GOP Chair: 'I Certainly Haven't Seen a Free Fall'
After meeting with Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean last week, U.S. News sat down this week with Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman to discuss why he's not as pessimistic about November as the latest poll numbers might suggest, as well as his thoughts on North Korea, the Mark Foley scandal, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Excerpts:
On new polls suggesting that the Republicans could be, in the words of some analysts, in free fall
Let me first say I do think that we are in a very challenging environment. I think that the situation with [Rep. Mark] Foley has made it even more challenging, but ... I have not seen a significant impact in most of the races around the country and I certainly haven't seen a free fall.
The three issues that I think we're dealing with [in the polls]: first of all is the partisanship of the electorate. In the last 25 years, the electorate has ranged from plus-4 Democrat to plus-2 Republican in '02. In the most recent poll's partisanship, USA/Gallup is plus-9 Democratic electorate, ABC News is plus-11 Democratic electorate, CBS/New York Times plus-5, Newsweek plus-8, Time plus-8, AP/Ipsos plus-8. So, every one of these polls has an electorate that looks more Democratic than any electorate has looked in 25 years.
Second, the Gallup specifically is the outlier in the change in the generic ballot. The Pew poll that came out recently showed no change in the generic ballot since the Foley scandal; other national polls have shown on average a 2-point dip, the Gallup showed a 23-point dip, which I don't think is convincing.
The third issue of course is the relevance of the national polls in predicting House races and the challenge that Democrats always have is that our voters are more efficiently distributed. You saw that in the recent battleground that came out between [pollsters] Celinda Lake and Ed Goeas, which showed an 8-point Democratic advantage on the generic ballot. But in the Republican districts that the Democrats have to win to win back Congress, it was even. In the Democratic districts, it was a 21-point Democratic advantage.
On polls showing a 3-point loss in people identifying as Republicans since January
I think 2 or 3 points seems reasonable. Now I will say again, from a national perspective, I believe that's the case. I don't believe that's the case in every single race at all. I think most races have not seen that much of an impact.
On differences between the 1994 [in which Democrats lost control of the House] and 2006 congressional elections
First of all, in '94 the Democrats were particularly amenable to a terrible year because they had a lot of open seats and a lot of those open seats were in Republican presidential districts. So in '94, I believe, there were 35 open seats, and they lost 22 of them. Nineteen of the 22 they lost were open seats in Republican presidential-leaning districts measured by the 1988 [performance by] George Herbert Walker Bush. Why do I not use 1992? He got 37 percent of the vote. I don't think that's a real measurement of a presidential performing district. ... There are 20 Republican open seats this year; 17 of the 20 Republican seats this year are Bush-leaning seats, meaning Bush won those districts with an average of 61 percent.