Democratic pollsters are pushing lots of polls that show second- and third-tier candidates performing surprisingly well. If most of these challengers win, the Democrats will gain 30 or 40 House seats.
Obviously, that’s unlikely. Extremely unlikely.
So what are we all supposed to make of Democratic polling memos asserting that Paul Hodes (New Hampshire’s 2nd), John Hall (New York’s 19th), Jason Altmire (Pennsylvania’s 4th), Victoria Wulsin (Ohio’s 2nd), Charlie Brown (California’s 4th), Nancy Skinner (Michigan’s 9th) and Dan Maffei (New York’s 25th) are breathing down the necks of incumbent Republicans?
Some of these numbers stem from the fact that the Democratic base has solidified early on and Democratic candidates are getting the vote that normally comes to them only in October. The folks over at Public Opinion Strategies, I believe, coined the term “premature partisan polarization” to refer to the current tendency of voters to pick their party’s Congressional candidates earlier and earlier, even if they know nothing about them.
Consider Maffei, a Democrat challenging Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.) in a district that includes Syracuse and the eastern end of Rochester.
A recent Maffei poll shows him trailing Walsh by only 4 points, 44 percent to 40 percent. Yet Maffei’s favorable rating was just 24 percent. That means a large percentage of respondents who said they would vote for Maffei don’t have a favorable impression of him. But they are for him, whomever he may be.
Presumably, most of these respondents are Democrats who want to send a message to President Bush and figure that voting for Maffei is a good way of doing so. After all, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) won the district in 2004, defeating Bush 50 percent to 48 percent.
Maffei looks pretty irrelevant in all this, and the poll suggests that at this point, a slice of white bread with a (D) after its name would have a good chance of holding Walsh under 50 percent.
Maffei is not the only Democratic candidate running far ahead of his or her name identification. In New Hampshire’s 2nd district, a Democratic poll pegs Hodes’ total name identification as 27 percent, yet has him drawing 42 percent in the ballot test against Rep. Charles Bass (R).
In New York’s 20th district, a Global Strategy Group poll for Kirsten Gillibrand shows her favorable name ID at 34 percent even as she draws 39 percent of the vote against Rep. John Sweeney (R).
In Pennsylvania’s 4th district, Altmire’s total name identification is 21 percent, yet he is drawing 44 percent of the vote in a ballot test against incumbent GOP Rep. Melissa Hart.
In each of these districts, there are enough Democratic voters to provide a solid Democratic Congressional vote, and Maffei, Hodes, Gillibrand and Altmire apparently are getting their share early — even prematurely. But are these races as close as they would seem?