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First Thoughts: A GOP tidal wave building?

New NBC/WSJ poll shows GOP with nine-point lead (49%-40%) among likely voters, but it’s tied among registered voters (43%-43%)… How Democrats can fight back: by hitting Republicans on Social Security and Bush… But the poll also suggests that playing the Bush card might not be as strong as it was in ’06 and ’08… Do Dems use Obama (whose approval is at 45%) on the trail, or do they keep him away?... What “Recovery Summer”?... The public lacks confidence in almost all U.S. institutions -- government, media, Congress, big business… And profiling FL-8.

*** A GOP tidal wave building? With the official start of the campaign season now underway, the latest NBC/WSJ poll shows Republicans leading on the generic ballot by nine points among likely voters (49%-40%) and 18 points among those expressing a high interest in the midterms (53%-35%). Among registered voters, however, the score is even (43%-43%), suggesting that Democrats can limit their losses if they turn out their voters. The current political environment, in some respects, is worse than it was in 1994 or 2006. For example: 61% currently believe the country is on the wrong track. But at this point in time in ’06, 54% said this, and in ’94, it was 57%. Yesterday, President Obama accused Republicans of being of the party of “No, no, no, no.” But, according to this poll, "No, no, no, no" seems to be working for the GOP. http://bit.ly/97VcSM

*** How the Democrats can fight back: With the poll showing Republicans with the clear advantage, the question now becomes: How do the Democrat fight back? The survey offers a couple of clues. First, as we’ve already seen, Dem candidates will hit their GOP opponents on Social Security: 68% say they’re uncomfortable or have reservations about candidates who -- like Sharron Angle or Joe Miller -- want to phase out the entitlement program. That particular attribute was the worst on a list of nine different candidate attributes. The second worst: 62% have problems with candidates who support George W. Bush’s economic policies. (The third worst: A candidate who supports Obama's economic policies.)

*** But the Bush card might not work: But the poll also finds that the Bush attack -- “You cannot have the keys to the car back,” as President Obama likes to say. “You drove it into the ditch” -- might not deliver the punch it did in 2006 or 2008. In the survey, 58% believe that Republicans, if they take back control of Congress, will have different ideas than Bush’s, versus 35% who think they will return to Bush’s policies. “That’s going to be a good deal more difficult to make stick,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R). Yet Peter Hart (D) counters that Democrats still have to make the argument. “As much as the Republicans have going for them, that’s as good of a post-up as Democrats have.”

*** Dems need to use Obama: Here’s another question: Do Democrats put President Obama -- whose approval rating in this poll sits at 45% -- out in front to lead the defense, or do you keep him away? Hart contends the former move makes the most sense, because Democrats are already receiving his negatives so they should utilize his positives. According to the poll, only 31% of those ages 18-34 express a high interest in the midterms (down from 43% in 2006); just 52% of African Americans are highly interested (compared with 63% in ’06); and 46% of Democrats indicate a high level of interest (a drop from 59% four years ago). What’s more, among low-interest voters, Obama’s approval rating is 75%-22%. “Can [Obama] inspire those people?” Hart asks. “There are a lot of things you can do to save seats.” We've seen four statewide elections since Obama's election in 2008: Georgia Senate run-off, Virginia governor, New Jersey governor, and Massachusetts Senate. And in all four cases, these Obama surge voters never showed up. What do all four races have in common? Obama's name was NOT on the ballot.

*** What 'Recovery Summer'? Moreover, the poll shows that the “Recovery summer” was anything but. Only 26% think the economy will improve in the next 12 months (which is down 14 points from the May NBC/WSJ poll), and just another 26% believe their wages will increase in the next year. In addition, Obama’s economic handling is just 39%, his lowest mark ever on this question. The elections aren’t really a referendum on Obama -- just 12% of those preferring a GOP-led Congress say it’s because they’re protesting the administration’s performance – but rather a referendum on the economy. It's striking the difference where voters thought the economy was heading in the first five months of this year, and where they view it now. As we noted last week, starting in May, economic numbers took a turn for the worse in just about every measurement imaginable: job creation, housing starts, business investment, you name it.

*** A vote of no confidence: The American public, however, isn't just pessimistic about the state of the economy. Check out these numbers: Only 18% have confidence in the federal government; 13% have confidence in the news media; 12% have confidence in large corporations; 10% have confidence in the financial industry; and only 9% have confidence in Congress. In fact, the numbers for the media and Congress are the lowest percentages for those institutions in the history of the poll. The only institution that saw its numbers go up? The automobile industry, which went from 13% confidence in Jan. 2009 to 19% in this poll.

*** On Iraq, Afghanistan, and the New York mosque: Turning to foreign policy, 53% think the Iraq war has been successful, versus 43% who say it has been unsuccessful. Regarding Obama’s call for a conditions-based reduction in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by July 2011, 37% say U.S. troops should be removed depending upon the military conditions next year; 25% say they should be removed only after the Afghan government has stabilized and the Taliban is defeated; 18% want them removed now; and 16% want them removed on the timetable of July 2011. And concerning the controversial mosque that’s planned to be built near Ground Zero in New York City, 51% say they oppose it, while only 22% support it.

*** 75 House races to watch: FL-8: The Democratic nominee is first-term incumbent Alan Grayson, and the GOP nominee is former state Sen. Dan Webster. Obama won 52% in this district in 2008, while Bush won 55% in 2004. As of Aug. 24, Grayson had $3.7 million in the bank, versus just more than $300,000 for Webster. The liberal Grayson voted for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Cook rates it a Toss Up, and Rothenberg has it as Toss Up/Tilt Republican.

*** More midterm news: In California, Jerry Brown (D) went up with his first TV ad… In Florida, Charlie Crist (I) also released his first ad of the general election, Politico reports… In Indiana, the NRCC is hitting Joe Donnelly with its first TV ad… And in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak is launching his fall campaign with an economic speech Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh at 11:00 am ET.

Countdown to DC, MD. MA, NH, NY, RI, and WI primaries: 7 days
Countdown to HI primaries: 11 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 56 days

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