Senate, Gubernatorial Races Could Tip House Contests

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats are mindful that victories at the gubernatorial and Senate level could be a boon for candidates who are caught up in contested races for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ahead of the Nov. 2 election, some 75 House races are seen as very competitive.

From coast to coast, Republicans have the upper hand and are likely to gain seats up and down the ballot given a troubling climate for Democrats, who are being blamed for the slow economic recovery and continuing high unemployment.

The Republican Party is looking to its strength among gubernatorial nominees, in particular, to help it pick up the 40 seats it needs to win power in the House.

The House is more likely than the Senate to change hands, where the Republicans would need to gain 10 seats to take control from the Democrats.

Governing parties typically lose seats in U.S. midterm elections, which take place in the middle of a president's four-year term.

But Democratic losses are likely to be particularly severe as President Barack Obama has lost public support as he has struggled with the weak economy, high unemployment and the country's general anti-Washington mood.

That's why strong candidates for governor or the U.S. Senate are likely to help House candidates, experts say.

"In a midterm election where turnout could be a key factor in deciding which party holds a majority in Congress, enthusiasm for (Republican) candidates at the top of the ticket will benefit Republicans in battleground districts," said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the chairman of the House Republicans' campaign committee.

But David Plouffe, a Democratic National Committee senior adviser, predicted that Democrats will do better than expected in key races. Said Plouffe: "If we continue to show progress gradually ... we're going to win some of these close elections. We're going to surprise people."

And there are issues other than the economy that will help or hurt candidates.

In Ohio, for example, a published report Saturday says a Republican candidate for the House dressed up in a German SS uniform to participate in Nazi reenactments.

The Atlantic magazine said Rich Iott, a tea party favorite, has taken part in the reenactments for years. He's seeking a seat held by Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur since 1982.

Iott defended reenactments, but the Democrats' House campaign arm jumped on the disclosure he played a Nazi, saying it sends a chilling message to Americans.

Republican and Democratic strategists say House races are growing more competitive as voters pay closer attention to issues as the election nears.

The Republicans have significant opportunities to win governorships across the Great Lakes states, a recession-weary region where Democratic House candidates are in jeopardy. Polls also show Republicans favored to take the biggest prizes in other states with competitive House races.

Among such races for governor are:

--Pennsylvania, where Republican candidate Tom Corbett is running ahead of Democratic rival Dan Onorato. Republican Pat Toomey also has an edge in the Senate fight. Double-barreled Republican victories could help Republican candidates take over up to six Democratic-held House seats.

--Wisconsin, where Republican Scott Walker is leading Democrat Tom Barrett. Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold also is in a tough re-election battle. Two Democratic House seats are at stake.

--Ohio, where former Republican Rep. John Kasich is trying to fend off an ascendent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. It's all but certain Republican Rob Portman will win the Senate race. No less than five Democrats could lose their House seats.

--Nevada, where Republican Brian Sandavol is favored to beat Democrat Rory Reid. His father, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is in a tight re-election battle, too. So is a freshman Democrat.

Elsewhere, Democratic House candidates are appearing to benefit from their party's strength at the top of the ticket in a handful of states. Among those with strong Democratic chances for governor are Colorado and Maryland.

In California, Democrat Jerry Brown is locked in a battle with Republican Meg Whitman for governor, and Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer has recently seen her re-election prospects strengthen. Two House members would benefit from Democratic triumphs.