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Upper Midwest US House Races Tighten in GOP Held Districts...But Is a Revolution Afoot?

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A recent spate of polls tracking US House races in the Upper Midwest reflect what is perceived by most political analysts to be a nation-wide trend: GOP-held districts that were secure in 2004 now seem to be competitive or near competitive.

The GOP leads the current Upper Midwest US House delegation by a 12-10 margin, breaking down thusly:

IA: GOP 4, DEM 1
MN: GOP 4, DFL 4
SD: GOP 0, DEM 1
WI: GOP 4, DEM 4

No publicly released poll to date has shown a single democrat-held seat to be in jeopardy of the 10 on the ballot in the Upper Midwest. However, polls have shown at least 4 of the 12 GOP districts to be in a dead heat:

IA-2: David Loebsack (D) 46% Jim Leach (15 term GOP incumbent) 44%
MN-1: Gil Gutknecht (6 term GOP incumbent) 47% Tim Walz (DFL) 43%
MN-6 (open): Patty Wetterling (DFL) 47% Michele Bachmann (R) 43%
WI-8 (open): Steve Kagen (D) 46% John Gard (R) 43%

(Note: The polls listed above were conducted by Constituent Dynamics. This firm does not have a long track record of polling US House races, but it is run by two well-known and credible pollsters (one a Republican and one a Democrat). The firm uses automated polling to conduct its surveys. )

Iowa's (open) 1st US District race was expected to be the Democrat's best shot at a pick-up, but an early October Reuters/Zogby poll showed Republican Mike Whalen opening up a 47-34 lead over Bruce Braley in a survey of likely voters.

As a result of all this polling, many analysts are now starting to mention 2006 in the same breath as 1994 (the year the Republicans picked up a startling net 54 seats from the democrats in the US House).

However, while there are some similaities to that election year (e.g. low approval ratings for a president of the same party as the party in control of the House), such talk is premature. First, this buzz is partially occurring in a self-generating environment (the Internet) whose landscape was infinitely smaller 12 years ago when Republicans shocked the country. In truth, Internet buzz often falls short of real-world action (e.g. the disappointing box office take of the much-hyped horror film Snakes On A Plane).

Secondly, analysts do not want to be caught with their pants down for a second time, so they are perhaps mentioning similarities to the Republican Revolution so as to not look so foolish in November IF the Democrats stage their own (successful) revolution.

Thirdly, due to redistricting, the odds of democratic pick-ups numbering 4 or 5 dozen are much lower than in 1994. Today Democrats are fighting for seats in foreign territories—red districts that voted for President George W. Bush in 2004. In 1994 several Republican pick-ups were in districts already won by Republican George H.W. Bush in his 1992 re-election campaign.

Beware the revolution? Perhaps. But also beware those exclaiming, "Beware the revolution."

Previous post: Split Ticket Voting Revisited
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2 Comments


  • The MN-01 figures are off--it's Gutknecht 48%--Walz 47%, within the MOE.

  • > The MN-01 figures are off--it's Gutknecht 48%--Walz 47%, within the MOE.

    Actually, the numbers posted at Smart Politics are correct: Gutknecht 47%, Walz 43%. I've looked at the poll details for Constituent Dynamics, and the 48-47 numbers to which you refer include "leaners" after pressing respondents who originally reply "undecided" or "other." Those leaners are very unreliable, and we therefore normally only analyze the original vote preference or respondents. But, yes, bottom line, the race is quite close either way.

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