Democrats Gain In Polling, But Health Care Helps GOP Hold 'Enthusiasm' Edge

Democrats are gaining ground in campaign polling, but Republicans still hold a lead, buoyed in part by their stance on health care as the November midterm elections near. The Washington Post: "Less than a month before the midterm elections, the political landscape remains strongly tilted toward Republicans, although Democrats have made modest improvements with voters since their late-summer low point, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll." Democrats have "also made small gains on the question of which party people trust to handle big issues, such as the economy and health care" (Balz and Cohen, 10/5).

USA Today reports that the GOP holds the "enthusiasm" advantage in a separate poll from Gallup that was released Monday. "Though the GOP has an edge of only 3 percentage points among registered voters on a generic congressional ballot — it lists political parties but not candidates' names — the Republican advantage widens to yawning double digits among those judged most likely to actually cast a ballot. Under Gallup's traditional voter model, 56 percent of likely voters say they're inclined to vote for a Republican; 38 percent for a Democrat. If slightly higher turnout is assumed, the GOP leads 53 percent – 40 percent" (Page, 10/5).

Meanwhile, some candidates are campaigning on the health care law, either for it or against it. The Associated Press reports that "Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin boldly embraces and defends his vote for the health care reform law in his latest campaign television ad, even as other Democrats avoid the topic and Republicans rail against it. Feingold's Republican opponent, Ron Johnson, has his own ad taking Feingold to task for the March vote ... . While other candidates have defended aspects of the health care law, most Democrats have shied away from it on the campaign trail as polls reflect voter concern about the scope and expense of the reforms" (Bauer, 10/4).

CBS News: Feingold's ad "features regular people stating that Feingold's vote protected consumers from the worst insurance company practices." Johnson's ad says: "A majority of Wisconsinites opposed the government's takeover of health care, but Russ Feingold voted for it anyway," and adds, "Feingold put Washington instead of Wisconsin" (Hendin, 10/4).

Kaiser Health News' Health on the Hill features Mary Agnes Carey and The Associated Press' Ricardo Alonso-Zalidvar talking about Democrats, who appear more willing than in the past to campaign on the health law (10/4).

The GOP, in the meantime, is focusing on unseating so-called Blue Dog Democrats, fiscal conservative Democrats, even as some of them promise to help Republicans repeal the health law. The Washington Times reports: "Rep. Gene Taylor, a Blue Dog Democrat, promises voters in Mississippi that he will work with Republicans to repeal President Obama's signature health care law." Among the Blue Dogs in tough campaigns are "three of the coalition's four-member leadership team": Rep. Heath Shuler from North Carolina, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin from South Dakota, and Rep. Baron P. Hill of Indiana. "The fiscal conservatives, many of whom voted against health care reform and Mr. Obama's $814 billion stimulus program, are running ads distancing themselves from unpopular national party figures, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and the president" (Eldridge, 10/4).

Roll Call: "Endangered North Dakota Rep. Earl Pomeroy started airing an ad statewide late last week that touts his work on the new health care law. It's a unique move for a Democratic Congressman in a competitive race. … The ad is a response to commercials from Republican state Rep. Rick Berg and outside groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the 60 Plus Association, that have attacked Pomeroy for his vote, according to Pomeroy spokesman Brenden Timpe" (Miller, 10/4).

Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader: Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul said "Medicaid's lenient eligibility standards have led to 'intergenerational welfare' in a discussion Monday with three members of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. … He focused on the high costs of Medicaid, a federal-state health-insurance program that covers about 800,000 poor and disabled Kentuckians and costs nearly $6 billion. 'When we have a government program to help those who are in need or who have unfortunate problems, let's help those truly in need,' Paul said" (Brammer, 10/4).

In California, ads against incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer say that because of the federal health law, hospitals may stop taking Medicare. The St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact finds that "unlikely." The GOP is "using the health care law as a springboard to attack Democrats on Medicare. ... But some ads leave out so many details that they seem intended to simply scare people with threats of lost care. Such is the case in an ad from Crossroads GPS, a Republican-controlled issues advocacy organization that is not required to disclose its donors. Crossroads GPS released an ad targeting California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, who faces Republican challenger Carly Fiorina on Nov. 2, 2010" (Drobnic Holan, 10/4).

In Missouri, candidates are echoing the talking points in federal races elsewhere. St. Louis Beacon: "The GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Stafford, says he will work to repeal it if he wins the election. His Democratic counterpart, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, says she wants to improve it should she win. Just as Blunt has embraced his party's repeal and replace slogan, Carnahan has talked about the issue on the campaign trail in the context of her battle against breast cancer. … Still, questions remain about about how much attention both parties are really paying. While the GOP advocates 'repeal and replace,' there's little detailed discussion about the specific provisions the Republicans would introduce. And in general, the Democrats have tended to be more defensive about health care than celebratory. In fact, one political scientist says the candidates aren't giving the issue nearly as much attention as he expected" (Joiner, 10/4).

Finally, The Center for Public Integrity reports on the fundraising gold rush since a January ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on advertisements to influence elections. "Sensing a possible takeover on Capitol Hill, [the GOP has] aggressively tapped a network of angry corporate and conservative donors, a task made easier by the Supreme Court's famously controversial January ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. … And now Democratic constituencies are responding. Jittery about a potential avalanche of corporate money flowing to GOP allies, several unions, led by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union, have begun plotting a counter-strategy — hiking their budgets, polishing their famous 'ground game' tactics, and expanding cooperative efforts of their own to avoid a debacle in November" (Stone, 10/4).

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