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An Uneasy Status Quo

For all of voters' dissatisfaction, neither the White House nor either chamber of Congress likely will change hands.


A"Vote Early" sign in displayed as former President Bill Clinton speaks at a President Obama campaign rally in Youngstown, Ohio.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A nationwide bevy of principals, contractors and subcontractors has spent $6 billion on a mammoth project of never-before-seen depth, breadth and complexity, and nothing much changed: Sounds like the latest government boondoggle.

But it's not. Instead, it's a pretty apt description for Election 2012, an election which after a two-year permanent campaign will yield a result on Tuesday that looks pretty much like the status quo now: with a Democratic president hindered by a painfully slow economic recovery, a dysfunctional Senate controlled by a Democratic majority that cannot advance his agenda, and a Republican House determined to reverse course, all three institutions plotting against each other, unable and -- more importantly -- unwilling to forge a consensus.


One day before the polls open, that appears to be the course Americans will chart for themselves for the next two years -- sound and fury, signifying, if not nothing, then not very much.

The national atmospherics should spell doom for an incumbent president seeking a second term. Rather than a new era of post-partisanship, President Obama's first four years in office have yielded perhaps the most bitterly partisan climate in Washington since House Republicans impeached Bill Clinton in 1998. Americans still believe the nation is headed dramatically in the wrong direction, while only 45 percent told NBC News/Wall Street Journal pollsters they think the economy will get better over the next 12 months.

And yet, all signs suggest Obama will defeat Republican nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday. Obama leads the most recent polls in the battleground states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Colorado and Iowa, all states Romney has made a priority. Early voting in Nevada also clearly favors Democrats. Without winning two of those states at a minimum, Romney's odds of achieving the 270 electoral votes needed to secure the Oval Office are implausibly long. And Obama's leads in each state, while narrowing throughout October, have remained steady enough to give Democrats significant confidence in Obama's chances.


Similarly, after three straight elections in which major national waves have pushed one party to big gains in Congress, an equivalent boost to one side or the other has not materialized this year.

In the battle for control of the House of Representatives, that clearly favors the current Republican majority. Both sides have tried to create a one-size-fits-all argument their candidates can use to batter their rivals. Democrats have accused Republicans of planning to gut Medicare through Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal. Republicans have hammered "Obamacare" and charged Democrats with robbing Medicare of $700 billion in funding. Neither message has resonated with a broad swath of voters across the country.

Instead, the deeply polarized electorate, a post-redistricting cycle in which many House members face a significantly new electorate for the first time, Americans' poisonously negative view of Congress and local factors including scandal and poorly-run campaigns has conspired to create an atmosphere much like the 1992 elections. That year, the minority Republicans scored a net gain of just nine seats, though more than 50 members of both parties lost their jobs, either in primaries or the general election.

House Democrats are confident they will pick up a handful of seats in states such as Illinois and Maryland, where Democrat-led redistricting put Republicans in much more liberal districts. They are also likely to beat scandal-plagued Rep. David Rivera in Florida and several Republicans first elected in the 2010 wave.


House Republicans, though, have opportunities in North Carolina and Texas, where their party drew the new district boundaries, and in places such as Massachusetts, where Rep. John Tierney is embroiled in a legal case surrounding an off-shore gambling ring run by his brothers-in-law. The result will be a virtual wash, with Democrats falling far short of the 25 seats they need to pick up to regain control of Congress.

In the fight for the Senate, the polarized electorate and genuine luck favor Democrats, who cling to a 53-to-47 seat majority.

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