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Hunt: Economy winning midterms for Republican Party

Published: Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 9:56 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON – Republicans have grown even more confident about the midterm elections, convinced that the economy – where the actual data look good, though public perception remains sour – is moving in their favor.

Republican strategists say a series of surveys, including national public polls and private polls done in select states and districts, show small changes in their favor. Some Democrats acknowledge they’ve become slightly more pessimistic.

Most everyone agrees this isn’t going to be a landslide election such as 2006 or 2010.

“There are no signs of a supercharged electorate that can’t wait to vote,” said Bill McInturff, a leading Republican pollster who, together with Democrat Peter Hart, conducts the NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. “It’s different than a wave election, but it’s going to be a very good year for Republicans with a 50-50 shot of taking the U.S. Senate.”

Most attention has focused on the Senate, where Republicans need a net gain of six seats to gain control. The House, where Republicans have a 234 to 201 advantage, almost certainly will not change hands. There are also gubernatorial elections in 36 states – 22 of them in states now run by Republican governors.

In the House, Republicans are confident they will add five to 10 seats to their majority, even while losing a handful of seats they now hold. One top strategist notes that in the party’s polling of the two dozen Democratic-held seats they’re targeting, there’s only one where the Democratic candidate tops 50 percent. That’s John Barrow of Georgia, who has held on to a Republican-leaning district for a decade with a conservative voting record and shrewd political campaigning.

The U.S. economy has turned around with the unemployment rate dropping from as high as 10 percent in the first year of the Barack Obama presidency to a little over 6 percent now. That hasn’t registered with many voters. In the most recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, the public was dissatisfied with the economy by an almost 2-to-1 ratio. Almost half of Americans thought the U.S. still was in a recession; the deep downturn caused by the financial crisis actually ended five years ago.

Most Republican candidates still rail against Obamacare; their base demands that and turning out those voters is critical. But increasingly, Republicans think the economy is a more winning issue in the general election. A majority of respondents in the NBC News-WSJ poll disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy.

To be sure, the Republican generic brand name is unpopular, more so than in the previous couple elections. But Republicans strategists say that doesn’t seem to matter much in this cycle as their voters are more likely than Democrats or independents to turn out on election day.

• Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was formerly the executive editor of Bloomberg News.

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