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Pundits See Dems' Chances Improving

Heat wave got you feeling a little limp and ragged? Hie thee to Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, where Sabato and U. Va. Center for Politics colleague David Wasserman have an energy jolt for battle-weary Dems in their article "The 2006 Midterms: Guilt by Association? Trends show an impact on contests across the nation." The authors paint an encouraging picture of campaign '06 as the 100 day countdown begins:

Surer signs are emerging that something more substantial than a "micro-wave" is heating up this summer. Historical trends and big picture indicators--generic congressional ballot tests and approval ratings of President Bush's job performance in particular - have always been heavily stacked against the GOP in this "sixth year itch" cycle, but aggregations of more race-specific indicators are now suggesting that Republicans are headed for their most serious midterm losses in decades.

...more voters and local Democratic leaders than ever before seem ready to cast aside their personal affections for longtime GOP incumbents for the sake of sending Congress and the Bush administration a message. Possible Democratic takeover seats such as Rep. Johnson's and Virginia GOP Rep. Thelma Drake's, which seemed implausible targets as recently as a year ago, have slowly moved down the pipeline into contention, are now fully engaged by party committees alongside the nation's most competitive. These are the kinds of movements that are characteristic of "macro-wave" elections, the only kind of election that would flip the leadership of Congress to Democrats this year.

Sweet. And it gets even better, say Wasserman and Sabato:

In the past month or so, it's appeared as if Democrats have been on the upswing almost effortlessly as members of the GOP have suffered under the burden of the administration's sagging numbers. More individual races are attracting the attention of voters and donors as Election Day comes into closer view, the overwhelming preponderance of finance reports and voter surveys released in the last month have shown races moving in principally one direction--towards Democrats.

...But often the story is best told by the polls that aren't released: in the past month, the Crystal Ball has encountered a veritable ocean of polling data released by Democratic candidates and consultants touting substantial (if unbelievable) advances, but GOP firms haven't been nearly as eager to release private polling. As long as this remains the horse-race storyline, it won't be hard to tell which party is entering the final stretch of 2006 with confidence in their prospects.

And the authors are jacking up their assessment of Democratic prospects in November:

In this inhospitable climate, the GOP could well get burned worse than initially expected. At this stage, the Crystal Ball is shifting its outlook from a Democratic gain of 6-8 to a Democratic gain of 12-15 seats in the House. We also believe that our original guestimate of a Democratic gain of 2 or 3 seats in the Senate is probably too low; we now expect a Democratic Senate gain of a minimum of 3 seats and a maximum of 6 seats...In the governorships we will now be surprised if Democrats do not pick up at least 4 net governorships, bringing them to a total of 26 of the 50 statehouses. The Democratic gubernatorial gains could even be as high as 6 statehouses.

But, echoing the conclusion of an earlier DCORPs study, Sabato and Wasserman have a cautionary proviso:

Democrats cannot truly capitalize on the withering political climate faced by the GOP unless they succeed in convincing large numbers of voters to evaluate their home-state Republican candidates through the powerful lens of national displeasure. In other words, the size of Democrats' gains will be contingent upon how well they play the game of guilt by (Bush) association as Republicans seek to escape the shadow of their unpopular chief executive.

Fair enough, and we suspect that there will be no shortage of Democratic candidates eager to accept this challenge.