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All Pain, No Gain

Protesters urge Congress to end the federal government shutdown on Oct. 9 on Capitol Hill.
National Journal
Josh Kraushaar
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Josh Kraushaar
Oct. 11, 2013, 7:40 a.m.

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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