In another sign that the electoral environment has become dire for Democrats, Republican Senate candidates in the battleground working class states of Ohio and Pennsylvania have begun to build big leads in the last few weeks over their opponents.
Republican Rob Portman’s polling lead in Ohio over Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher has grown from an average of 1.8 percent in mid-August to 6.7 percent, as of Thursday evening. Just in the last week, Portman has gained two points in the Real Clear Politics average.
And in Pennsylvania, former Republican Congressman Pat Toomey has gone from just 2 points up on Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak in mid-August to now being 8.5 percentage points ahead. Like Portman, Toomey gained two points just in the last week.
The signs in Ohio and Pennsylvania are in concert with what is happening in more Democrat-leaning states, such as Washington and Wisconsin, where Democratic incumbents Patty Murray and Russell Feingold look increasingly endangered. Murray is actually trailing Republican Dino Rossi by 2.3 points in the RCP average, while Feingold’s lead over businessman Ron Johnson has been whittled down to 1 point.
Republicans would need to pickup 10 Democratic seats, while losing none of their own, to take control of the Senate.
Larry Sabato, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, on Thursday moved his prediction of Republican pickups in the Senate from 7 to 8 or even 9, and said a GOP takeover of the Senate is looking more possible by the day.
“Conditions have deteriorated badly for Democrats over the summer. The economy appears rotten, with little chance of a substantial comeback by November 2nd. Unemployment is very high, income growth sluggish, and public confidence quite low,” Sabato wrote.
In the House, estimates are also reaching new highs for how many seats the Democrats could lose. The Cook Political Report estimated this week that 70 Democratic-held House seats are at “substantial risk” of being lost. Republicans need to pick up 39 to take the House.
Sabato said the GOP has a “good chance” of picking up 47 seats.
One element that could potentially help Democrats in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Fisher and Sestak have lost so much ground in recent weeks, is organized labor. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka announced an advertising and door-knocking blitz that is set to begin in earnest this weekend.
In an interview, AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman named Ohio and Pennsylvania as two of the six states where labor will make its most concerted push to turn out voters for Democratic candidates, citing built in advantages of large union constituencies. Ohio, for example, has 2.2 million union members, out of a state population of 11.5 million.
The other states where organized labor will have its biggest presence, Ackerman said, are California, New York, Illinois, and Nevada. The fight to reelect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, will be particularly fierce, she said.
“We need to do whatever we can to get him elected,” Ackerman said.
Trumka said that he did not think that electoral trends were set in stone, and that their money and boots on the ground would make a difference, despite the fact that the dynamic for Democrats has done nothing but worsen in the last few weeks, and despite a mixed track record that includes a futile union attempt to influence the special election to fill Sen. Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, where Republican Scott Brown won.
“We’re not getting in the game late like we did in Massachusetts,” Trumka said.