Democrats have the money and reach to add substantially to their House majority in November, but public sentiment is moving in Republicans' direction, according to a poll that suggests the GOP could limit those gains.
An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted Sept. 5-10 found Republicans trailing Democrats by just 5 percentage points when likely voters were asked which party they want to control Congress next year. That is a substantial improvement from the double-digit disadvantage Republicans were suffering in most public polls so far this year, although the boost could prove fleeting.
Holding a large cash advantage over the GOP, Democrats have solid chances to take over seats from Arizona to New York because of more than two dozen Republican retirements. In Idaho, Missouri, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the GOP is scrambling to defend incumbents once considered safe for re-election.
GOP seats in jeopardy
More than 20 Republican seats are in serious jeopardy compared with only six to eight Democrats at real risk. As a result, Democrats have the opportunity to add as many as 10 votes to their majority — possibly more if Democratic groundswell develops.
"We're confident we'll break the historical curse where the party that benefited from a wave election from one cycle loses seats in the following cycle," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who heads the Democrats' House campaign committee.
All 435 House seats — including one vacancy — are up for grabs. Democrats, with a 235-199 majority, are focusing their money and attention on 75 seats, two-thirds of them in Republican hands, he said.
For Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who leads his party's House campaign committee, "The biggest single challenge we face is just the size of the battlefield."
Following a GOP loss of 30 seats in the 2006 elections, "We've got a lot of rebuilding to do at the same time we're having to compete," Cole said. By contrast, he said, Democrats are "at the top of their game."
The GOP has faced a troubling election-year combination of demoralized party members, fewer supporters registering to vote and paltry fundraising compared with Democrats — all stirred by the deep unpopularity of President Bush.
Republican strategists believe the nomination of John McCain, who has distanced himself from Bush, and his selection of running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a darling of the party base, plus a national focus on high gasoline prices, have begun to help Republicans claw their way back.
Party strategists expect Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to give them boosts in districts with large populations of young people and African-Americans.