STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And I'm Deborah Amos.
A new public opinion survey for NPR�shows just how difficult it will be for Democrats to avoid big losses in the House this November. Democrat Stan Greenberg and Republican Glen Bolger chose the 70 House districts most likely to oust incumbents this fall. And the findings point to potentially large Republican gains. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.
MARA LIASSON: For this poll, Bolger and Greenberg chose the congressional districts where incumbents are considered the most vulnerable, or where an open seat is considered most likely to switch party control in November. Sixty are currently held by Democrats many of whom won these seats even as their voters chose Republican John McCain for president in 2008. The other 10 districts are the flip side held by Republicans in the House, even though their voters went for Barack Obama in 2008.
These are this year's swing seats the political terrain where the battle for control of the House of Representatives will be won or lost. And in this battleground, voters are choosing Republicans over Democrats, 49 to 41 percent.
Democrat Stan Greenberg.
Mr. STAN GREENBERG: In a year in which voters want change and in which Democrats are seen to be in power, this is a tough poll about as tough as you get. And I think this will be a wake-up call. The Democrats needed one. They got it, obviously, in Massachusetts at the beginning of the year, but I think this poll from NPR will be a wake-up call.
Mr. GLEN BOLGER: If Massachusetts was the first wake-up call, this is was the snooze alarm going off.
LIASSON: That's Glen Bolger, the Republican half of our polling team. He points out that President Obama's approval ratings are much lower in these competitive districts than they are nationally. Fifty-four percent of our likely battleground voters disapprove of the president's performance; only 40 percent approve.
Mr. BOLGER: It's very problematic for the president to have a 40 percent approval rating in these 60 Democratic districts. When you look at history, when the president is below 50 percent nationally, his party tends to lose more than 40 seats.
LIASSON: And Bolger says our poll has more evidence of a trend that's been apparent all year: Republican-leaning voters are energized, while the intensity seems to have leached out of the Democratic ranks.
Mr. BOLGER: When you look at the generic ballot for Congress in the Democrat-held seats, the Republican is up by five. But among those who rate their interest as eight to 10, the high-interest voters, the Republican leads in those Democratic seats, 53 to 39.
And what that means is, in a close election, the Republican enthusiasm will put Republicans over the top - just like in '06 and '08, the Democratic enthusiasm put the Democrats over the top.
LIASSON: That lack of enthusiasm on the part of Democrats worries one of our poll respondents, Donna Blanchette, a science teacher and a Democrat from Minnesota who would like to see her Republican incumbent voted out of office.
Ms. DONNA BLANCHETTE (Teacher): Michele Bachmann is in my area, and as I watch the Republicans ramp up behind her, I don't see a lot of Democrats being as forthcoming as we probably need to unseat Michele Bachmann.
LIASSON: What would fire up Democrats? Frank Damico Jr., a lawyer from Louisiana, says he wants to see his party fight harder against special interests and against Republicans.
Mr. FRANK DAMICO JR. (Lawyer): The Democrats have been afraid. They're more concerned with placating the right, when I don't think they're going to get the right supporting them no matter what they do.
LIASSON: But Brian Woolems, a union painter from southern Indiana who says he's an independent that leans Republican, is more typical of the likely voters in our poll. His beef with the Democratic Congress is a long list of particulars.
Mr. BRIAN WOOLEMS (Union painter): I'm not in favor of the health-care bill. And they're working on cap and trade, and I'm not in favor of that. And I'm not in favor of all the stimulus spending they've done pretty much everything.
LIASSON: Democratic candidates have had success in some of the recent special elections. But despite those wins, the outlook for the midterms is still toxic for Democrats, says Glen Bolger.
Mr. BOLGER: Democrats will have some good plays by individual campaigns, but it's getting close to - the concrete is drying it's not yet solidly locked in, but it's getting very difficult for this to change, where there's not a picture of Republicans picking up at least 30 seats.
LIASSON: And as Stan Greenberg knows all too well, the Republicans only need 40 net pickups to take control of the House.
Mr. GREENBERG: What I'm hoping this poll brings about is Democrats running with a much more effective economic message, which talks about who they fought for, what they are engaged in now. And it may also come out of the president's speech this week, where I think he, as well, will be talking about not so much a grade for past performance but what he intends to do on energy and the gulf.
LIASSON: Tonight, President Obama will speak from the Oval Office about the spill, and his plans to repair the damage. A message Stan Greenberg hopes will lift Democrats' fortunes across the board.
Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.
AMOS: For detailed results of our poll, visit npr.org.
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