WASHINGTON — Nervous Democratic incumbents in Congress received a sliver of good news Thursday from a new poll that found them tied with Republicans when people were asked which party they'd vote for in November.
However, the bipartisan Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll found that, by a 9-point margin, most voters still think that the GOP will reclaim control of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Still, when they were asked which party they'd vote for if they had to do it today, both Democrats and Republicans registered 43 percent.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who helped conduct the survey with GOP pollster Ed Goeas, said the results proved that Democratic incumbents weren't as dead in the water as pundits thought.
Recent polls have projected a Republican tidal wave that could give the GOP more than the 39 House seats it needs to add to wrest the speaker's gavel from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Republicans need to gain 10 seats to take control of the Senate.
"It's a tough battleground, but it is a battleground, still," Lake said. "It's a tough, tough environment for both parties, and both parties are going to find some surprises in November. This electorate is relishing upsetting the status quo."
Goeas said that Republicans retained a formidable advantage because their base and angry independents appeared more motivated to vote than Democrats did.
"The intensity gap between Republican and Democratic voters, along with the 'angry independents' that are teaming up with those Republican voters, have set the stage for a political environment that is heavily tilted in (favor) of Republican candidates," Goeas wrote in an analysis of the survey results.
"While the impact of the 'angry independents' has been a complicating factor in some Republican primaries, with those fairly close to the end, look for their focus to become even more focused on Washington and the Democrats in control of the White House, Senate and U.S. House of Representatives," he wrote.
Goeas said the question about which party a voter favored today was somewhat misleading because so-called minority-majority districts _in which overwhelmingly Democratic-voting minorities outnumber white voters — were factored in. Republicans win the question elsewhere, he said.
Lake acknowledged that a voter-enthusiasm gap hampers Democratic prospects, though it's narrowed in recent weeks. She said that Democrats could generate more excitement about voting if President Barack Obama — who has high personal ratings but job approval numbers below 50 percent in recent surveys — campaigned aggressively for the party in the weeks before the Nov. 2 elections.
"Even though Democrats are behind, it's now a situation where there's some possibility of elevating the Democratic turnout organizationally, and with our leadership, to rival that of the Republicans," Lake said.
Some vulnerable Democrats, especially those who represent 49 House districts that Republican presidential candidate John McCain carried in 2008, are fighting for their political lives by distancing themselves from Obama and Pelosi and focusing on local issues.
"My race will be local and, if I'm reading it right, every (Democratic) congressman here needs to be local," said Rep. Bobby Bright of Alabama, a conservative Democrat whose district gave McCain 63 percent of the vote. "They don't need to be swayed or influenced by the Washington crowd. They need to be guided and swayed by their local constituents."
The Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll was conducted Sept. 7-9 with a nationwide sample of 1,000 registered likely voters. The margin of error is plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.
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