WASHINGTON—Republicans kicked their proven get-out-the-vote machine into overdrive Sunday as a new poll showed them gaining, but many predicted that a wave of anti-GOP anger could sweep them out of power in the U.S. House.
Senior Republicans said control of the House would come down to which party gets its supporters to the voting machines in about three dozen districts.
Republicans were buoyed by a new poll showing voters more optimistic about the economy, a potential boost for their embattled candidates, and they cheered the guilty verdict and death sentence for former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein.
Yet confident Democrats downplayed the impact of the Saddam verdict and insisted that overall pessimism about Iraq would still dominate the election and drive Republicans from the House majority for the first time in 12 years.
Democrats would have to gain 15 seats to take control of the House. Four independent analysts backed up the Democratic optimism:
_The Rothenberg Political Report predicted Democratic gains of 34 to 40 seats.
_The Cook Political Report predicted 20 to 35 seats.
_The University of Virginia's Center for Politics predicted 27.
_The Evans-Novak Political Report predicted 20 seats.
"If little changes between now and Tuesday, there remains little question that the GOP is headed towards devastating losses," said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.
"And though candidates continue to stress various issues, only one has truly come to define our politics this year: war. Future historians may well look back on this wave election as `The Iraq Midterm,' much like we look back on the 1966 and 1974 elections as `The Vietnam Midterm' and `The Watergate Midterm,' respectively."
Several Republicans said the party's "72-hour project" would pull many vulnerable candidates over the finish line, as it did in 2002 and 2004 elections.
"There's a ground game out there that we know how to run," said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House majority leader, during an appearance on Fox. "At the end of the day, it's going to make a big difference in a lot of these tight races."
He noted, for example, that the campaign of endangered Republican Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana made 33,000 phone calls this weekend and knocked on 6,000 doors.
The party's chief strategist for House campaigns, Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that Republicans remain close in about three dozen tightly contested districts and that the "72-hour efforts by the Republicans to turn their vote out will make the difference."
There were other signs of hope for Republicans.
First, Sunday television featured scenes of happy Iraqis cheering the death sentence for Saddam. Every upward bounce in public opinion during the war—when Saddam was captured, when Iraqis voted—has been shorter and dissipated faster than the one before. But Democrats took no chance, and made sure to blend kudos for the Iraqis and U.S. troops with warnings that the good news will not last.
"Unfortunately, the verdict is a solitary incident in a country wracked by sectarian violence and instability," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who would become House Speaker if Democrats win.
"Growing sectarian violence will be an even greater concern following this verdict," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
Also, two new national polls showed Republicans gaining.
The nonpartisan Pew Research Center found Republicans cutting the Democrat lead among those planning to vote for House candidates, from an 11-point margin two weeks ago to a 4-point margin now.
Pew director Andy Kohut said Sunday that Republicans grew more engaged and enthusiastic about the election in recent weeks. "For the first time in this campaign, they now hold their typical turnout advantage," he said.
Two possible explanations for the Republican gains:
_Voters' opinions of the economy improved, with 44 percent now calling it excellent or good, up from 36 percent in mid-October.
_Democratic Sen. John Kerry's "botched joke" about the uneducated people serving in Iraq may have had what Kohut called "a modest impact." He noted that 84 percent said they heard about the remarks, more than three times as many as heard President Bush's vow to keep Don Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.
An ABC-Washington Post Poll also found Republicans gaining.
Still, the political landscape remains unusually hostile to Republicans.
Bush's approval rating was 37 percent in the most recent Gallup Poll, 9 points lower than Bill Clinton's in 1994 when he lost control of the House and Senate in an anti-Democratic wave. Also, Americans are decidedly unhappy with the Iraq war. Iraq voters break heavily for Democrats.
Finally, Republicans are defending far more seats than the Democrats. By one estimate, 62 House seats are in play, up sharply from 39 in 2004 and 44 in 2002, according to the Cook Political Report. Of them, 55 are Republican seats.
"We are playing offense across this country in every region of this country," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., his party's chief House campaign strategist.
He added during an appearance on NBC that the 2006 election would add up to a turning point like elections in 1958, 1966, 1974, 1982 and 1994.
"Every decade, the American people have a big election where they say no to the status quo and yes to a new direction," Emanuel said, "and this election is yes to a new direction."
For more on the Pew Research survey, www.people-press.org
NEW POLL RESULTS IN SELECTED REPUBLICAN HOUSE DISTRICTS
In Florida's 22nd District, Democrat Ron Klein led veteran Republican Rep. Clay Shaw, 49-40, according to a new Miami Herald poll released Sunday.
In Iowa's 1st District, Democrat Bruce Braley opened up a commanding 56-35 lead against Republican Mike Whalen, according to a new Des Moines Register Poll Sunday. The seat is being vacated by Republican Rep. Jim Nussle.
In New Hampshire's 2nd District, Democrat Paul Hodes led Republican Rep. Charles Bass by 49-36 percent, according to a University of New Hampshire/WMUR poll.
In New Mexico's 1st District, Democrat Patricia Madrid led Republican Rep. Heather Wilson, 49-45, according to a poll released by the Albuquerque Journal.
In California's 4th District, Republican Rep. John Doolittle led Democrat Charlie Brown, 50-43, according to a Survey USA poll.
In Colorado's 4th District, Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave led Democrat Angie Paccione, 44-43 percent, according to a Survey USA poll for KUSA TV.
In Indiana's 9th District, Republican Mike Sodrel led Democrat Baron Hill, 46-44, in a Survey USA poll.
In Minnesota's 6th District, Republican Michelle Bachmann led Democrat Patty Wetterling, 49-42, in a new Survey USA poll for KSTP TV.
In New York's 26th District, Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds led Democrat Jack Davis, 50-46, according to a new Survey USA poll for WGRZ-TV.
The Miami Herald poll of 401 likely voters was conducted Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The Des Moines Register Poll of 515 likely voters was conducted Oct. 31-Nov. 1 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
The University of New Hampshire/WMUR poll of 305 likely voters was conducted Oct. 3 to Nov. 2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.
The Albuquerque Journal poll of 503 likely voters was conducted Nov. 1-2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
The Survey USA poll of 647 likely voters in California was conducted Oct. 31-Nov. 2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
The Survey USA poll of 538 likely voters in Indiana was conducted Oct. 30-Nov. 2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
The Survey USA poll of 698 likely voters in Minnesota was conducted Nov. 1-Nov. 3 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.
The Survey USA poll of 470 likely voters in New York was conducted Nov. 1-Nov. 3 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.
The Survey USA poll of 571 likely voters in Colorado was conducted Oct. 31-Nov. 2 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Need to map