There has been little movement in public-opinion polls during the eight weeks since national health insurance was signed into law. At that time President Barack Obama briefly dipped to his lowest job approval rating at 46% in the Realclearpolitics (RCP) average, and there were several days in which his disapproval was actually higher than his approval rating. Today his approval rating is 48%, and his disapproval rating is 46%. He has been pretty much frozen in the 47%-49% approval neighborhood since Thanksgiving.
In U.S. Senate races the Republicans were ahead in enough races in late March to move up to 49 seats. Since then the open GOP seat in Ohio has moved to the Democrat column, which would give the GOP 48 seats. In addition, Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina is producing weak polls that indicate he is vulnerable in November, though he is still ahead of his likely Democrat opponent.
So call it 52-48 for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate if the election were held today, as RCP projects. If Obama’s job approval dips to, say, the mid-40s, there are scenarios in which the GOP can take the Senate. Senator Barbara Boxer of California has a tiny lead over her likely GOP opponent, former Representative Tom Campbell. The Ohio seat could move back into the GOP column. Then you need one more seat for the GOP to control the Senate. Senator Patty Murray’s polls are somewhat mixed in Washington state, and interestingly Democratic front-runner Richard Blumenthal appears to be slipping in Connecticut, though he still has a sizeable lead.
Thus, the seats are there if the GOP runs the tables in November, but that appears unlikely if the president’s approval rating stays in the high 40s.
In actual election returns the anti-incumbent wave that started in 2006 seems to be gathering force, with significant convention and primary losses for incumbents in both parties in Utah, West Virginia and (probably tomorrow) Pennsylvania. High profile retirements announced this year, like House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, demonstrate the anti-incumbent tom-toms can be heard clearly on Capitol Hill.
The Democrat margin in the House of Representatives could fall to 38 seats this week with special elections in Hawaii and Pennsylvania. Whether it’s 38, 39, or 40 seats, that is not a hard mountain for the GOP to climb given the current anti-incumbent atmosphere.
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