SWING VOTERS ARE FLOCKING TO GOP
By Peter Wallsten and Neil King Jr.
Wall Street Journal
The Democrats' final push to woo undecided voters appears to have fizzled, potentially putting dozens of competitive House races beyond reach and undermining the party's chances in at least four toss-up Senate seats, according to party strategists and officials.
Independents, a crucial swing bloc, seem to be breaking sharply for Republicans in the final days of the campaign.
One nonpartisan prognosticator, Stuart Rothenberg, said Friday he thought the Republicans could pick up as many as 70 House seats—something no party has achieved since 1948. The Republicans need 39 seats to take the majority. Fading Democratic support among independents is also keeping alive the GOP's longer-shot hopes of taking the Senate.
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President Barack Obama planned to make a campaign stop Friday evening in Virginia, and stops this weekend in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Ohio, to drum up support for congressional candidates. He triumphed in 2008 by attracting significant numbers of independents in key swing states.
Party strategists say their biggest problem now is swing voters' frustration with the president, prompting some to start fretting about the impact of this disenchantment on the 2012 elections.
Democratic pollster David Beattie said independents were voting against Democrats because of Mr. Obama. The Democrats "are being called 'Obama liberals,' and it's working," Mr. Beattie said. "This race is all about President Obama."
Nationally, independent voters, who backed Democrats in 2006 and 2008, have swung to the GOP. In the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 52% said they would vote Republican next week. The survey found Mr. Obama, who won 52% of independents nationally in 2008, has a job-approval rating of just 40% among that group.
With enthusiasm ebbing on the left, Democratic candidates needed this year to win over even more independent voters than Mr. Obama did in 2008, strategists said. Candidates who have been banking on making up this ground in the closing days have instead seen independent voters flocking to the GOP.
Virginia's Rep. Rick Boucher, who has comfortably held his seat for 14 terms, is one of many prominent House Democrats who have suffered in recent weeks from a sharp drop in support among independents. Just a month ago, his own polls showed him up by more than 12 points over his opponent, Republican state lawmaker Morgan Griffith.
The race is now so close, Mr. Boucher said, "that it will all come down to who is better at getting out the vote on Election Day." Mr. Boucher attributed that slump mainly to a drop in support among independents.
Mr. Griffith, his opponent, said a big factor was Mr. Boucher's ties to the president. Mr. Boucher was one of the first Democrats in Virginia to endorse Mr. Obama in 2007. "Mr. Obama and his policies are very unpopular here," Mr. Griffith said.
In New Jersey, 11-term Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone has seen his lead over the Republican tea-party favorite Anna Little narrow rapidly as undecided independents have broken in Ms. Little's favor.
"If Little wins, it will represent a complete annihilation of the Democrats in this race, and it could well happen," says Patrick Murray, who directs the state's Monmouth University Polling Institute. Across the state, he said, "independents are going for Republicans more than I've ever seen before."
In the Senate races, Democrats have managed to solidify their lead in several key states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware and West Virginia. That makes it difficult—but not impossible—for the Republicans to get the 10 seats they need to capture that chamber.
Ebbing support among independents is keeping that door open.
Republicans are favored to pluck four seats held by Democrats in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Indiana and Arkansas. In addition, Democrats are fighting close races to retain their hold on Senate seats in Nevada—home to Majority Leader Harry Reid—Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Washington. To take the Senate, Republicans must win all those races, plus at least one of those seen as more safely in the Democratic column.
In Mr. Obama's home state of Illinois, Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk has moved in the past month from winning 38% of independents to now winning half of them, according to a Chicago Tribune poll published last week. Mr. Kirk is locked in a dead heat with Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.
In Pennsylvania, where Mr. Obama won independents by 19 points, Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey is winning them by 13 points over Democrat Joe Sestak, according to a CNN survey this week. The race appeared to tighten earlier this month, but in recent days Mr. Toomey seems to have moved back into a lead.
Democrats say Mr. Sestak's trouble with independents could pose less of a challenge than in other Senate races, as Democrats hold a 1.2 million-voter edge in party registration in Pennsylvania, while only about one in 10 voters there is unaligned with the major parties.
A strong turnout effort by the party and allied labor unions could be enough. Still, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell conceded losing independents makes the job much harder for any Democrat. "Can we win without getting our normal share of independent voters?" said Gov. Rendell. "We can, but it makes it much more unlikely."
The same trend is presenting a down-to-the-wire challenge for Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who is locked in an apparent tie with Republican challenger Ken Buck.