The poll we did in Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District this week for Daily Kos was a good prism into why Democrats are likely to lose so many House seats on Tuesday.
We found voters in that district were ambivalent toward both Democratic incumbent Steve Kagen and his Republican challenger, Reid Ribble. Despite two terms in Congress the plurality of voters- 42%- said they had no opinion about Kagen one way or the other. Those who did split nearly evenly with 28% saying they see him favorably and 30% unfavorably. Voters were similarly unopinionated when it came toward their feelings about Ribble- 46% offered no opinion about him while 27% said they liked him and 27% said they didn't.
So if voters don't really know or care much about either of these candidates, what's driving their voting decisions? We found there was an enormous correlation between how voters in the district felt about Barack Obama and how they planned to vote in the House race. With voters who approve of Obama, Kagen leads 74-5. With voters who don't approve of Obama Ribble's ahead 70-9.
The problem for Kagen is that despite the fact that Obama won the district by 9 points in 2008, his approval rating there now is a 42/54 spread. So if the race ends up being a referendum on Obama he's going to lose. And there are dozens of other districts across the country where voters really know nothing about the candidates and are going to vote for the House based on their feelings about the President- for the most part that's going to be bad news for Democrats.
Kagen himself could still survive- he's only down 3 with a lot of undecideds still remaining. But if he does indeed lose that's much more a reflection on how constituents feel about Barack Obama than it is a reflection of how they feel about Steve Kagen.