Terror fears could help GOP in midterms

New polls show growing GOP advantage
New polls show growing GOP advantage

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New polls show growing GOP advantage 02:37

Story highlights

  • Poll numbers indicate a sizable advantage for GOP in this year's midterms
  • Obama's approval numbers are low; more people think U.S. is heading in wrong direction
  • A new CNN poll shows voter concerns about ISIS are rising
If that isn't a wave out there on the horizon, it is, at the moment anyway, a big, Republican-leaning ripple.
Consider this:
-- A new CNN/ORC poll shows President Barack Obama's standing on terrorism issues is in sharp decline just as voter concerns about ISIS is climbing.
-- In that same poll, released Monday, more and more Americans see the country as heading in the wrong direction -- always one of the most telling indicators of the electorate's mood.
-- Recent days also have brought a handful of polls in key Senate races that suggest Republican advantages in Kentucky, Arkansas and Alaska and only a narrow Democratic lead in Colorado. Odds of a GOP takeover of the Senate are looking up eight weeks to Election Day.
"It's much better to be a Republican candidate than a Democratic candidate, at least at the moment," says veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres. "Yes, the Republican brand sucks, but it is the President's image that dominates midterm elections, not that of our party."
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If nothing else, the next few days are going to reinvigorate the debate over what constitutes a wave. Smart operatives in both parties for weeks now have shied away from that word -- mostly because there are fewer competitive House districts now than in past cycles.
So, even if the GOP has a great Election Night, it is unrealistic to believe there could be a 30-seat gain in the House, as the Democrats enjoyed in 2006. Or a 60-seat pickup like the tea party wave in 2010. This cycle, GOP strategists say a great night would be adding 15-18 seats to the Republican majority; Democrats are hoping to keep their losses in single digits.
But the improving Senate climate for Republicans has reignited "wave" talk.
"I am now expecting a substantial Republican Senate wave in November, with a net gain of at least seven seats," the veteran prognosticator Stuart Rothenberg wrote Monday.
Ayres is waiting for a bit more evidence.
"I don't see any evidence of a wave like we had in '06 or '08," says Ayres. "But a few more polls like the one you cite could get me to change my mind."
In the CNN poll numbers, the encouraging news for the President is that he and the public are largely in sync about how muscular to be in responding to ISIS. A clear majority opposes American combat boots on the ground, but 50% support using other military force, up from 34% a year ago.
But there is this damning finding: 67% say Obama does not have a clear plan for dealing with ISIS. Plus, only 37% approve of how he is handling ISIS, and just 41% approve of his handling of the broader terrorism issue.
Perhaps the President can change those bad reviews with his speech to the nation later this week. Even so, his job approval rating is stagnant at 43%, and the percentage of Americans who think things are going badly in the country stands at 55%, up from 50% in April.
Again, eight weeks is a long time. And Democrats insist they will again surprise us with superior voter outreach and turnout.
But for now, the numbers are compelling: A weak President and a worried electorate are the trademark ingredients of a wave. Or a really big ripple.