Following up on the batch of 24 polls of House Republican districts they released last weekend, MoveOn commissioned another dozen from PPP, and here they all are in summary form. As before, PPP put each Republican incumbent up against a "generic Democrat," not a named opponent. And once again, after the initial ballot test, the firm also asked several questions relating to the shutdown and debt ceiling, and then posed the head-to-head matchup again—a so-called "informed" ballot test that is a common polling technique. (Both generic polling and informed ballot polling come with important caveats, which we discussed in detail, a caveat we examined in our earlier post.)
In the table below, "O%" refers to Barack Obama's share of the vote in each congressional district in 2012. The "Δ" or "delta" refers to the change in net performance from the initial ballot question to the informed ballot question.
|Initial Ballot||Informed Ballot|
|WA-03||48||Jamie Herrera Beutler||45-37||8||49||41||8||50||45||5||-3|
As you can see from the second column of the chart, the districts tested all hover just above and below the 50 percent mark for Obama, meaning they should theoretically be competitive, especially those the president actually won. But the problem for Democrats is that, for the most part, these seats are held by strong Republican campaigners who have done a good job of convincing voters of their moderation and who tend to raise money in bunches. That creates a vicious cycle whereby would-be Democratic candidates shy away from challenging these incumbents, thus making them look all the more invincible when the next election rolls around.
But sometimes office-holders can get caught napping, as in the case of McKeon, whom we wrote about just the other day. McKeon won the narrowest race of his 20-year career last cycle against underfunded Democrat Lee Rogers, who is running again and showing signs that he's stepped up his game this time. McKeon's weak approvals and two-point deficit against a generic Dem will be heartening to Rogers.
The other Republicans in negative territory—Ros-Lehtinen, Upton, Gerlach, and Reichert—have either avoided or survived serious challenges in recent years, and for now, they all lack notable opponents. But the pounding that the GOP has taken over the shutdown, combined with polling like this, could inspire Democrats who had opted to stay on the sidelines to reconsider those choices. Upton in particular could be vulnerable, as MoveOn's first set of polls showed three other Michigan Republicans in very poor shape, so perhaps there's an unusually high level of anti-GOP sentiment in the state.
Some other races on this list, though, probably require Democrats to wait for another cycle—or a retirement. King, the most visible (if two-faced) spokesman for GOP "moderates" in the shutdown fight, looks very strong. And somewhat surprisingly, Herrera Beutler's standing is considerably better than that of Reichert, her more seasoned colleague in the district next door. But if someone like LoBiondo were to decline to seek re-election, that sort of seat would instantly become a top target.
Ultimately, as PPP's Tom Jensen says in his polling memo, "Democrats must recruit strong candidates and run effective campaigns in individual districts if they are to capitalize on the vulnerability revealed by these surveys." You can't beat somebody with nobody, and right now, Democrats have too many nobodies. If that changes, then what had been a very tough forecast for Democratic chances of taking back the House would undoubtedly improve.