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Midterm Momentum Is All GOP's Midterm Momentum Is All GOP's

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OFF TO THE RACES

Midterm Momentum Is All GOP's

November Is Looking Grim For Democrats, And It Could Still Get Worse

Whenever someone asks if the 2010 midterm elections will be "another 1994" it makes me roll my eyes. No two election years are alike -- the causes, circumstances and dynamics are always different to anyone who takes more than a casual look.

But 1994, and for that matter 2006, were "nationalized" elections, elections where overarching national dynamics often trump candidates, campaigns, local political history and natural tendencies.

 

Often in these elections, inferior, underfunded or less-organized candidates and campaigns beat more amply funded and better-prepared candidates and campaigns.

The primary difference between this year and previous nationalized elections is that this one looks so bad for Democrats so early.

These kinds of years also see states and districts that normally fall easily into one party's column inexplicably fall into the other's hands.

 

There is no reason to believe that 2010 is not just as nationalized as 1994 and 2006 were, or for that matter 1958, 1974 and 1982. To be sure, the causes, circumstances and dynamics are different, but the trend line is the same for each. At least today it is.

Any Democrats who are content to throw Martha Coakley or her inept Massachusetts Senate campaign under the bus, as they did Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Creigh Deeds in November, should take a casual look at the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted Jan. 10-14 among 1,002 registered voters with a 3-point error margin.

On the generic congressional ballot test, the two parties run even, 41-41 percent. This should be troubling for Democrats because this poll question historically skews in their favor. More significant was that among those voters with the most intense interest in this election (those who rated their interest as either 9 or 10), and the most likely to vote in a midterm election, Republicans held a 15-point lead, 50-35 percent.

This is the second consecutive month of huge GOP advantages among those voters most interested in the election. If this level remains constant, you can count on the Democratic majority in the House being toast this fall.

 

David Wasserman, the House Editor of the Cook Political Report, estimates, based on what we know today, that House Republicans will make a net gain of 25-35 seats. A month or so ago, he estimated a 20-30-seat pickup; a few months before that, 15-25.

To hit a 40-seat net gain, flipping control of the House, would require more Democratic retirements in tough districts. That would mean simply a month or two continuation of the kind of retirements that we have seen over the last two months. Today Democrats have four House seats that are Leaning or Likely to fall into the GOP column, plus 20 more Tossups, a total of 24 seats on the critical list.

Another 26 seats are Lean Democratic -- competitive, but Democrats still have an edge -- for a total of 50 seats in danger. Another 36 seats are Likely Democratic, potentially competitive but not yet. Offsetting that are only three Republican seats that are Tossup or Lean Democratic.

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Our Senate/Governor Editor, Jennifer Duffy, estimates Republicans might pick up two to four Senate seats. In the gubernatorial races, she sees a similar outcome.

Wasserman and Duffy are Cook Political Report experts. They determine what the official projections are, which will be updated periodically as the campaigns develop. As they are the ones who are interviewing candidates and talking with their campaign teams and consultants on a daily basis, along with state and local party leaders, they establish the party line for the Cook Political Report.

My view, separate from the Cook Political Report's official estimates, mirrors Wasserman's current 25-35-seat net gain for Republicans in the House, but in the Senate, my posture is a bit more aggressive. I suspect a Republican gain of five to seven seats, predicated on Democrats being unlikely to capture any more than one, at most, Tossup GOP Senate seats (the open seats of Sens. Jim Bunning in Kentucky, Kit Bond in Missouri, Judd Gregg in New Hampshire and George Voinovich in Ohio) and not being able to hold onto more than one, at most, of the five Democratic Tossups (Sens. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas, Michael Bennet in Colorado, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, Harry Reid in Nevada and the open seat of Roland Burris in Illinois). The open Democratic seats in Delaware and North Dakota are goners.

The primary difference between this year and previous nationalized elections is that this one looks so bad for Democrats so early.

While the extended amount of time up front obviously means the election's trajectory could change before Nov. 2, one could also say I could theoretically be thin by then, too. Not very likely on either count. So just as things could change and improve for Democrats, it could remain on the same course. They could snowball and get worse, too.

The last six months, since we began writing about impending Democratic problems in August, has been like watching a car wreck in slow motion.

We keep watching, expecting one of the drivers to swerve or hit the brakes, but they never do. The White House and Democratic congressional leaders have done nothing to halt the impending collision.

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