Election Day is technically just under 50 days away, though in many states early voting begins soon. That's important, not just because so many voters are choosing to vote early but also because once ballots are cast, they are frozen, unable to be affected by late-breaking developments or trends. Thus, the peak campaign season in many states has become a period of a month or so, not just the last week before the election or, as the adage goes, after baseball's World Series.
Having said that, elections aren't over until voters decide they are over. But unless a large number of Republican officeholders and candidates begin taking stupid pills every morning, the odds of Republicans picking up more than the 39 seats needed to win a majority in the House is very high, and in the Senate, a net gain of between eight and 10 seats looks probable.
Keep in mind, a 10-seat gain would give the GOP a 51-49 majority. The trajectory of this election looks unmistakable. Independents, who the Gallup Organization reports make up 38 percent of all voters and who trended so strongly in favor of Democrats in 2006 and 2008, have reversed course.
Republican voters are showing twice as much enthusiasm about voting this year as Democrats, also an important factor given that voter turnout in midterm elections averages about a third less than in presidential years.
Unemployment is particularly high among young people, blacks and Latinos, three groups that provided the turbo charge behind Democratic victories two years ago. It is unlikely that these voters will be singing "Happy Days Are Here Again" on the way to the polls.
Liberal Democrats are inclined to think that their leaders in Washington sold out or gave up, moderate-to-conservative Democrats believe the president and Congress moved too far left, and organized labor is convinced the Democrats they elected forgot who put them there.
Obviously, Republicans can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in this election, and history provides countless examples of that happening to many candidates and both parties.
If this were football, the GOP coaches would be calling for a "prevent defense" -- don't do anything that could give the other team an opening.
Actually, the more applicable analogy is for the quarterback to "take a knee." Anyone who watched the final play of the first half in Sunday night's Redskins-Cowboys game will not need that explained to them.
Republicans would be well advised to ask themselves a simple question before opening their mouths on any subject: "Is what I am about to say even remotely interesting or thought-provoking?"
If the answer is "yes" or "possibly," they should keep their mouths shut. The election problems facing Democrats are largely self-inflicted, and Republicans would be crazy to want to intervene in a process that is playing out so well for their side. They can only screw it up by injecting themselves into the public conversation.
Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn Westmoreland's recent comment about a possible government shutdown is a great example of what Republicans should not be saying right now.
House Minority Leader John Boehner was smart to dodge the tax cut fight by saying that while he preferred to extend all of the tax cuts, he would not vote against one for the 98 percent making less than $250,000 just because it didn't have one for the highest 2 percent. The last thing the GOP needs to be doing is giving Democrats ammunition for their "Republicans only care about the rich" attacks.
Republicans should remind themselves that a lot more independent voters are leaning toward voting against Democrats than voting for Republicans. The GOP's high unfavorable ratings should remind them that they, too, are still on thin ice with the electorate. The last decade has not been forgiven.
For Democrats, they would be well-advised to climb to the highest perch they can find and scan the landscape relentlessly, looking for any opportunity, any Republican misstep, so that they can pounce.
If given an opening, they have the resources and political smarts to widen it and drive a Mack truck through, but they need an opportunity and only Republicans can give them one.
There is no silver bullet that Democrats can fire or magic e-mail list or mechanical operation to execute that can save them in this election. Only Republicans handing them an opening and Democrats expertly exploiting that opening can work at this stage.
These kinds of years are about winning lots of competitive races by relatively small margins. After each election, great statistics are always recited that "if just 100,000 or whatever votes had switched in selected states or districts around the country, the fill-in-the-blank party would have gained rather than lost seats."
From here on out, this election is less about strategy and more about execution and mistakes, either preventing or exploiting mistakes. But as of now, this election is shaping up to be a big one.
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