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Stu Rothenberg predicts 37-42 House seat gain for GOP

1. For the second time in as many weeks, a top House handicapper is predicting the possibility that Republicans will regain the majority even as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll points to a deteriorating national political environment for Democrats.

Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, upped his prediction of Republican gains to 37 to 42 seats -- right on the cusp of the 39 seats that the GOP need to pickup to retake the majority. Rothenberg noted that "substantially larger" Republican gains -- between 45 and 55 seats -- are "quite possible".

Rothenberg had previously pegged Republicans gains between 28 and 33 seats. Last week University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato pegged Republican gains at 47 seats while Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report, has put GOP seat gains at a minimum of 35.

Rothenberg's prediction lands on the same day that the new Post/ABC poll paints a grim picture of the national landscape for Democrats.

Forty-six percent approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing while 52 percent disapprove. Those numbers are worse when it comes to Obama's handling of the economy with just 41 percent offering approval and 57 percent disapproving.

On the Congressional level, Republicans hold a narrow two-point edge on the generic ballot among registered voters but that gap widens to thirteen points when only likely voters are tested.

Among independents, the generic ballot is even worse for Democrats. Republicans have a 51 percent to 38 percent lead among registered voters and a massive 57 percent to 32 percent lead among likely voters.

(Worth noting: Republicans don't fare any better -- and often do worse -- than Democrats in the poll suggesting that no matter how many seats the GOP gains this fall there is little evidence that it will be affirmative vote for their agenda.)

The danger for Democrats is that the confluence of political handicappers' predictions and tough poll numbers incites a panic within the caucus (and among donors) that takes a tough situation and makes it far worse.

The challenge before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) is to keep their Members calm when Congress returns next week.

2. Republican candidates have surged to wide leads in Ohio's gubernatorial and Senate races, according to a Columbus Dispatch poll released over the holiday weekend.

Former Rep. John Kasich (R) leads Gov. Ted Strickland (D) 49 percent to 37 percent in the gubernatorial race. In the Senate race, former Rep. Rob Portman (R) leads Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher (D) 50 percent to 37 percent.

The poll was conducted via mail.

The enthusiasm gap that has been evident at the national level appears to be especially pronounced in Ohio, where Republicans are nearly three times more excited than Democrats about voting this year, according to the poll.

Both Portman and Kasich are also winning independent voters. Kasich takes 51 percent to Strickland's 23 percent among unaffiliateds while Portman takes 52 percent to Fisher's 23 percent.

In recent weeks, the White House has been stepping up its efforts in Ohio, which is not only a key battleground at the Senate and gubernatorial level but also has as many as six competitive House races -- all of which are currently controlled by Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden stumped with Strickland in Toledo Monday, and President Barack Obama will visit Cleveland tomorrow to call for a $100 billion business tax credit.

3. Colorado GOP Senate candidate Dan Maes will be his party's nominee in November, after deciding late Friday to stay in the race.

Maes said in a statement that he considered exiting the race before Friday's deadline for ballot certification but decided to push forward.

"After speaking with, and hearing from, numerous Coloradans -- from former senators to family farmers -- I've determined that I cannot turn my back on the 200,000 voters who nominated me to run for this office," Maes said in a statement.

Maes, who won a battle of attrition in a primary against former Rep. Scott McInnis (R), has been slowed to build momentum for the general election against Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper (D) due to reports that he overstated his "undercover" service in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation decades ago.

A procession of Republican leaders, including GOP Senate nominee Ken Buck, said last week that they could not support Maes. Party leaders have long wanted a different candidate in the race -- ever since McInnis was discovered to have committed plagiarism -- but Maes has decided to push forward anyways.

"To those who have withdrawn their support for my campaign, I am confident that the truth will be revealed," Maes said. "I hope you'll hear my side of the story and help our party regroup and unite to beat the Democrats."

Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R), who is running as an American Constitution Party candidate, also stayed in the race Friday. He is running, he says, as a protest candidate and said he would get out of the race if Maes did.

4. California Attorney General Jerry Brown (D) is up with the first TV ad of his gubernatorial race against former eBay CEO Meg Whitman (R).

The 30-second spot, which begins airing today in media markets throughout the state, touts Brown's record of cutting waste and balancing the budget during his previous tenure as governor from 1974 to 1982.

"California needs major changes," Brown says in the ad. "We have to live within our means; we have to return power and decision-making to the local level, closer to the people; and no new taxes without voter approval."

Whitman's camp responded to the ad by charging Brown of kicking off his campaign with a "a misleading historic renovation of his own records."

The ad buy, which is estimated at about $1.2 million for the next week, marks a shift from the past several months, during which a combination of labor and other Democratic-leaning independent groups spent more than $7 million attacking Whitman on Brown's behalf.

Some Democrats have worried that Brown's strategy of waiting until the fall to begin his campaign in earnest could backfire, especially during a cycle in which many candidates have damaged their prospects - in some cases, beyond rescue -- by waiting too long to engage their rivals.

But Brown's camp has argued that waiting was the smarter option because it has allowed Whitman to flood the airwaves to the point of oversaturation.

A Survey USA poll released last week showed that Brown is starting off his official kickoff as the underdog in the race. In the survey, Whitman led Brown 47 percent to 40 percent, with nine percent undecided.

Brown had about $23 million cash on hand at the end of June and has spent only $633,000 on his bid. Whitman, who has been up on the air since February, has spent $104 million of her own fortune to date.

5. Ophthalmologist Rand Paul has taken a 15-point lead on state Attorney General Jack Conway (D) in the Kentucky Senate race, according to a new SurveyUSA poll.

Paul (R) is now leading Conway 55 percent to 40 percent. The lead is Paul's biggest of the race, which has generally polled very close since both men won their party primaries in mid-May. Another SurveyUSA poll from late July showed Paul leading by eight points.

The new poll shows Paul taking 32 percent of Democrats and leading among independent voters 56 percent to 34 percent. Both are improvements from the last poll. He also holds a strong margin in Eastern Kentucky, where Democrats have tried to steal votes by pushing Paul's comments that were dismissive of the drug problem in the region.

Democrats view Kentucky -- where Sen. Jim Bunning (R) is retiring -- as one of their best pickup opportunities. Despite the clear conservative tilt of the state, they believe Paul's statements about drugs and agricultural -- and the role the federal government should play in each -- will make Kentuckians think twice about voting for him.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | September 7, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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