Even before an election scandal engulfed his campaign, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia already had a tough re-election campaign ahead of him, according to a poll released Thursday by a Republican group.
A slight plurality of voters in the district, 42 percent, said they'd prefer someone new compared to the 37 percent of those who said Garcia deserves reelection, according to the survey of 450 district voters taken by Harper Polling for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Though taken by a Republican-tied firm, the NRCC poll wasn't all bad news for Garcia. It indicated more people approve of the job he's doing, 38, compared to 35 percent who disapprove.
The tidbits from the NRCC poll -- released with a national memo characterizing Democratic "struggling" from Florida to California" -- was taken in late May.
So the results don't include details, first reported Friday by The Miami Herald, that Garcia's 2012 campaign is being investigated for requesting fraudulent absentee ballots during the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. Garcia has denied wrongdoing or knowledge of the alleged scheme.
The NRCC didn't share all of its results and critics are sure to question the poll's provenance and whether any survey questions gave it an anti-Democratic bias (that is, whether it message-tested). The poll does sample a few more Republicans (44%) than Democrats (38%). (Note: the last NRCC poll in this district, taken by another firm, accurately showed Garcia winning before the 2012 election).
Still, Garcia acknowledged the scandal will become a central campaign issue. And his supporters note that he's tough to beat, having raised about $550,000 in his first full quarter of fundraising as a freshman congressman.
Garcia also carried the district by about 11 percentage points in his race against a scandal-plagued Republican Rep. David Rivera. President Obama carried the district by about 7 percentage points. Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans, 37-34 percent, making the Key West to Miami-Dade Congressional District 26 one of the most-competitive in the state.
But the poll indicated that 48 percent said they preferred a Republican candidate compared to 40 percent who said they preferred a Democrat
According to the poll, exactly half of the district said they'd prefer a congressman who provides a "Republican check and balance" to 43 percent who said they wanted a "Democratic ally of Obama."
Garcia said he knew nothing until Friday, when three places associated with two campaign workers were raided.
Garcia's chief of staff and top political advisor, Jeffrey Garcia, promptly resigned.
Rep. Garcia's congressional aide, Giancarlo Sopo, was placed on unpaid leave after a residence associated with him was raided by investigators along with a residence associated with former campaign manager Jon Estes.
Here's the memo
FROM: NRCC Chairman Greg Walden
TO: Republican Members
DATE: June 5, 2013
SUBJECT: Democrats struggling on their own turf
Washington Democrats started the year with a pretty brash attitude about retaking the majority.
But halfway through 2013, House Democrats face a much more daunting challenge than winning Republican districts - they are actually struggling on their own turf.
In contrast, House Republicans entered this cycle with a plan to stay on offense - and that approach appears to be paying off as we are aggressively expanding the playing field.
Recent polling in targeted districts shows that Democrat incumbents are weakly positioned as a result of our recruitment successes, offensive strategy, and a political climate unfavorable to Democrats. Even in Democrat-leaning districts, voters are looking to Republican candidates.
Democrats, meanwhile, have been dealt a series of recruitment blows that have complicated their hopes in several key districts they need to win. And with the Obama administration embroiled in controversy, House Democrats have been constantly on defense on everything from the IRS to ObamaCare.
Of course, with President Obama on his never-ending campaign - raising big bucks for the DCCC in San Francisco, New York, and most recently, Chicago - we are taking nothing for granted.
While the DCCC sought to get a lot of news clips in the beltway about their recruits, we made a strategic decision to take a more measured approach - rolling out candidates only when they were ready.
Whereas Democrats highlighted their recruits at press conferences in D.C. before they were really ready or vetted - we prefer our candidates announce in their districts. You know, where voters live.
Our bottom-up approach to recruitment is paying off. Several of our top-tier candidates have already had very successful rollouts, with more coming in the months ahead. Whether it's Mia Love in Utah, or Carl DeMaio in San Diego - a diverse class of Republican candidates are running full steam ahead and building strong campaigns.
Democrats, in contrast, have had some embarrassing flops, most recently with Jim Graves in Minnesota. Graves follows a list of other failures, like John Boccieri in Ohio as well as Michael Rubio and Leticia Perez in CA-21. These were not run-of-the-mill candidates, mind you. Nope, we're talking about folks who were said to be the Democrats' cream-of-the-crop recruits, featured in memos and DCCC videos. Some of these prized candidates even dropped out after announcing, like Sona Mehring in MN-02 and both Mike Sherzan and Staci Appel in IA-03.
Republican challengers strongly positioned in Dem-leaning areas:
What's more, our Republican challengers are strongly positioned against Democrat incumbents, putting the Democrats on defense on their own turf.
The NRCC recently commissioned surveys by Harper Polling in five House battleground districts held by Democrats: CA-36, FL-26, IL-10, IL-12, and UT-04.
The bulk of these districts are swing or even Dem-leaning districts where conventional wisdom would assume Democrats have a built-in advantage. But the numbers tell a different story:
* In CA-36, Republican Brian Nestande leads Democrat Raul Ruiz 44% to 41% in an R+1 district that Obama carried by three points.
* In IL-10, former Congressman Bob Dold leads Democrat Brad Schneider 44% to 39% in a D+8 district that Obama carried by 16 points.
* In IL-12, Democrat Bill Enyart is losing in a head-to-head match-up against Republican Mike Bost in a district Obama carried by 1.5 points: Bost 33% to Enyart 27%.
* Additionally, in CA-52, a Tarrance Group poll commissioned in April had Republican Carl DeMaio leading Democrat Scott Peters by a solid 49% to 39% in a D+2 district that Obama carried by 6.5 points.
And in our "Red Zone" districts, even the Democrats' most entrenched and experienced incumbents have been put on notice:
* Utah's Jim Matheson is in for a tough fight in a rematch
against Republican Mia Love. Harper Polling shows Love trailing Matheson
by only 3 percent, within the poll's margin of error; Matheson 44% v.
Love 41%. In districts like this, Obama's agenda - from ObamaCare to
spending - is completely toxic.
Defying conventional wisdom:
There's been a lot of talk in the media and the beltway since the last election about the challenges that Republicans face in the current political climate, but there hasn't been much discussion about the issues Democrats face.
The Harper polls show that even in districts that President Obama won, Republicans are doing better on the generic ballot. And part of that might be because of the president himself. In CA-36, for example, 52% of those polled disapprove of the president's job performance versus 41% who approve - and this is, again, a district that the president carried.
In FL-26, a district President Obama carried by 7 points, incumbent Democrat Joe Garcia's approval rating is at a low 38% in Harper's poll - and that was before news broke about one of Garcia's top campaign aides being investigated for voter fraud. Even then, voters in this district preferred a Republican check and balance to a Democratic ally of President Obama, 50% to 43%.
Democrats are now forced to run with a president who is underwater in polling nationally. If this is a problem in Dem-leaning and swing districts, just imagine the trouble it spells for Democrats in more right-of-center districts - exactly the kind of the districts Democrats need to capture to win the majority.
House Republicans are expanding the playing field and putting Democrats on defense on their own turf. Our offensive strategy is paying off, as Democrat incumbents face real threats to their reelection even in areas that President Obama carried with a comfortable margin. The question facing Democrats is how, if they are struggling on their home court, will they ever win the Republican-leaning districts they need to regain the majority?
With the president and Nancy Pelosi focused on one-party rule in Washington, D.C., we plan to stay on offense and take the fight to Democrats.