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Republicans take 10-point generic ballot lead (and what it means)

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1. The latest weekly tracking poll from Gallup gives Republicans a 10-point edge on the generic ballot, the party's largest lead ever -- yes, ever -- in the poll's more than six decades of asking the question in midterm elections.

Fifty-one percent of registered voters said they would vote for an unnamed Republican candidate for Congress this fall while 41 percent opted for a generic Democrat. The numbers mark the fifth straight week in which Republicans have held an edge on the question in Gallup polling.

The generic ballot has long served as an accurate predictor of the broad sentiment of the electorate and the general direction of an election. The last two times Republicans held as wide a gap on the generic in Gallup polling -- the summers of 2002 and 1994 -- the fall election led to House gains for the GOP.

"Presidential job approval is probably a better indicator of how people will vote but this is a real concern," Pete Brodnitz, a leading Democratic pollster involved in a number of competitive congressional races, said of the new Gallup numbers.

Michael Bocian, a pollster at the Democratic firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, added that the Gallup generic ballot seemed a little too rosy for Republicans but added that "even if it's only a five to seven point GOP edge ... that's a big change from the last few cycles."

Democrats won better than 50 House seats over the last two elections -- benefiting from distaste toward President George W. Bush in 2006 and a surge of young and minority voters (not to mention a sterling voter turnout effort) in 2008.

The Gallup numbers -- while only one set of data and, like all polling, rightly taken cum grano salis -- could not come at a worse time for House Democrats.

There is a growing sense -- expressed privately -- that the hoped-for economic recovery will not materialize in any meaningful way before Nov. 2. That likelihood coupled with the rapid flight of independents from the party, could put Republicans in position to make massive gains this fall.

"Republicans' presumed turnout advantage, combined with their current 10-point registered-voter lead, suggests the potential for a 'wave' election," wrote Gallup's Frank Newport in a memo summarizing the polling results.

(On Monday, Time's Mark Halperin predicted that Republicans could win as many as 60 seats.)

The next few weeks will be critical to Democrats' hopes of holding onto the House. Most targeted Democratic incumbents as well as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have fundraising edges over their GOP rivals. That means that Democrats will hit the television airwaves first with ads that, almost certainly, will seek to hammer their foes over a variety of issues ranging from Social Security to job creation.

If those ads move numbers against Republicans across the country, Democrats may be able to mitigate -- if not totally alleviate -- their losses. If the ads don't change voters' perception in a meaningful way, Democrats could be headed to an electoral Armageddon on Nov. 2.

2. If it's Tuesday, it's another round of endorsements from former
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who is backing four Republican
candidates in Oregon and contributing a total of $17,500 to their campaigns.

Romney's Free and Strong America PAC announced that it is backing Oregon gubernatorial nominee Chris Dudley, Rep. Greg Walden in the 2nd district, state Rep. Scott Bruun in the 5th district and businessman Rob Cornilles in the 1st district. The PAC is giving $10,000 to Dudley and $2,500 each to Walden, Bruun and Cornilles.

"Oregon -- and our nation -- needs leaders who will say no to the culture of higher taxes, higher spending, and higher debt, and that is why I am proud to stand with these candidates today," Romney said in a release.

Romney's latest endorsements mean that the all-but-certain 2012 presidential candidate has backed candidates in more than half of the 50 states. Last Tuesday, Romney announced that he was backing 10 GOP candidates in Michigan, and on Friday, he endorsed and contributed to six candidates in Oklahoma.

Romney's endorsement of Dudley comes as the Beaver State's gubernatorial race is heating up. The most recent independent poll -- conducted by Survey USA -- in the race, conducted last month, showed Dudley and former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) essentially tied at 46 percent to 44 percent.

Kitzhaber told the Democratic Governors Association last week not to air a TV ad that the committee was planning to run against Dudley. The DGA refrained from airing the ad but is still planning to spend on the race.

Kitzhaber trails Dudley in the money race; as of early July, Dudley had $263,000 on hand while Kitzhaber had $210,000.

3. A week after primary day, the Alaska Republican Senate primary between attorney Joe Miller and Sen. Lisa Murkowski is starting up again Tuesday as state election officials begin the process of tallying the remaining uncounted ballots in the race.

The total number of ballots that remain uncounted stands at 25,500, according to an official tally provided to CNN. Of those, 15,720 are absentee ballots, 9,117 are "questioned" ballots and 663 are early votes. Not all of the uncounted ballots were cast in the Republican primary, and more absentee ballots are expected to arrive by mail in the coming days. Miller currently leads Murkowski by 1,668 votes.

It's unclear whether the absentee ballots will favor either candidate. Miller, a military vet and West Point graduate, has said he expects to do well in the absentee count, which contains ballots from military and overseas voters. He said Monday that his campaign did have a program to target absentee voters.

Murkowski led Miller among early voters, however, taking 54.1 percent of early ballots cast compared to Miller's 45.9 percent, according to the Juneau Empire. That bodes well for her, although the number of early ballots remaining is relatively small. (The 663 included in the uncounted ballot count are early ballots that were received on Election Day.)

On Tuesday, the state Division of Elections plans to count about 15,000 of the uncounted ballots, including the remaining early votes, absentee ballots and some questioned ballots, according to MSNBC's "First Read." Tuesday's count will be followed by two more on Sept. 3 and Sept. 8, and the final tally may not be certified until mid-September. By an estimate provided to MSNBC, Murkowski may need to win as much as 55 percent of the uncounted vote to overtake Miller.

Miller, who has been making the national TV rounds, has also made allegations against Murkowski's camp of possible vote tampering; the state Elections Division has said the allegations appear to be incorrect.

Meanwhile, the race rolls on, even though the winner of the primary is yet to be known. The National Republican Senatorial Committee released a survey late Monday showing Miller leading Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams (D) 52 percent to 36 percent. The poll, which was conducted by Jon Lerner's Basswood Research, also showed President Obama's approval rating in Alaska at a dismal 40 percent.

4. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's independent expenditure arm on Monday launched its first ad of the 2010 cycle, and the target is a normally friendly district in Wisconsin.

The DCCC ad uses the issue of Social Security privatization to hit Republican Sean Duffy, a former cast member on MTV's "The Real World" and candidate for retiring Rep. David Obey's (D-Wis.) seat.

The ad labels Duffy a "politician" and accuses him of backing "a plan to privatize" Social Security, casting such a plan as potentially devastating to the district's seniors.

Obey's seat has become a key battleground ever since his retirement, and because of his late announcement, state Sen. Julie Lassa's (D) campaign got a later start than just about any other Democrat in a major race. The early DCCC ad should help make up for the financial disadvantage she faces against Duffy who had been running against Obey for months before the senior Democrat's retirement.

Duffy, the Ashland County district attorney and lumberjack sports athlete, has been held up by Republicans as a case study of their strong recruiting this year. Though hopes are high for Duffy, Democrats have demographics working for them -- the district went 56 percent for President Obama in 2008.

5. Former Louisiana state House Speaker Hunt Downer will pursue a Republican primary runoff in a key congressional race even though his opponent beat him by a wide margin and nearly won the race outright.

In the GOP primary for Rep. Charlie Melancon's (D) 3rd district Saturday, businessman Jeff Landry surprised many by taking 49.6 percent of the vote, while the better-known Downer took just 36 percent.

Landry's vote share left him just under the 50 percent threshold for avoiding a runoff, and he will be a heavy favorite in the Oct. 2 runoff, given that he only needs to grow his support by about half a percent.

But Downer isn't giving up. "I am excited about the next month talking about the issues that affect South Louisiana and the future of America with the residents of South Louisiana," Downer said in a statement.

Downer's decision to press on will cost Landry time and money and is a boon to Democrats, even though their hopes of retaining the seat remain grim. Attorney Ravi Sangisetty was unopposed for the Democratic nomination, but he is not considered a top recruit, and the district is a tough one -- having given President Obama just 37 percent in 2008.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | August 31, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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