Midterm Elections: Anyone's Game

Donald Lambro
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Posted: Jul 22, 2010 9:10 PM

WASHINGTON -- The possible collapse of the Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections is increasing with each passing week, as evidence mounts that they could lose majority control of the House and Senate.

A month ago, the prospect of Democrats losing both chambers was a figment of the Republicans' wildest imagination. The GOP was expected to make major House gains, and win six to seven seats in the Senate. But toppling the Democratic majority from power was still a reach.

That's now not only a possibility, but swiftly becoming reality. Some of the most entrenched Democratic Senate seats are now considered toss-ups; President Obama's approval polls continue to fall as the economy weakens; and key Democrats have turned against Obama's plan to raise tax rates on the wealthy at the end of this year.

The political terrain is changing so fast that even the most veteran election trackers are having a hard time keeping up with the shifting tides that threaten to engulf Democrats and the Obama presidency.

"Until about 10 days ago, I agreed with the conventional wisdom that control of the House of Representatives was up for grabs this fall, but that Republicans had yet to put the Senate in play. I no longer believe that," election analyst Stuart Rothenberg writes in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

"The chances that the next Senate will have a Republican majority are not great, but even three months ago there were not enough Senate seats in place to imagine a Republican gain of 10 seats. Now there are, with 11 Democratic seats definitely competitive," he says. "Three more Democratic seats, which I didn't regard as particularly competitive six months ago, now could possibly change hands: Wisconsin, Washington and California."

In heavily Democratic California, Sen. Barbara Boxer was certain to hold her seat a few weeks ago. No longer. She holds just a three-point margin over former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (47 to 44 percent) who is running an aggressive and skillful campaign.

Fiorina is focusing heavily on the state's dismal economy and Boxer's leftist voting record for higher taxes and other anti-business legislation. But she is vulnerable in issues of national security, too.

In one ad, a woman says, "Barbara Boxer on national security?" -- then shows Boxer saying, "One of the very important national security issues we face frankly is climate change."

Fiorina: "Terrorism kills ... and Barbara Boxer is worried about the weather. I'm Carly Fiorina. I ran Hewlett-Packard. I chaired the external advisory board for the CIA. We've had enough of her politics. I'll work to keep you safe."

The Field poll showed earlier this month that Boxer's unfavorable rating was 52 percent. The Cook Political Report has just moved the race into the toss-up column.

She isn't the only liberal Democrat threatened with defeat. Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin are also endangered.

A Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows Republicans Dino Rossi and Clint Didier edging Murray out by 48 to 45 percent, while even Democrats admit the arch-liberal Feingold is struggling to hold on to his seat.

La Crosse County Democratic chairwoman Vicki Burke told the Wall Street Journal that "in talking to people who work in [Feingold's] campaign, they think, given the atmosphere, that this could be the first time where he could possibly lose a race."

Meanwhile, there is growing evidence that Republicans will pick up the 39 seats needed to win control of the House, with room to spare. Rothenberg says that 79 congressional seats are now in play and competitive, a whopping 67 of them held by Democrats.

On issue after issue, the polling numbers for the Democrats and for Obama are looking bleaker every week. A new Rasmussen poll shows a majority of Americans expect the health care overhaul will increase costs, drive up the deficit and hurt the economy. Sixty-one percent expect health care costs to skyrocket.

Growing dissatisfaction over the weak economy, near-10 percent unemployment, health care reform woes, and annual trillion-dollar budget deficits have turned voters against the Democrats and Obama.

Even some Democrat lawmakers are turning against their party's plans to allow the Bush tax cuts on high-income earners to expire, shoving the top rates up to nearly 40 percent or more for Americans making over $250,000 a year.

Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Ben Nelson of Nebraska say they oppose raising taxes in the midst of a weak economy and high unemployment.

Sen. Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, agrees, and other Democrats are expected to follow suit.

A recent Gallup poll finds only 11 percent of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the Democratic-run Congress, down from 17 percent last year. A Quinnipiac University poll shows that 48 percent think Obama does not deserve a second term. Notably, independent voters agree by a 52-34 percent margin.

That sets up an election this fall that will be a referendum on the Obama presidency and one-party rule in Congress. Stay tuned.