“leans Democratic” is the new “toss-up”

In this post from one month ago, I listed the 26 House seats currently held by Democrats that Larry Sabato rated as “toss ups” in a mid-July analysis. I suggested that, because Sabato also identified 13 Democratic-held seats as “likely Republican,” the list of 26 formed the central battleground in determining whether Republicans would gain 39 seats and thus control of the House.
These days, I’m less focused on getting to 39 because, given the current climate as reflected in most polls, this goal doesn’t seem ambitious enough. In my view, the “over-under” for Republican net gains in the House should be at least 50 seats. Accordingly, I’m now paying more attention to seats Sabato rated as “leans Democratic” or even “likely Democratic.”
With this in mind, let’s consider recent poll results released by American Action Forum from nine districts in the Midwest, all of which are currently represented by Democrats. Three involved districts Sabato rated “likely Democratic.” They are IA-3, IN-2, and OH-16. The other seats were MI-7 (toss-up), MO-3 (held by a Dem and not considered in-play), OH-1 (leans Republican), OH-13 (likely Dem), OH-15 (leans Republican), and WI-8 (likely Dem).
In Iowa’s Third District, AAF has Republican challenger Brad Zaun 10 points ahead of incumbent Leonard Boswell. In Indiana’s Second District, incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly leads challenger Jackie Walorski 46-44. And in Ohio’s Sixteenth District, Republican challenger Jim Renacci leads incumbent John Boccieri 49 to 35.
Thus, in two of three districts that in July were seen as leaning Dem (at least by Sabato), the Republican holds a substantial lead. The third polls like a “toss up.”
Let’s also add Ohio’s Thirteenth District to the mix. Sabato rated this one as “likely Democratic.” Yet AAF found that incumbent Democrat Betty Sutton led her Republican challenger, Tom Ganley, by only 43-41. Another toss-up, you have to think.
Looking past the specific races to more general polling in these nine districts as a whole, we find more bad news for the Democrats. Even though each district has a Democratic incumbent, voters prefer a Republican to a Democrat as their next congressman by a 38 to 33 percent margin. Moreover, voters in these districts give Barack Obama a 44 to 49 percent favorable to unfavorable rating and Nancy Pelosi a 27 to 56 percent rating. Finally, voters oppose the new health care law by a 52 to 38 percent margin, with 42 percent strongly opposing it.
To me, this suggests that incumbent Democrats in these districts who, like Donnelly and Sutton, hold only a slight lead, may be in a considerable amount of trouble because there’s a good chance the undecided vote will break against them. But the Republicans can probably pick up enough seats to capture the House even if such incumbents hold on.
JOHN adds: More here: “Toss-up” is the new “leans Republican.”

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