By Michael Barone, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Republicans have the lead in the generic ballot in the Rasmussen poll and are running even in that question in the latest NPR poll. The Republican lead in Rasmussen is 41-39 percent, with Democrats at the low end of the 39-50 percent range they've been over the past year and Republicans at the top end of their 34-41 percent range.
Is this just statistical noise? Quite possibly. But if I were chairman of the NRCC I would sure be looking at targeting a whole lot more races than I had imagined I would three months ago.
Rasmussen tells me that he has been tracking this question since January 2004 and that "Occasional polls may have shown the Rs ahead, but it's been a long time." He agrees that this may just be statistical noise, but notes that the gap between the parties has closed since the November 2008 election, and that that is more the result of the Democratic number sagging than of the Republican number rising.
The NPR poll similarly finds party identification today at 42-42 percent, as compared to 51-40 percent Democratic in October 2006. Note that this also represents a decline for Democrats, not a gain for Republicans.
I think there's a danger for Republicans in over reliance on these numbers. That if they just hang back and criticize Obama or the Democrats, then everything will be all right again. That's one possible scenario, but far from the only one, or even the most likely. If in war the enemy gets a vote, in politics the other party gets a chance to do things differently too, as Bill Clinton did successfully (for him, and almost for his party) in 1995-96.
Republicans need to present alternative public policies and their vision for the future. Equality in the generic vote is not enough if most people scorn both parties. Which seems to be about where we are now.
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By Michael Barone