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Polls: GOP Lags in House Races

Democrats have opened up significant leads in seven marquee House races that are rematches of 2006 contests, according to new polls conducted exclusively for Roll Call.

Whether the race involves a Republican who was ousted last cycle and is seeking a political comeback, a shaky GOP incumbent who might be in even greater jeopardy this time, or a Democrat who won an open-seat race in a conservative district, Democrats everywhere seem to be benefiting politically from the recent wave of bad economic news. Democratic Congressional contenders are even leading in districts where Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) trails Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the Roll Call survey.

There are at least 14 competitive House races this fall that are reruns of previous contests — either from a special election this year, in 2006 or in an earlier cycle. Roll Call surveyed seven of the races where there has been little or no public polling released.

SurveyUSA, an automated polling firm, conducted the surveys for Roll Call on Saturday and Sunday (WHAS-TV in Louisville was a partner on the poll in Indiana’s 9th district). Each poll tested more than 600 voters and had an error margin of roughly 4 points (for complete details, see chart at right).

In Illinois’ 10th district, marketing consultant Dan Seals (D) led Rep. Mark Kirk (R) 52 percent to 44 percent. In Indiana’s 9th, Rep. Baron Hill (D) led ex-Rep. Mike Sodrel (R) 53 percent to 38 percent. In New Hampshire’s 1st, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) led ex-Rep. Jeb Bradley (R) 50 percent to 41 percent. In New York’s 29th, retired Navy officer Eric Massa (D) led Rep. Randy Kuhl (R) 51 percent to 44 percent. In North Carolina’s 8th district, teacher Larry Kissell (D) led Rep. Robin Hayes (R) 49 percent to 41 percent. In Pennsylvania’s 4th district, Rep. Jason Altmire (D) led ex-Rep. Melissa Hart (R) 54 percent to 42 percent. And in Wisconsin’s 8th district, Rep. Steve Kagen (D) topped former state Speaker John Gard (R) 54 percent to 43 percent.

Wisconsin’s 8th

In something of an upset, Kagen, a free-spending allergist, bested Gard by 2 points in 2006 in a district that President Bush won by 11 points two years earlier. But in addition to enjoying the advantages of incumbency, Kagen might also be benefiting from the presidential race in the rematch: Obama led McCain in the Green Bay-area district, 52 percent to 45 percent.

Only 26 percent of voters in the district approved of the job Bush is doing; the Congressional approval rating was a dismal 12 percent.

The 8th district is one of the few where both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee are running independent expenditure campaigns.

Pennsylvania’s 4th

Despite being outspent 2-1, Altmire sent Hart to the sidelines in 2006, a very bad year for the Keystone State GOP. Republicans at the time grumbled that she didn’t hit her challenger early or often enough. This time she attacked Altmire earlier, but it might not matter.

The Democrat enjoyed a 12-point lead in the SurveyUSA poll despite the fact that McCain led Obama in the suburban Pittsburgh district, 51 percent to 43 percent. Bush won there by 9 points in 2004, though his job-approval rating there now is just 30 percent. Only 11 percent approved of the job that Congress is doing.

North Carolina’s 8th

With almost no party support and despite being outspent 3-1, Kissell, a former textile worker, lost by just 329 votes in 2006. He’s back this time with the DCCC helping him, though he’s still being outflanked by Hayes on the fundraising front.

African-American voters are a major factor in Kissell’s lead. In a district that Bush won by 9 points in 2004, Obama led McCain by 9 points in the Roll Call poll. The district is 26 percent black, and SurveyUSA’s calculations accounted for black voters making up 26 percent of the electorate. If African-Americans make up 28 percent of the people going to the polls, Kissell’s lead over Hayes would expand to 10 points.

“In any scenario, the sledding is uphill for the incumbent Republican Hayes, and the seat is a prime takeaway opportunity for Democrats,” SurveyUSA pollsters wrote in a memo.

The poll asked voters about Libertarian candidate Thomas Hill, who took 6 percent. He is no longer on the ballot, however, but SurveyUSA estimated that Hill took roughly the same amount votes from the Republican incumbent and the Democratic challenger.

New York’s 29th

Kuhl continues to struggle in a Southern Tier district that should be more secure for Republicans. Bush won the district by 14 points in 2004, the year Kuhl won his seat by 10 points. But in 2006, Kuhl edged Massa, a political neophyte, by just 2 points.

In the SurveyUSA poll, Obama had a 49 percent to 47 percent lead over McCain in the district, as Bush’s job-approval rating sagged to 28 percent. And in a real danger sign for Kuhl, 21 percent of Republicans surveyed said they would vote for Massa.

New Hampshire’s 1st

Aided by a grass-roots army, Shea-Porter pulled upsets in both the Democratic primary and the general election in 2006. It was a record-setting year for New Hampshire Democrats up and down the ballot, and Shea-Porter was the clear beneficiary.

Until the nation’s economic crisis leapt to the forefront a few weeks ago, New Hampshire seemed up for grabs politically this fall, and Shea-Porter was believed to be in trouble. But in a district that Bush won by 3 points in 2004, Obama is now leading by 7 points, according to SurveyUSA. That has helped stabilize Shea-Porter, who toppled Bradley by 2 points two years ago despite being outspent more than 3-1.

Bush’s approval rating in the district was a dismal 25 percent; only 15 percent of those surveyed approved of Congress’ job performance.

Indiana’s 9th

This is the fourth straight matchup between Hill and Sodrel in the mostly conservative southeastern Indiana district. Hill, who was then a two-term incumbent, won their race in 2002 by 5 points. Sodrel won by just 1,425 votes in 2004, a presidential year that saw Bush win the district by 19 points. Two years later, a good year for Indiana Democrats, Hill won by 5 points again.

While McCain led Obama by just 2 points in the district in the latest SurveyUSA poll, Hill’s lead was a robust 15 points. His lead over Sodrel has doubled since SurveyUSA polled the race in July.

Illinois’ 10th

Kirk has thrived politically despite the liberal lean of his suburban Chicago district. But Seals, running with little help from the national party, came within 7 points of the Republican in 2006. But the DCCC is playing in the district this year, and Kirk saw it coming: He has raised an astounding $4.6 million for the race so far.

But even that amount of money might not be able to get Kirk past Seals in what is shaping up to be a Democratic year, especially with a Chicago Democrat at the top of the ticket. In the SurveyUSA poll, Obama led McCain in the district 62 percent to 36 percent — a margin that’s 20 points greater than Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) margin over Bush in the 2004 White House election.

Kirk’s campaign on Monday took issue with another poll on the race that was released over the weekend by the liberal Daily Kos Web site. In a Sept. 30-Oct. 1 Research 2000 poll done for Daily Kos, Kirk had a 44 percent to 38 percent lead over Seals.

Kirk’s campaign distributed a memo by his pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, criticizing the liberal Web site for conducting the poll during Rosh Hashana last week. Kirk’s pollsters said many conservative Jewish constituents likely would not answer the phone during the holiday.

Kirk’s pollster also took issue with the partisan makeup of the Research 2000 poll — which was similar to the partisan makeup of the SurveyUSA poll conducted for Roll Call. Kirk’s own polls have shown him with a substantial lead over Seals.

Matthew Murray contributed to this report.

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