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Emanuel Touts Poll Numbers

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday presented Members with some of their most encouraging internal polling data yet, arguing that the numbers show growing weakness among Republican incumbents and new hope for attracting viable Democratic challengers to take them on.

While short on specifics and with no firm promise that Democrats can take back control of the House next year, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) unveiled the latest numbers at the weekly Caucus meeting. The polling, conducted in seven of the nearly 40 Republican House districts that the DCCC is targeting, showed that no GOP Member registered re-election numbers higher than 43 percent heading into 2006, according to sources in the Caucus meeting.

Emanuel noted to the Democratic Members that two of those seven GOP incumbents’ re-election numbers fell below 40 percent, one measuring in at 32 percent and another at 34 percent. The polls targeted GOP-held districts in New York and California, and in the Midwest, South and Southwest.

“These are horrible, horrible numbers [for Republicans],” said one Democratic leadership aide. “It encourages challengers who wouldn’t otherwise run to run, it encourages more donors to open up their pocket books, and Rahm would obviously like it to encourage more Members to open up their checkbooks.”

Emanuel didn’t name the specific districts where the committee polled, but he broadly laid out a rosy picture for House Democrats heading into 2006. Sources in the meeting said Emanuel told his colleagues that the environment is ripe for recruiting Democratic challengers, and said that vulnerability in the majority camp provides the DCCC with additional leverage to get prospective candidates to run.

DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg acknowledged that Democrats’ chances are appearing ever better in 2006, but refused to comment directly “on our internal strategy or polling.”

“It has become increasingly clear from the polling done around the country that Americans are extremely dissatisfied with the Republican leadership and their continued focus on special interests instead of the priorities of American families,” she said.

Emanuel told his Democratic colleagues Wednesday that the party is already in better shape than in 2004 when it comes to enlisting challengers, noting that 19 Democratic candidates have already filed for open or incumbent-held seats. This time last cycle, he noted, just three Democrats had formalized plans to run.

“What is key for us is to have enough top- quality candidates in enough races so that if there is enough of a shift in the public attitude, we can ride the wave,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), who heads the DCCC’s recruiting efforts.

Similarly, Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), who is charged with helping secure the Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents, said all the signs point in the right direction right now. Thompson pointed to President Bush’s and Republican polling numbers, as well as generic party surveys that seem to favor Congressional Democrats.

“That all bodes well for us,” he said.

But Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said despite the Democratic talk of new hope, Republican incumbents are in solid shape. He added that in financial terms alone, the majority’s vulnerable incumbents are far out-pacing their Democratic counterparts.

“Democrats have been singing the same tune for five years now,” Forti said. “In the past two cycles they’ve lost seats. So I’m not putting much credence into anything they say.”

Emanuel also noted to the Members that the DCCC will continue to go after Republicans embroiled in ethical scandals, including Rep. Duke Cunningham (Calif.). Cunningham is one of the latest Republicans to come under fire in recent days, with questions being raised about the propriety of a real estate deal he was involved in with a defense contractor.

The DCCC has already targeted Republican incumbents once thought to be almost impossible to beat, including House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (Calif.), Administration Chairman Bob Ney (Ohio), Majority Leader Tom DeLay (Texas) and Rep. Charles Taylor (N.C.).

Another top House Democratic staffer said the numbers add to Democrats’ feelings that they are gaining some momentum, especially as the ethical allegations against the GOP intensify, the war in Iraq becomes more problematic and the Republican domestic agenda continues to hit a wall.

“These numbers are really good this far out,” said the aide. “It gives the party hope.”

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