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Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
Commentary

Rocky Obamacare rollout boosts GOP prospects

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Democratic National Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz says that Obamacare will be a vote-winner for Democrats in 2014. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the same thing.

Perhaps they really believe that. But the numbers in polls conducted since Oct. 17, when the end of the government shutdown put the spotlight on the rollout of Obamacare, tell a different story.

Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to win a majority there.

This looks to be within reach. Seven Democratic-held seats are up in states carried by Mitt Romney. And four Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election in target states in the 2012 presidential election.

In three Romney states — Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota — Democratic incumbents are retiring. The likely Republican nominees, two current House members and a former governor, have been leading by wide margins. These are not gimmes yet, but they probably will be.

Of the four incumbent Democrats running in Romney states, only one, Alaska’s Mark Begich, has a statistically significant lead in the most recent public poll. But it was conducted in August.

A recent Republican poll in Arkansas found challenger Tom Cotton leading Mark Pryor 48-41. That’s a significant difference from pre-Oct. 17 polling showing an even race — and that’s bad news for an incumbent.

The latest Louisiana poll has incumbent Mary Landrieu at 41 percent in the state’s all-candidate primary. That’s well below the 48 percent she got in an August Democratic poll.

The most frequent polling in these races comes from North Carolina, where the Democratic firm PPP has matched incumbent Kay Hagan against several Republicans 12 times in the last year.

In the first 10 polls, Hagan led controversial state House Speaker Thom Tillis by an average of 48 to 38 percent. In two polls conducted since the Obamacare rollout began, Hagan’s lead was down to a perilous 44 to 42 percent.

Races have been tightening in 2012 target states too. Colorado Democrat Mark Udall led 2010 Republican nominee Ken Buck 50-35 last June — post-rollout, his leads were 45-42 and 46-42.

Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley has been the favorite to replace retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin. But a Republican December poll showed Braley with only 40 to 42 percent support and just 3 to 6 points ahead of five Republicans who have limited name recognition.

Obama carried Michigan 54-45 in 2012. But a Democratic poll this month shows Republican Terri Lynn Land leading Democrat Gary Peters 42-40. Neither is well-known. But the Republican label seems surprisingly strong in a state where Republicans have won just one Senate race in the past 40 years.

Republicans nominated some astonishingly weak candidates in winnable races in 2010 and 2012, and Democrats hope they will do so again in Georgia, where Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, has been running roughly even with — or a bit ahead of — various Republicans.

The Obamacare rollout has also shifted opinion on the generic vote — which party’s candidate do you support for the House of Representatives? When the shutdown ended, Democrats led 47-41 in Real Clear Politics’ average of recent polls.

Now, Republicans lead 44-41 on the question that has often underestimated actual GOP performance. Analysts Stuart Rothenberg and Larry Sabato see more than 20 Democratic House seats at serious risk.

All this could change if public opinion on Obamacare — or Obama — shifts once again. But it looks like recent obituaries of the Republican Party were premature.

Michael Barone’s column is distributed by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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