Democrats smell victory.
The average of seven surveys taken between October 20 and 24 shows Barack Obama with an 8-point lead over John McCain. In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry by less than 3 points.
What has happened? The Republican vote has collapsed. It's 9 points lower than four years ago (51 percent for Bush in 2004; 42 percent for McCain). But Obama is doing only 2 points better than Kerry (50 percent for Obama; 48 percent for Kerry). Where did the other voters go? Answer: to the "unsure" category (7 percent). They don't want to vote Republican this year, but they're not certain whether they will vote for Obama.
The same thing is happening in battleground states.
Florida: Obama's support averages 48 percent, only 1 point higher than Kerry's. McCain's averages 45 percent, 7 points lower than Bush's.
Ohio: Obama's 49 percent is the same as Kerry's vote in 2004. McCain's support, averaging 44 percent, is 7 points lower than Bush's vote in Ohio.
Pennsylvania: Obama is leading with 51 percent, the same as Kerry's vote. McCain is trailing at 41 percent, 7 points lower than Bush.
All of this suggests that the driving dynamic in this election is party. This is a "throw-the-bums-out" election. And the Republicans are the "bums."
The evidence? In the mid-October CNN/Opinion Research poll, only 36 percent of voters endorsed the view that most Republican members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. A substantially higher number (50 percent) wanted to see most Democratic members re-elected.
Asked how they intend to vote for Congress this year, voters gave the Democrats a 12-point lead nationwide (48 percent to 36 percent). That's bigger than Obama's lead, and it suggests a Democratic tide that could sweep in Obama as well as larger Democratic majorities in Congress. Or, more precisely, it suggests a tide that could sweep Republicans out to sea.
This is a "throw-the-bums-out" election. And the Republicans are the "bums."
Democrats argue that big congressional majorities would help get things done. "We're going to bring change," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "It's going to be mainstream change.... It's certainly going to avoid the gridlock that every single thing you want to do is filibustered."
Schumer's New York colleague, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, went out on the campaign trail for fellow Democrats. "With your help," she told supporters of EMILY's List, "we will add to the majority of Democrats in the House, and, yes, we will get a filibuster-proof majority of Democrats in the Senate."
If Obama wins, he is likely to be the Democratic standard-bearer until 2016. If Obama loses, Clinton becomes the instant front-runner for the party's 2012 presidential nomination. Is it really in Clinton's interest for Obama to get elected? "I can't shake the feeling that some people here are pulling for me," McCain said at the Al Smith dinner in New York City last month. "I am delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary," he joked.
Clinton might be making a different calculation -- that Obama is likely to win and the Democrats are likely to enjoy a big congressional victory. She wants it to be her victory -- and her husband's -- too. Last week, former President Clinton campaigned alongside Obama for the first time.
But do voters really want one party to have that much power? In the CNN poll, slightly more people said they would rather see the White House and Congress controlled by different parties (41 percent) than by the same party (36 percent). The last time one party controlled everything, the outcome was not good. Republicans paid in 2006 for one-party control, just as Democrats did in 1994.
Republicans are warning voters not to give Democrats a "blank check." The National Republican Senatorial Committee ran an ad in North Carolina advising voters against supporting Democratic Senate nominee Kay Hagan. "No checks and balances," the ad warns. "If she wins, they get a blank check." The NRSC also sent out an e-mail signed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that said, "If we don't act now -- to defend our Senate firewall -- conservatives will be powerless to stop Barack Obama's rule by fiat." Both the Republican ad and the Republican e-mail appear to assume that Obama will be the next president.
This article appears in the Nov. 1, 2008, edition of National Journal.