With polls showing Republicans well-positioned to win the Senate and gubernatorial contests in both Ohio and Pennsylvania, House Democratic strategists are increasingly worried about the downballot drag the top of the ticket could have in the two battleground states.
Quinnipiac University released polling over the past week that found Republicans ahead by double digits in the gubernatorial races in both states and in the Ohio Senate contest. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) led Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by 7 points in a poll released Wednesday.
Democrats are worried that the enthusiasm gap among voters in the two states could be exacerbated if by Election Day Republicans appear headed for blowout victories in the marquee races.
Theres no question its a problem. When the top of the ticket is hurting, it absolutely makes it more difficult for a Democrat in a swing district to win, said a Democratic strategist who has worked in both states. Voters will be looking at the gubernatorial race and going, If [Ohio Gov. Ted] Strickland is down 10 points, why the heck am I going to go out and vote?
As the party campaign committees decide where to spend and move their money over the next six weeks, their competing interests at different levels House, Senate, governor are likely to be highlighted. Spending at one level could have a big effect on candidates at another.
Between the two states, there are about 12 Democratic-held House seats that are considered highly competitive.
I think Pennsylvania and Ohio are probably the most brutal states for Democrats this year because they have so much to lose, said Tom Jensen, director of the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. Republicans may win as many as half the seats they need to pick up the majority in Big Ten states.
In Pennsylvania, Sestak has trailed Toomey in every public poll since mid-July, although Democratic strategists still say the race will tighten as the election nears.
In the gubernatorial race, Attorney General Tom Corbett (R) has led Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato (D) in every poll, usually by double digits.
At least six Democratic incumbents in the Keystone State face tough re-election races, with Reps. Kathy Dahlkemper and Paul Kanjorski viewed as most vulnerable. Reps. Christopher Carney, Mark Critz, Patrick Murphy and Jason Altmire are in races that both parties are watching to see how they develop.
In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher has trailed former Rep. Rob Portman (R) in the Senate race in every poll since July and by double digits in three of the last six polls. Its nearly the same scenario for Strickland, who is running behind former Rep. John Kasich (R).
In races further down the ballot, freshman Democratic Reps. Mary Jo Kilroy and Steve Driehaus are likely to lose regardless of what happens at the top of the ticket, but Democrats such as Reps. Zack Space and Betty Sutton who are in competitive races but are viewed as having an edge could be swept under by the drag at the top of the ticket.
If Ted Strickland and Lee Fisher lose badly, it will be difficult for Democratic Congressional candidates in closely contested districts to prevail in the state, said Peter Brown, associate polling director at Quinnipiac University. If the Republicans sweep the major statewide offices in Ohio this November, that will obviously deprive them of a governor whose influence can help President Obama carry the key state in 2012.
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