Donald Lambro

In the 8th district, GOP Rep. John Hostettler, who is in a tough fight with Vanderburgh County Sheriff Brad Ellsworth, trails by 15 points, according to an Evansville Courier & Press poll of 603 registered voters.

Several seats are at risk in Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania, including that of Rep. Don Sherwood, a four-term Republican embroiled in a sex scandal last year. Democrat Chris Carney, a college professor, is leading by 7 points in the polls. Even in Republican-heavy Virginia, freshman Republican Rep. Thelma Drake is in trouble, running 8 points behind Democrat Phil Kellam, the Virginia Beach commissioner of revenue.

And then there is Ohio, a political basket case for the GOP, where the Democrats see a sweep in the making. Even the once solidly Republican 18th district, held by six-term Rep. Bob Ney until he withdrew from the race after pleading guilty to corruption charges, is threatened by a Democratic takeover by little-known attorney Zack Space.

Secrest says his polls show Space leading Republican state Sen. Joy Padgett, who had little time to get her campaign up and running after Ney dropped out. "The broader context for change is dramatic in that race," Secrest said. But other voices in his party are not as confident about the Democrats' chances to take control of the House. One campaign adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity said the GOP's stronger party-preference poll numbers could make the Democrats' efforts "a steeper climb. I expect things to tighten up."

Election forecaster Stuart Rothenberg, who has been predicting for months that the Democrats will win 15 seats or more, enough to topple the Republicans from power, acknowledged the change in the nation's mood.

"There has been a slight uptick in national GOP numbers, and that could help in a number of tight races, particularly in Republican-leaning districts that have been regarded as in play," he told his newsletter subscribers last week.

Still, Rothenberg continues to believe "the Democrats are now poised to net 15 to 20 seats, which would narrowly return the House to their control," but with the caveat that "they don't have much of a margin for error."

In the "margin for error" department, several vulnerable Republicans appear to be making a comeback in races that were once on the tossup list.

In Florida, for example, a Democratic poll showed Republican Rep. E. Clay Shaw leading Democratic challenger Ron Klein by 42 percent to 38 percent. GOP polls have Shaw comfortably leading at this point.

In New Mexico, an Albuquerque Journal poll of voters showed GOP Rep. Heather Wilson narrowly leading Democrat attorney general Patricia Madrid 45 percent to 42 percent.

The bottom line is, the Republicans are scrambling and fighting back. But can they overcome the election-year undertow that threatens to remove them from power -- worsened by the House-page sex scandal? Right now, the Democrats have the edge. Stay tuned.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.