Democrats show gains in Senate, House still tilts Republican, polls say

WASHINGTON — New polling continues to show a potential shift toward Democrats in the battle to control the Senate, while analysts say the race for the House majority maintains a tilt toward Republicans.

Democratic candidates are ahead in the battleground states of Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Wisconsin, states that have been key Republican targets as they try to wrest majority Senate control.

At the same time, polls this week also show that Republicans still have the advantage in the House. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was on the road this week, stumping for his majority in Florida, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) returned to Washington with a full-throttled pitch in pursuit of the 25 seats needed to retake the chamber.

Most nonpartisan analysts now say that Senate control has become a more difficult climb for Republicans than at the start of the election cycle, while Democrats face a similarly tough mission in the House.

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Overall favorable ratings have declined for Republicans, but the steady lead Democrats hold on the so-called generic ballot — the question of which party voters prefer to have in control of Congress — does not always translate into electoral turnout.

An analysis from the House Republican campaign committee suggests Democrats would need at least a double-digit advantage on the generic ballot to pick up the seats needed to shift the majority. The Democrats now have a 4 percentage point advantage, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Republicans started this election season favored to control both chambers, but their hopes in the Senate have slipped as presidential nominee Mitt Romney stumbled on the campaign trail and the quality of some Republican candidates has been outmatched by those on the Democratic side.

A new poll in the Missouri Senate race by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy put Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill ahead of Republican Rep. Todd Akin, 46% to 40%, with the libertarian candidate pulling a noticeable 9%.

In Massachusetts, where Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren is fighting to hold her narrow lead in the Senate race, former President Bill Clinton made a fundraising appeal Wednesday, noting the personal appeal Republican Sen. Scott Brown has among voters in the Democratic stronghold.

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“No matter your personal opinion of Scott Brown, that's the political party that he wants to set the agenda in the United States Senate. It's controlled by right-wing Republicans and tea party radicals,” Clinton wrote in the email appeal. “Let me reiterate: The balance of the United States Senate is at risk in 34 days -- and Massachusetts will cast the deciding vote.”

In the House, even though Republicans have twice as many vulnerable seats to defend as Democrats, the loss of any of those Democratic incumbents diminishes the Pelosi’s ability to net the 25 seats needed for control.

Democratic incumbents in Utah and Massachusetts were struggling this week over their Republican challengers, according to polls.

“If Democrats can hold losses among their own incumbents to fewer than five, their overall gains in the House would have a decent chance to hit double digits,” wrote David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in a recent analysis. “But if between five and 10 Democratic incumbents lose, look for the overall shift in the House to be very minimal.”

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