Dem lead in generic ballot polls worries GOP
Republicans head into the holiday season with a daunting number hanging over their heads — 10.7 percent.
Democrats lead their Republican rivals by 10.7 percent on the generic congressional ballot, according to the most recent RealClearPolitics average of available polling data. That mark is the highest that average has gone since just before the 2010 elections, where Republicans netted 63 House seats.
It’s a gloomy sign for Republicans, and one that dovetails with President Trump’s sagging approval rating to boost Democratic optimism about taking the House and raises questions about whether Republicans will be able to take advantage of Democratic weakness on the Senate map.
“It’s always stupid to make firm predictions in anything, whether it be politics or the Super Bowl. But it seems clear we are heading in a bad direction” said former Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye.
“What we’ve seen so far this year that the constant is massive Trump unpopularity, a growing unpopularity, and we are starting to see that electorally. Knowing there’s never going to be a Donald Trump pivot in any sense, what would tell us that anything in this midterm is different?”
Democrats are pointing to victories in the off-year elections earlier this month as a promising sign for 2018.
A resounding Democratic win in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, as well as strong showings among suburban voters, topped the headlines. But there was more promise down the ballot in other states, too.
In Pennsylvania, Democrats cleaned up in most of the “collar counties” that make up the Philadelphia suburbs. Voters elected Democrats to serve on the Delaware County council for the first time since 1980. Democrats saw similar success in other nearby counties like Chester County, and local Democratic candidates specifically pointed to Trump as one reason for their success. Most of those suburbs are represented by Republicans.
In Maine, voters in the more conservative 2nd Congressional District — home to Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) — narrowly backed a state ballot question on expanding Medicaid, amid protests from Republicans.
“The down-ballot races are more instructive for what’s coming in the House,” said Charlie Kelly, the executive director of the House Majority PAC, which works to boost Democrats in House races.
“They sent a pretty loud message two weeks ago, and I anticipate that will continue.”
Heye specifically pointed to some of those results as worrisome for Republicans like him.
“In the legislative races where people don’t necessarily know who they are voting for — they just vote Republican or Democrat, which makes it a semi-generic ballot — we got our clocks cleaned,” he said.
Heye added that the close Senate race in Alabama could send a message in December, too — albeit with a significant caveat considering the sexual misconduct allegations against Republican nominee Roy Moore.
“If it’s election night and Roy Moore loses, we are going to be in the mirror image of when Scott Brown won in Massachusetts, an election after the first wave of elections in the Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races that confirmed there is a very real problem there, ” he said.
Brown, a Republican, shocked the political landscape with his surprise special Senate election victory in 2010. Before Brown’s win, Republicans had won the gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey.
Much of the Democratic enthusiasm has been organized around opposition to Trump, as well as concerted efforts to oppose the two Republican legislative priorities — a repeal of ObamaCare and the GOP tax-reform plan.
Democrats have used both GOP legislative pushes to accuse Republicans of taking the side of big business and the wealthy over the little guy.
“The enthusiasm, surge in participation, and increased activism, a lot of it is its a real rejection of the Trump and Paul Ryan policies that are really toxic,” Kelly said.
“From health care to taxes, these are pocketbook issues that are easy to understand and there is no other explanation but people are fed up and tired of this stuff.”
But while an uptick in Democratic enthusiasm is apparent, what’s unclear is whether that will be enough to win them the House.
Last week, Amy Walter, a writer for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, wrote that the generic ballot numbers look like “a wave is building” but that “Democrats have a narrow path to 24 seats — even with a big wave or tailwind.”
A few days later, Nate Cohn with The New York Times’ “The Upshot” pegged the race for the House majority as a “toss-up.”
Other Republicans don’t share Heye’s level of concern just yet, particularly with more time left on the legislative calendar.
John Rogers, the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told The Hill that he’s optimistic that the GOP’s tax plan will ultimately provide the party with a boost that will undercut any Democratic talking points once Americans see lower taxes.
“They are going to have a harder time attacking the bill because people are going to see that they have more money,” he told The Hill.
And he added that, unlike in Virginia, where Republicans thought that a tightening race would give them a shot in a blue-leaning state, Republicans would be ready for the midterms. He compared the plan to what the party faced in this year’s pivotal special election in Georgia, where he said the party was able to see early warning signs of a tightening race and jump in to stabilize the field in a red district.
“We have the advantage of time right now,” Rogers said. “There are multiple lifetimes left between now and Election Day.”