For quite a while, Democrats have waited and desperately hoped that the trajectory of this election campaign would change. They are still waiting and hoping.
While things could change in the next 35 days, they haven't yet, and every day, the magnitude of events necessary to change the course of this election has to be greater than the day before.
It seems extremely likely that the GOP will regain control of the House, but it is less clear whether this election is headed to net seat gains in the forties or fifties or if it will be even higher.
Wave elections tend to be pretty easy to predict, but it is much more difficult to forecast their maximum impact. In the past, wave elections have tended to be underestimated. It's important to know that when you see people throwing extremely big numbers out there, they are just grabbing numbers out of the sky.
I shudder when I hear numbers that I have never written, uttered or even thought, attributed to me. Those that do so could be confused with the number of Democratic seats that are "in play," which is something very different.
In the Senate, there is equal uncertainty. We could see Republican gains of seven or eight seats, but they could be as high as nine or 10. A GOP gain of 10 seats would flip control of that chamber.
This is unlikely, but very possible, even when you take into account the GOP disaster in Delaware, which effectively took a seat off the table for Republicans with Christine O'Donnell's nomination. Historically, it's very unusual to see the House flip but not the Senate.
There is some history for the Senate changing hands and the House staying the same. But when the House goes, the Senate seems to follow.
In the Senate, Democrats have a total of 12 seats in real danger. The first three are the open seats in North Dakota and Indiana, as well as that of Sen. Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. All three are underdogs or even long shots at this point.
Eight of the dozen vulnerable Democratic seats are in the Toss Up column. The ones in the most danger are the open seats in Illinois and Pennsylvania as well as Sens. Harry Reid in Nevada, Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and Michael Bennet in Colorado.
In the stronger part of the Democratic Toss Up races are Barbara Boxer in California, Patty Murray in Washington, and the open seat in Connecticut -- but in each of these races, the odds are no better than 50-50 for Democrats.
There has been some jockeying around; Murray looks better this week than she has previously and Feingold is looking worse, but the general trend line has not been in a direction Democrats would like.
One Democratic seat that may soon be joining the Toss Up column is the open seat in West Virginia. Here, the danger signals are flashing pretty brightly and it is one of the weakest states in the country for President Obama and much of this past year's Democratic agenda.
While Republicans have four of their own seats in the Toss Up column -- open seats in Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire -- each of these looks more likely to stay Republican than any of the Democratic Toss Ups have of remaining in that party's hands.
More than in any previous cycle that we've witnessed, perceptions of the ebb and flow of races are being driven by state and district level polling.
This does not mean that there is better polling, just more. To some, polling has become a commodity -- all the same and totally interchangeable. This is pure rubbish.
Probably 90 percent of the public polling in statewide and district races is mediocre at best and much of it is very close to worthless.
Despite this, it is still driving the narrative of where individual races stand. Some of these polls screen for likely voters -- which is important in lower turnout midterm elections -- while others don't bother to screen at all. Some don't seem to bother weighting for gender, age and other predictable variables. Some include the names of all the candidates on the ballot and others do not.
I should echo an argument made several weeks ago by my good friend and competitor Stu Rothenberg. He scoffed at those who mistakenly believed that polls conducted independently from the candidates and parties were inherently better or more reliable than campaign polling.
My view is that most academic polling as well as the polling sponsored by local television stations and newspapers is dime-store junk.
The far more sophisticated polling is done by top-notch professional polling firms for campaigns, parties and major business and labor organizations. These polls are considerably more expensive and the methodology is more rigorous.
Most of these surveys are not made public, but insiders can be made aware of them. While even the most experienced and contentious political pollsters have more challenges than a generation ago, their work is still far superior and reliable.
The end result is that you have two separate conversations about these political races: one that is driven by the publicly available, but less reliable, stock of polls and the other made by the black market of high quality and more expensive surveys done for private clients, including the campaigns themselves.
This article appears in the October 2, 2010 edition of NJ Daily.
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