the poll.
Murphy, who has led the charge to repeal the Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, attracted 13 percent of the GOP vote in the survey, compared with only 8 percent of Democrats who said they would cross over for Fitzpatrick. Murphy defeated Fitzpatrick in 2006 to become the first Iraq war veteran elected to Congress.
Murphy’s lead, however, falls within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.
Democrats are tied in two districts. New York Rep. John Hall (D) is deadlocked with Republican challenger Nan Hayworth at 43 percent, with 12 percent undecided. And Rep. Chris Carney (D) is neck and neck with Republican Thomas Marino in Pennsylvania’s 10th district. In that race, 16 percent of voters remain undecided.
Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), who represents former Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) old seat, is losing by one point.
Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.), who voted for the stimulus, climate change and healthcare reform, is also losing by one point in his reelection race against Reid Ribble.
Foster and Childers came to Congress in 2008 after winning special elections. They both voted for Pelosi as Speaker last year.
Democrats could still bring their financial advantage to bear on some of these races. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is sitting on about $20 million more cash on hand than the NRCC.
The DCCC has spent heavily in independent expenditures to save Mitchell, Arcuri, Hare and Foster, while the NRCC has focused much of its resources on defeating Mitchell, Childers, Shea-Porter and Carney.
According to a new report by the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats ended the third quarter with an average of roughly 53 percent more in their war chests than their Republican opponents in 92 competitive races, including the 10 polled by The Hill.
Political observers note that interest groups on the left and right are spending record amounts of money this cycle to elect their candidates.