By Olivier Knox (AFP) – Sep 4, 2010
WASHINGTON — Just two months before November elections, President Barack Obama's Democratic allies insist they will defy predictions of a Republican romp that could cripple the White House's still-ambitious agenda.
"Reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated," House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson told reporters on a conference call Thursday, scoffing at a growing chorus of warnings the party could lose the US Congress.
"Let me be very clear about it: We are going to hold the House of Representatives and we are going to hold the United States Senate and we're going to do it each district one at a time," said Larson.
But opinion polls show deep US public anger at the sour economy and stubbornly high unemployment 20 months after Obama took office vowing to turn things around, and political forecasters warn Democrats will pay a stiff price.
With all 435 House seats and 37 of 100 Senate spots up for grabs, as well as state legislatures and key governorships, what's at stake is nothing less than the future of Obama's agenda.
Experts note that, historically, sitting US presidents have seen their party lose seats in legislative elections during their first term.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato predicts Republicans, who need 39 House seats to seize control of the chamber, could grab as many as 47, and fall just short of the 10 they need to run the Senate.
Sabato notes that Democrats have a considerable fundraising edge and veteran candidates and that "something big and unexpected can always drop from the skies" to shift the political battle in the party's favor.
But "conditions have deteriorated badly for Democrats over the summer. The economy appears rotten, with little chance of a substantial comeback by November 2nd," he wrote in a commentary.
Noted political forecaster Charlie Cook also sees a mixed outcome, with Republicans getting 35-45 House seats and 7-9 in the Senate.
Eighteen years after voters swept Democratic challenger Bill Clinton and his "it's the economy, stupid" slogan into the White House, Democrats openly acknowledge they are the ones with the problem.
"The public is rightly frustrated and angry with the economy," says Dan Pfeiffer, Obama's communications director, recently told Time magazine. "There is no small tactical shift we could have made at any point that would have solved that problem."
"The polls are reflective of people's frustration," said Larson, who acknowledged that "from 40,000 feet (up) you could argue that things perhaps don't look as bright as we would like."
But while national surveys may bring grim tidings for Democrats, Larson vowed that the party would "individualize campaigns" and fight "race by race, across the nation."
Larson spoke days after a new opinion poll showed Republicans have an unprecedented 10-point edge among registered voters nationwide, their widest advantage in the Gallup polling organization's six-decade history of mid-term election surveys.
The national poll, released Monday by the respected Gallup polling organization, also found Republicans twice as likely to say they are "very" excited about voting in November.
A separate survey by USA Today/Gallup found 93 percent of Americans saying the economy was "very" or "extremely" important to how they would vote, and 49 percent said Republicans would handle the issue better against 38 percent for Democrats.
National polls, though often good predictors of general electoral trends, are not perfect predictors of US elections, which are held district by district and state by state.
And hopeful Democrats point to a series of unexpected wins in "special elections" since Obama took office, noting that their candidate suffered from a vast "excitement gap" in at least one of those races but went on to win.
The Democratic National Committee says it plans to spend some 50 million dollars in a bid to sway tight races around the country.
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