GOP's Nonexistent Generic Ballot Lead

When Gallup released polling last week showing the Republicans jumping to their largest ever lead in the organization's generic congressional ballot polling -- a 49 percent to 43 percent advantage -- the talking heads were jumping all over each other in an effort to proclaim the nearing end for the Democratic majorities in Congress. Except, as it turns out, that polling was a mere blip, with the latest data showing a return to virtually the exact same numbers that had been holding strong in previous polling: a virtual tie between the two parties, at 46 percent apiece.

Gallup isn't the only pollster to find the race for Congress in 2010 continuing to sit where it has for a long time. Today marks the release of the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, which shows the Democrats edging out the Republicans by a 47 percent to 44 percent margin -- more or less the same spread that has been seen since March.

But I'm sure this is all great news for the GOP...

Charlie Cook Unfazed By Election Results

Pennsylvania's 12th congressional district was the only district in the nation to flip from John Kerry in 2004 to John McCain in 2008. A quintessentially conservative district, the seat appeared poised to move from red-to-blue after the passing of its longtime Congressman, Jack Murtha.

But something strange happened on Tuesday. Instead of backing the Republican candidate in the race, Tim Burns, voters in the district did what was all-but-unthinkable not all that long ago: backing the Democratic nominee in the special election, Mark Critz -- and not even by a narrow margin, giving him a comfortable 8-point margin of victory.

What did this massive debacle of an election for the GOP, which poured a million dollars into the race (in addition to thousands more coming from conservative activists), do to Charlie Cook's assessment that Republicans are on the brink of regaining control of the House? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Here's the latest from the Cook Political Report, via Marc Ambinder:

Overall, our outlook of a 30 to 40 seat gain for House Republicans remains unchanged.

This is quite remarkable, if you think about it. Not only do the Republicans lose a race they are supposed to easily win (in Cook's words on the eve of the election, "Republicans have no excuse to lose this race") -- but they lose it badly. Yet this result has no impact whatsoever on the view of the Cook Political Report towards the race for the House in 2010? Even Republicans are beginning to second-guess their fortunes.

California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who is in charge of candidate recruitment for the NRCC, conceded that the $1 million-plus spent on the Pennsylvania special wasn’t well-spent.

“That’s a couple different things we’re going to have to analyze, because why does the polling show that we were close the whole time and then it not be close on election night?” McCarthy said on ABC’s “Top Line” program. “That’s a mistake on our part; that’s a mistake on our investment that we have to make a correction to.” [emphasis added]

Former Congressman Tom Davis, who spent two terms as the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was even more blunt:

“If you can’t win a seat that is trending Republican in a year like this, then where is the wave?” asked Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman from Virginia, who said Republicans will need to examine what went wrong.

If those at the top ranks of the House GOP's campaign apparatus are beginning to publicly question whether the polling is overstating the strength of the party's position, and a former campaign chief starts wondering "where... the wave" is, might not also one of the leading election prognosticators inside the Beltway do the same? Apparently not.

LATE UPDATE from desmoinesdem: On May 25 Cook published a commentary on the PA-12 special election and its implications for November.

"A Scenario Where Democrats Don't Lose the House"

Just a few weeks ago, Charlie Cook said that it's "very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House." The quote may seem familiar; I have referenced it a couple times in recent days.

If Cook is still looking for such a scenario, the respected pollster Ipsos, surveying the country for McClatchy newspapers, has provided it:

Looking ahead to November's elections, 50 percent said they'd vote for Democratic candidates if the election were today, while 40 percent said they'd vote for Republicans.

The Democrats' 10-point generic ballot lead in the Ipsos-McClatchy poll represents a net improvement of 3 percentage points since early November, a move within the survey's margin of error.

It is worth noting that these numbers do not look like the latest trend estimate from Pollster.com, which actually gives the GOP a narrow 43.0 percent to 42.4 percent lead in a nationwide race for Congress. However, that narrow Republican advantage is the result of the plethora of data from a single pollster: Rasmussen Reports. When these surveys are excluded, the numbers shift more than 6 points towards the Democrats, with a Democratic edge of 47.1 percent to 41.5 percent.

So there definitely is a universe in which it is "very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House": that of Rasmussen polling. And that may be the reality on the ground come November. But in the reality represented by the composite of all other polling, including this latest Ipsos survey, the Democrats' goose is not nearly cooked.

Continuing the Conversation with Charlie Cook

The past few weeks and months I have been writing quite a bit about my view, contrary to those held by many inside the Beltway and Charlie Cook specifically, that the Democrats' control of the United States House of Representatives is all but lost at present. Don't get me wrong, I am not so obtuse to believe that the political environment favors the Democrats. But I just don't buy the notion that the Republicans are on the verge of retaking the House in the upcoming midterm elections.

Yesterday I wrote a post noting internal Democratic polling showing one of the red state Democratic incumbents the Cook Political Report currently rates in the "tossup" category leading by margins well in excess of 20 points against named challengers. "If the Republicans can't even be competitive in an R+16 district featuring a freshman Democrat in a race Cook now labels as 'a tossup,'" I asked, "how, exactly, are they supposed to win back the 40 seats they need to regain a majority in the chamber?"

Charlie has been kind enough to respond with four comments on my post. I have included the full text of each comment below the fold, for those interested. Here are a few grafs culled from these comments that seem to be representative.

Jonathan, I think what this poll suggests is that Democrats in tough districts who have opposed the Democratic Congressional leadership and the President on just about every important matter, have a decent chance of surviving.
My job, having started the Cook Political Report in 1984, is to call them as I see them. We saw a big wave coming in 1994 but underestimated it then. In 2006 we saw one and nailed it. We saw signs of problems and began writing and talking about it last summer and see little sign that we are wrong. If more Democrats had the cover that Bright had, maybe we would be.
Yes, we have been writing "Dems in trouble" for about eight months now, but it isn't much different from when we were writing that Republicans were in trouble during the 2006 and 2008 cycles. And Republicans were in fact in trouble. Our job is to watch races individually and look for trends. If the partisans for the side on the short end of the trends don't like it, they typically attack the messenger. you can be sure that Republicans weren't happy with what we were writing in the months leading up to the 2006 election, but we were right.

All of the points that Charlie makes are fair. I don't dispute that the polling I cited showing a red district freshman Democrat presumed to be endangered nevertheless leading his GOP challengers handily involves one of, if not the most conservative Democrat in the House (though I do not know that this disproves my contention that if the Republicans can't win in an R+16 district they aren't going to retake the House this fall). I also don't dispute that Charlie was right about 2006, a prediction for which he should be credited (even if he was not alone in such a forecast). What's more, I appreciate that he came by to engage, not only with my post but also with the commenters in the thread. In fact, I would be interested in hearing more from him, specifically on a point I raised in my post immediately preceding the post in question (and in other posts) -- namely that if the GOP were really on the verge of retaking the House, why are so many would-be Republican chairmen retiring rather than waiting out a few months for their pending majority.

What I would like to note, however, is that while I don't dispute the particular points that Charlie is making, I still don't buy his overall thesis. This isn't the first time that the two of us haven't seen eye-to-eye. The last time he came on the site to comment on one of my posts, back in December 2007, it was to defend the projection made by his publication that the Democrats would pick up between two and eight seats in the House in the 2008 election -- a projection I believed to be too dour towards the Democrats, about whom I wrote, "I'd be surprised if [they] didn't net a pick up of at least 10-15 seats in the House next fall." As it turned out, the Democrats netted a 21-seat pickup in the House that fall. In May 2006, he commented similarly, downplaying my reading of his House race analysis as a major shift towards the Democrats (while, in fairness, also saying "one could reasonably say that the House is close to 50-50, perhaps a bit better for Democrats"). Earlier that year he stopped by MyDD to comment on a post I wrote questioning whether the Democrats would necessarily be worse off in the event that GOP Congressman Bob Ney retired instead of running for reelection. Cook wrote, "If you are a Democrat, you need to really hope that Bob Ney does NOT retire." In the end, Ney did retire, but the Democratic nominee, Zack Space, won by a 24-point margin nonetheless.

My purpose in highlighting these exchanges is simply to provide some context to the comments Charlie made on my recent post. (It is most certainly not to prove any prescience on my part, a character trait of which my lacking has been plain to me for a long time.) In recent years, Charlie has stopped by MyDD either to defend his publication's projections from my criticism that they are not sufficiently rosy about the Democrats, or to criticize my projections for being excessively rosy for the Democrats. These comments aren't too dissimilar, with me stating my contention that his projections are too downbeat on the Democrats and him defending his views against such criticism.

Until we see the actual results of the 2010 midterms, Charlie isn't likely to convince me that I am being too optimistic about the Democrats' chances, just as I am unlikely to convince him that he is being too bleak. That's okay. But to the extent that the views represented in his publication have an impact on the outcome of the election -- that the Cook Political Report, like other similar journals, is read by contributers trying to discern how best to make their political donations -- I only wish that he were willing to exhibit some of the caution he showed on this site and others at around the same point in the 2006 cycle (when, again, to be fair, he also stated "one could reasonably say that the House is close to 50-50, perhaps a bit better for Democrats"):

While the vast majority of MyDD readers are Democrats and badly want to see a Democratic takeover of the House, our job is to be right, and we are often open to criticism for being cautious, but that is something that our subscribers over the last 22 years have come to expect.

At least from my vantage, it is not "being cautious" to state, as Charlie did just last month, that it is "very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House." But we shall see -- and not so long from now, either (in just eight months, to be precise).

There's more...

Continuing the Conversation with Charlie Cook

The past few weeks and months I have been writing quite a bit about my view, contrary to those held by many inside the Beltway and Charlie Cook specifically, that the Democrats' control of the United States House of Representatives is all but lost at present. Don't get me wrong, I am not so obtuse to believe that the political environment favors the Democrats. But I just don't buy the notion that the Republicans are on the verge of retaking the House in the upcoming midterm elections.

Yesterday I wrote a post noting internal Democratic polling showing one of the red state Democratic incumbents the Cook Political Report currently rates in the "tossup" category leading by margins well in excess of 20 points against named challengers. "If the Republicans can't even be competitive in an R+16 district featuring a freshman Democrat in a race Cook now labels as 'a tossup,'" I asked, "how, exactly, are they supposed to win back the 40 seats they need to regain a majority in the chamber?"

Charlie has been kind enough to respond with four comments on my post. I have included the full text of each comment below the fold, for those interested. Here are a few grafs culled from these comments that seem to be representative.

Jonathan, I think what this poll suggests is that Democrats in tough districts who have opposed the Democratic Congressional leadership and the President on just about every important matter, have a decent chance of surviving.
My job, having started the Cook Political Report in 1984, is to call them as I see them. We saw a big wave coming in 1994 but underestimated it then. In 2006 we saw one and nailed it. We saw signs of problems and began writing and talking about it last summer and see little sign that we are wrong. If more Democrats had the cover that Bright had, maybe we would be.
Yes, we have been writing "Dems in trouble" for about eight months now, but it isn't much different from when we were writing that Republicans were in trouble during the 2006 and 2008 cycles. And Republicans were in fact in trouble. Our job is to watch races individually and look for trends. If the partisans for the side on the short end of the trends don't like it, they typically attack the messenger. you can be sure that Republicans weren't happy with what we were writing in the months leading up to the 2006 election, but we were right.

All of the points that Charlie makes are fair. I don't dispute that the polling I cited showing a red district freshman Democrat presumed to be endangered nevertheless leading his GOP challengers handily involves one of, if not the most conservative Democrat in the House (though I do not know that this disproves my contention that if the Republicans can't win in an R+16 district they aren't going to retake the House this fall). I also don't dispute that Charlie was right about 2006, a prediction for which he should be credited (even if he was not alone in such a forecast). What's more, I appreciate that he came by to engage, not only with my post but also with the commenters in the thread. In fact, I would be interested in hearing more from him, specifically on a point I raised in my post immediately preceding the post in question (and in other posts) -- namely that if the GOP were really on the verge of retaking the House, why are so many would-be Republican chairmen retiring rather than waiting out a few months for their pending majority.

What I would like to note, however, is that while I don't dispute the particular points that Charlie is making, I still don't buy his overall thesis. This isn't the first time that the two of us haven't seen eye-to-eye. The last time he came on the site to comment on one of my posts, back in December 2007, it was to defend the projection made by his publication that the Democrats would pick up between two and eight seats in the House in the 2008 election -- a projection I believed to be too dour towards the Democrats, about whom I wrote, "I'd be surprised if [they] didn't net a pick up of at least 10-15 seats in the House next fall." As it turned out, the Democrats netted a 21-seat pickup in the House that fall. In May 2006, he commented similarly, downplaying my reading of his House race analysis as a major shift towards the Democrats (while, in fairness, also saying "one could reasonably say that the House is close to 50-50, perhaps a bit better for Democrats"). Earlier that year he stopped by MyDD to comment on a post I wrote questioning whether the Democrats would necessarily be worse off in the event that GOP Congressman Bob Ney retired instead of running for reelection. Cook wrote, "If you are a Democrat, you need to really hope that Bob Ney does NOT retire." In the end, Ney did retire, but the Democratic nominee, Zack Space, won by a 24-point margin nonetheless.

My purpose in highlighting these exchanges is simply to provide some context to the comments Charlie made on my recent post. (It is most certainly not to prove any prescience on my part, a character trait of which my lacking has been plain to me for a long time.) In recent years, Charlie has stopped by MyDD either to defend his publication's projections from my criticism that they are not sufficiently rosy about the Democrats, or to criticize my projections for being excessively rosy for the Democrats. These comments aren't too dissimilar, with me stating my contention that his projections are too downbeat on the Democrats and him defending his views against such criticism.

Until we see the actual results of the 2010 midterms, Charlie isn't likely to convince me that I am being too optimistic about the Democrats' chances, just as I am unlikely to convince him that he is being too bleak. That's okay. But to the extent that the views represented in his publication have an impact on the outcome of the election -- that the Cook Political Report, like other similar journals, is read by contributers trying to discern how best to make their political donations -- I only wish that he were willing to exhibit some of the caution he showed on this site and others at around the same point in the 2006 cycle (when, again, to be fair, he also stated "one could reasonably say that the House is close to 50-50, perhaps a bit better for Democrats"):

While the vast majority of MyDD readers are Democrats and badly want to see a Democratic takeover of the House, our job is to be right, and we are often open to criticism for being cautious, but that is something that our subscribers over the last 22 years have come to expect.

At least from my vantage, it is not "being cautious" to state, as Charlie did just last month, that it is "very hard to come up with a scenario where Democrats don't lose the House." But we shall see -- and not so long from now, either (in just eight months, to be precise).

There's more...

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