Polls swing toward GOP, easing fears of midterm disaster

Republicans are feeling better about their prospects in the midterm elections, buoyed by recent polls that show their numbers improving.
An ebullient President Trump touted the shift in public sentiment reflected in recent polls during a joint Senate-House Republican retreat in West Virginia this week.  
“I just looked at some numbers, you’ve even done better than you thought,” Trump told lawmakers, citing poll numbers he discussed Thursday with National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio).
“The numbers are pretty good and that’s one example of how things are getting better,” Stivers told reporters after discussing polling numbers with Trump. 
Stivers said the bump in Trump’s approval rating is a good sign for Republicans running for reelection.
“No president in their second year has seen their approval rating go up except now this one,” Stivers noted.
GOP lawmakers discussed the favorable turn in poll numbers during their retreat.
Pollsters David Winston and Myra Miller of the Winston Group gave a presentation to lawmakers Wednesday evening entitled “Middle Class Americans’ Views of the Tax Plan: The Opportunity for 2018.” 
A Monmouth University Poll released Wednesday showed that Trump’s approval rating had jumped 10 points compared to last month, while the Democratic advantage on the generic ballot had shrunk to 2 percentage points.
A nationwide Monmouth survey in December showed Democrats with a 15-point advantage on the generic ballot.
The generic ballot question, which asks respondents if they would be more likely to vote for a Democratic or Republican candidate in their own district, is considered an indicator of future wave elections. 
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday showed that Trump’s approval rating has ticked up in the past week. 
Another Reuters/Ipsos poll shows voters think Republicans have a better plan for jobs and employment than Democrats, by a margin of 37.6 percent to 27.8 percent.
“The numbers for or against Republicans in different states have moved dramatically favorable, where two months ago there was a much lower rating,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “There were about four or five polls they listed out.” 
The swing in the polling numbers has been matched by a swing in sentiment. 
The political landscape looked bleakest for the GOP in the second half of 2017, after their top legislative priority — the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare — floundered in the Senate.
That failure raised doubts over Trump’s ability to work with Congress to deliver accomplishments. 
Meanwhile, public attention was fixed on the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate allegations of collusion between Trump’s inner circle and Russian government officials, as well as potential obstruction of justice by the president.
Trump’s approval rating hit a low of 33 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll on Dec. 13, a week before Congress passed the final version of the tax package.
Democrats on Friday dismissed the optimistic talk from Republicans, arguing that, while Trump’s numbers have improved, they’re still low.
“President Trump’s numbers are abysmal, and it’s dragging down vulnerable House Republicans deep into the map. Any slight uptick is starting at a very low bar,” said Tyler Law, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 
Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats to recapture control of the House and two seats to win back the Senate.
Democrats say House Republicans are vulnerable because they have suffered a spate of retirements and face trouble recruiting strong candidates to make up for those losses. 
“For the candidates that the NRCC has touted in their ‘Young Guns’ program, they have either completely failed to launch or fizzled out. Simply put, House Republicans’ offensive opportunities are nonexistent — a bad sign for an already imperiled Republican majority,” Law said. 
Republicans have also faced trouble convincing top potential Senate recruits to run against vulnerable Democratic senators.
“Republicans spent the last year working to raise health care costs and then give a tax break to millionaires and big corporations while middle class voters foot the bill,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein said in a statement. “No wonder they lost their first, second, third and in some cases fourth choice recruits and are now struggling through divisive and nasty primaries.” 
A Democratic wave looked all but inevitable two months ago. Some in the party were talking in mid-December about a 40-seat pickup, but a tsunami of that magnitude now looks much less likely. 
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), a former NRCC chairman, said the environment is looking “much better” for his party compared to two months ago.
“I think you’re seeing all the data improve,” Walden said.
Walden believes Democrats made a tactical mistake by taking a hard stance against the tax bill. It passed the Senate and House without a single Democratic vote in either chamber.  
“The Democrats have completely overplayed their hand. When [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi [Calif.] says $1,000 or $2,000 is ‘crumbs,’ people in West Virginia, rural Oregon go, ‘$1000 is a lot of money to me,’ ” Walden said.
He argued the tax victory also saved the party’s standing with its conservative base, which threatened to desert them following the health-care debacle. 
“Our base said, ‘OK, you guys actually could come together and get something big done.’ So you’re seeing that reflected in the generic ballot that has gone from double digits down to single digits,” he said.
“It feels like it’s bottomed out and we’re coming back up,” he said. “We will have a very good record to run on.” 
He also noted that Trump’s numbers “are getting better.”   
Walden acknowledged that House Republicans don’t have many pickup opportunities, but argued that the party is focused on playing defense, not offense, this year.
“Let’s face it: in the last two cycles you had a 247-seat majority and 241-seat majority. Those are the biggest Republican back-to-back majorities in the history of the country,” he said. “It’s holding in a time like this. The marginal gain is limited.”
Vice President Pence and GOP leaders urged rank-and-file members to stress whenever possible the economic impact of the $1.5 trillion tax package Congress passed last year.
“We made history in 2016, and we’re going to make history in 2018 when we reelect Republican majorities in the House and Senate,” he said. “We got our work cut out for us, but we have a story to tell.”
Trump, speaking to Republicans the next afternoon, stressed the creation of 2.4 million jobs since he took office and the nation’s 4.1 percent unemployment rate, near a record low.
GOP strategists are heartened by a belief that the U.S. and global economy are poised to kick into overdrive, as well as by big commitments from wealthy conservative donors. 
The Dow Jones industrial average and the Standard & Poor's 500 index are up nearly 6 percent year to date after posting big gains in 2017.
At the same time, every one of the world’s major economies is expanding — the first time there has been synchronous global growth since the Great Recession hit a decade ago.
A massive pledge from a network of groups and donors affiliated with industrialists Charles and David Koch to spend $400 million on conservative causes and candidates in 2018 has also made Republicans more optimistic about the midterms.
The promised investment would be 60 percent more than the network spent in the 2016 presidential cycle.
Republicans also say congressional districts drawn to favor Republicans will give them another advantage.
“Seldom do you have a wave election year, 2010, followed by a redistricting year, and we had that in 2011. So a lot of these seats are pretty baked in,” said Walden. 
House Democrats want to make the midterms a referendum on Trump, but Republicans say they will counter that by tying Democratic candidates to Pelosi, as they did in last year’s special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.
“We were able to use Nancy Pelosi to help win that race, and you’ll probably see that in other places,” Stivers said. 

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