WASHINGTON – In a sign that a major wave could be building against Republicans in the House of Representatives, Democrats have opened a double-digit lead in competitive House campaigns around the country in a new poll and are within 2 percentage points in districts once considered safely Republican.
Democrats lead Republicans by 50 percent to 39 percent in 40 closely contested districts that are most likely to determine control of the House on Election Day, Nov. 7, according to the poll, which was released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Potentially more troubling for Republicans: They lead by only 44 percent to 42 percent in all other Republican-held districts, which went heavily for President Bush in 2004.
In House districts that gave Bush between 50 percent and 60 percent of the vote, for example, Democrats lead by 45 percent to 40 percent.
The only place where Republicans hold an overall lead is in House districts that gave Bush more than 60 percent of their votes.
“With opinions of Congress growing increasingly negative, even safe Republican districts have been affected,” said the Pew report.
The poll didn’t look at each race individually, which arguably is a more accurate way to examine the races. But the overall trend in both the 40 competitive districts and the rest of the country underscored that Democrats enjoy an edge that could give them more than enough seats to seize control of the House.
Most of the 40 contested districts – 34 – are now held by Republicans. A net loss of 15 seats or more would cost them control of the House for the first time since they rode in on a tidal wave of anger at Democrats in 1994.
Separately Thursday, University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato forecast that Democrats will gain between 21 and 26 House seats. “2006 is a Democratic year. The analysts and observers are just debating how big a Democratic year it will be,” Sabato wrote.
Also, Indiana University political scientists Carl Klarner and Stan Buchanan forecast that Democrats would gain 21 seats – one fewer than they predicted last April but still enough for control.
Among the reasons for the Democratic edge in the Pew survey of competitive House campaigns: Voters in those districts ranked Iraq as their top concern and gave Bush considerably lower marks than voters in Republican-held districts that are still considered safe for Republicans.
Bush’s approval rating, for example, was 36 percent in the competitive districts; it was 48 percent in other Republican districts.
Iraq was ranked a top issue by 50 percent of voters in competitive districts; it was a top issue by 43 percent in other Republican districts.
Nationally, opinions on Iraq have soured in the last month, the poll found. Also, while Republicans continue to have an edge on handling terrorism, it slipped from 16 points in April to 6 points now.