WASHINGTON – Republicans kicked their proven get-out-the-vote machine into overdrive Sunday as a new poll showed them gaining, but many predicted that a wave of anti-GOP anger could sweep them out of power in the U.S. House.

Senior Republicans said control of the House would come down to which party gets its supporters to vote in about three dozen districts.

Republicans were buoyed by a new poll showing voters more optimistic about the economy, a potential boost for their embattled candidates, and they cheered the guilty verdict and death sentence for former Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein.

Yet confident Democrats downplayed the impact of the Saddam verdict and insisted that overall pessimism about Iraq would still dominate the election and drive Republicans from the House majority for the first time in 12 years.

Democrats would have to gain 15 seats to take control of the House. Four independent analysts backed up the Democratic optimism:

• The Rothenberg Political Report predicted Democratic gains of 34 to 40 seats.

• The Cook Political Report predicted 20 to 35 seats.

• The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics predicted 27.

• The Evans-Novak Political Report predicted 20 seats.

“If little changes between now and Tuesday, there remains little question that the GOP is headed towards devastating losses,” said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia.

“And though candidates continue to stress various issues, only one has truly come to define our politics this year: war. Future historians may well look back on this wave election as “The Iraq Midterm,’ much like we look back on the 1966 and 1974 elections as “The Vietnam Midterm’ and “The Watergate Midterm,’ respectively.”

Several Republicans said the party’s “72-hour project” would pull many vulnerable candidates over the finish line, as it did in 2002 and 2004 elections.

“There’s a ground game out there that we know how to run,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House majority leader, during an appearance on Fox. “At the end of the day, it’s going to make a big difference in a lot of these tight races.”

He noted, for example, that the campaign of endangered Republican Rep. Chris Chocola of Indiana made 33,000 phone calls this weekend and knocked on 6,000 doors.

The party’s chief strategist for House campaigns, Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Republicans remain close in about three dozen tightly contested districts and that the “72-hour efforts by the Republicans to turn their vote out will make the difference.”There were other signs of hope for Republicans.

First, Sunday television featured scenes of happy Iraqis cheering the death sentence for Saddam. Every upward bounce in public opinion during the war – when Saddam was captured, when Iraqis voted – has been shorter and dissipated faster than the one before. But Democrats took no chance, and made sure to blend kudos for the Iraqis and U.S. troops with warnings that the good news will not last.

“Unfortunately, the verdict is a solitary incident in a country wracked by sectarian violence and instability,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who could become House Speaker.

The nonpartisan Pew Research Center found Republicans cutting the Democrat lead among those planning to vote for House candidates, from an 11-point margin two weeks ago to a 4-point margin now.

Pew director Andy Kohut said Sunday that Republicans grew more engaged and enthusiastic about the election in recent weeks. “For the first time in this campaign, they now hold their typical turnout advantage,” he said.

Still, the political landscape remains unusually hostile to Republicans.

Bush’s approval rating was 37 percent in the most recent Gallup Poll, 9 points lower than Bill Clinton’s in 1994 when he lost control of the House and Senate in an anti-Democratic wave. Also, Americans are decidedly unhappy with the Iraq war. Iraq voters break heavily for Democrats.

Finally, Republicans are defending far more seats than the Democrats. By one estimate, 62 House seats are in play, up sharply from 39 in 2004 and 44 in 2002, according to the Cook Political Report. Of them, 55 are Republican seats.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.