The Democrats' top strategist, David Plouffe, cannot predict that his party will retain control of the House and Senate or win a majority of the marquee governors races.
All Plouffe can say with confidence is he sees a "path" to Democrats retaining control of the House and Senate and finishing better than expected in top-tier races for governor. Plouffe declared anything less than a GOP sweep of Congress and victories in most of the big gubernatorial races a failure.
"By their definition, success is winning back the House, winning back the Senate and winning every major governor's race," he said. "When you've got winds this strong in your favor, that's the kind of election you need to have, or it should be considered a colossal failure."
He declined to define Democratic Election Night success.
"No one is comfortable with where we are today," said Plouffe, the top Democratic National Committee strategist for the midterms and likely a pivotal player in President Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. "They (Republicans) are going to get good turnout no matter what they do."
Plouffe said that in recent weeks Democratic base voters have begun to re-engage and the "enthusiasm gap" with Republican and independent voters had begun to close.
"Republicans have maxed out," Plouffe said. "Trajectory is important and matters in politics."
Of late, he said, Democratic trajectories in donations, voter identification and mobilization have been improving.
But all will be lost, Plouffe said, unless Democrats can continue to "show progress" on these and other metrics.
He acknowledged that many incumbent Democrats in House and Senate races remain under 50 percent -- a traditional danger sign in a typical election cycle that's often fatal in a nationalized "wave" election.
The key for Democrats, Plouffe said, will be to continue to motivate base voters and pry away just enough independents in tight House and Senate races to achieve victory.
"There aren't going to be any no-hitters," said Plouffe, an ardent fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, referring to Phils' starter Roy Halladay's historic no-hitter in Game One of the divisional playoffs on Wednesday. "The question will be: Can we win some gritty 6-5 games out there? We have to turn 49-51 races into 51-49 races."
And in some cases, Plouffe said, Democrats won't even need to top 50 percent of the vote. In Nevada's Senate race and other tight House races, minor party candidates could siphon off just enough votes to let Democrats claw their way to victory.
"There are plenty of races where our win number will be 46 or 47 and we're grateful for that," he said.
Plouffe also branded outside Republican-backed groups such as American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, both linked to former senior Bush White House aides Ed Gillespie and Karl Rove, as the "central financial actors in the campaign cycle."
He called the undisclosed donations to these groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce an act of "hijacking our Democracy" that denies voters basic information about who is bankrolling a candidate or cause and why. At the end of the cycle, Plouffe predicted, outside groups with Republican sympathies will outspend Democratic groups by 7 or 8 to 1. Through Aug. 31, American Crossroads spent $7.3 million on TV ads to help Republican Senate candidates. From Oct. 1 to 5, American Crossroads spent $877,000 on three Senate races (Arkansas, Nevada and Colorado), with nearly $800,000 devoted to defeating appointed Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet of Colorado.
The key message to Democratic voters will be that Republicans do not represent a "benign threat," that their campaign promises mean a return to Bush-era economic and regulatory policies.
But Plouffe admitted that at least 50 percent of independent voters (and higher numbers in some polls) don't believe Republicans will revert to Bush-era policies. New Gallup data shows that Democrats have fallen from their 2006 numbers for public perception of governing ability, and Republicans, while still viewed skeptically, have achieved equilibrium with their 1994 numbers on these indices.
The biggest task for Democrats, Plouffe said, will be to convince independents and disaffected Democrats that Republicans have no new ideas and cannot be trusted to improve the economy.
Plouffe said Christine O'Donnell's Senate candidacy in Delaware has helped Democrats push the "GOP extremist" message there and nationwide, triggering more small-dollar donations to the DNC (it raised $13 million in September) and a slight surge in volunteer sign-ups. Plouffe did not rule out the use by major Democratic committees of positions taken by O'Donnell and GOP Senate nominees Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky in TV spots across the country to motivate Democrats and "persuade" independents.
Even so, Plouffe said some of the most ardently conservative GOP candidates for the House and Senate "will win" in November and that will drive the party and its recruitment process further to the right.
"If you're a moderate Republican thinking of running in 2012 or 2014, you need to have your head examined," he said.