The new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll is filled with signs that the government shutdown damaged the GOP’s ability to win back the Senate, while giving Democrats an outside chance at contesting the House.
— The most important poll numbers in the battle for Congress are the president’s approval rating and the generic Congressional ballot. President Obama‘s approval numbers inched up to 47%, Democrats now hold an eight-point lead (largest since Oct. 2009) on their version of the generic ballot, and Obamacare approval got a bounce despite its implementation problems. Voters blame Republicans for the shutdown over Obama by a whopping 22-point margin.
— Context is important. The Democrats’ +8 edge, if it holds, probably wouldn’t be enough to retake the House. Dems held larger advantage in the wave years of 2008 (D+12) and 2006 (D+15), facing a more favorable landscape. In the Senate, nearly every competitive race is taking place in a world apart, in states Mitt Romney comfortably carried. Regardless, even in deep-red states, running as a member of the House won’t be easy. (We’re looking at you, Steve Daines, Bill Cassidy and Tom Cotton.)
— The biggest loss for Republicans is their opportunity cost. The GOP could have used the disastrous health care exchange launch as a lesson to convincing soft Obamacare supporters that the law wasn’t working. In the GOP-friendly Senate battlegrounds, the message would have found a receptive audience. Instead, there’s anecdotal evidence voters are now blaming the exchange problems on the shutdown itself.
If the midterms were held today, it would still be a status quo election with probable Democratic House gains and the party holding a slightly-smaller majority in the Senate. But all bets are off if there’s a debt default. That’s why Republicans are scrambling to make a deal.
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