How the Economy Is Helping Democrats Downballot
By Ben Pershing
As Barack Obama has risen in the polls in recent weeks, we've heard much about how his ascent has been driven by bad economic news and the increasing belief among voters that Obama is better-prepared to deal with the crisis than John McCain is. But do voters actually trust Obama more on the economy because of the candidate himself and his positions, or is it just because he has a (D) after his name?
Now we may have some clues to answering that question, and they can be found in a host of recent polls of competitive House districts taken for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committtee. Conducted by Cornell Belcher, who does surveys for both the DCCC and Obama, the polls found Democrats as a whole ticking up on economic questions, including in districts that have long voted for Republicans.
"It was already shaping up to be a 'change' election ... but over the last three weeks we've seen even more Republican districts open up, with Independent voters taking a look at Democrats," Belcher said in an interview last week. "It's a 'change plus economics' election. So you have these two cross-pressures."
In Illinois' 13th district, an exurban Chicago seat where veteran Rep. Judy Biggert (R) is running for re-election, Belcher found that voters trust Democrats to fix the economy more than Republicans by a 19-point margin. They gave Democrats a 15-point edge on energy issues and an 11-point advantage on the broad question of which party "shares your values." And that's all in a district where President Bush won by 10 points in 2004 and 13 points in 2000.
The story is similar in the neighboring 6th district of freshman Rep. Peter Roskam (R). The seat has long leaned Republican -- Bush won it by 6 points in 2004 -- but now, Belcher found, Democrats have a 14-point edge on the economy and a 15-point lead on energy.
Does that mean that Biggert and Roskam are going to lose? No. Both remain favored to win re-election, and neither of their races gets included on most prognoticators' lists of competitive contests. The point here is that if Democrats are opening up such a wide lead on economic issues in Republican districts like these, what's going to happen in the true swing seats? And that's before the effects of Obama's increasingly strong candidacy -- and money -- enter the discussion.
"The economy is taking the position [as an issue] we saw national security and terrorism take up in 2004," Belcher said.
Of course, there's a reason that Biggert and Roskam are still favored to win, and therein lies the GOP's chance to avoid a tidal wave this cycle. House races are ultimately a contest of two people, not two parties.
"Each respective congressional race is going to be a choice between two candidates," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "At a time when the economy is weighing heavily on the minds of voters across the country, Democrats are offering up candidates that have supported massive tax increases and put their own political needs above the needs of the middle class."
In Ohio's 1st district, for example, Rep. Steve Chabot (R) is in a tossup race against state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D). The economy is particularly bad in the state and Ohio is on the upswing there, so the NRCC isn't making a general case about the GOP's superiority. It's going after Driehaus as an individual candidate, running an ad hitting the Democrat for his record in the state Legislature.
But there's only so much the NRCC can do in this environment, particularly given its cash limitations. And while the GOP focuses on saving obviously vulnerable members like Chabot, on Election Day, the numbers indicate that some seemingly-safe members like Biggert or Roskam are going to lose.
October 20, 2008; 11:55 AM ET
Categories: 2008 Campaign , Economy Watch
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