Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Some Democratic strategists were a little less sanguine they could win back the House last week in the wake of much tighter voter-preference polls showing Republicans rallying behind their embattled party.

"I'm not as confident of the House switching as I once was," a veteran Democratic campaign consultant told me, echoing a privately voiced anxiety I've encountered from several Democrats lately.

That, of course, was before Florida GOP Rep. Mark Foley resigned after sexually explicit e-mails he sent to teenagers were reported in the press. The impact of that scandal is not clear at press time, but it only makes the Republicans more vulnerable to the anti-incumbent mood in the country.

Still, several changes in the economic and political environment that had boosted the GOP's numbers were feeding the Democrats' uncertainty: The terrorist threat about which President Bush has been warning Americans looms larger as an issue in voters' minds; gas prices have plunged across the country; the economy continues to show vitality; the stock market has rebounded from its six-year low; consumer confidence is up significantly; and Gallup's party-preference polls are in a dead heat.

But other Democratic congressional-campaign strategists point to as many as two dozen or more House races in which Republican incumbents are facing aggressive challengers who, they say, could return Democrats to power if there is a voter-turnout surge in November demanding change.

The Iraq war is a major issue in most of these races, and it isn't going away -- though President Bush has strong support for the war among the GOP's base, which appears to be coming home to the party.

"I think in a lot of places where there really isn't a competitive race at hand, Republicans are finding their way back into the electorate and are voting for their own," said Alan Secrest, a longtime Democratic campaign consultant and pollster.

"But in the hot races, the competitive races where we're working, they remain as competitive as they were. So the Gallup numbers showing a tightening in the generic polls can be true, even as the truly competitive races remain so," Secrest told me last week.

Nowhere is this competitiveness more evident than in Indiana, a red state that now seems to have bluish streaks running through it.

In the 9th district, Republican Mike Sodrel, who ousted Rep. Baron Hill in one of the closest House races of 2004, is in a rematch with his former foe. Sodrel was running 6 points behind, according to an independent poll for WISH-TV in Indianapolis.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.