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Legacy Content / OFF TO THE RACES

The Third Wave In A Row

October 19, 2010

Republicans had a tsunami phase, then Democrats had a natural tightening, and now things have stabilized in the Newton's Laws of Motion-phase, where for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. One state might be improving for Democrats, another for Republicans, but they seem to net out with few if any new broad trends.

Strategists for each party are often staring at contradictory poll numbers from multiple pollsters -- perhaps one set of numbers conducted for their party's Senate nominee, another for their party's Senate campaign committee, another for their party's gubernatorial nominee and yet another from their party's governors' association.

Some can show a tightening, others a widening. Lower-turnout midterm elections are always more difficult to poll than a high-turnout presidential year. With this year's enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats, pollsters find themselves trying to decide between weighting against funny samples or going with the flow, not knowing which is accurate.

 

At least one Republican committee has chosen to see the unweighted data, but then asked their pollsters to weigh more conservatively so they aren't making their allocation decisions based on over-optimistic data.

The vast majority of these surveys are generally far more expensive and sophisticated than what the public sees and will never appear in the media or on the web. These polls aren't done for spinning purposes, but are the product of earnest pollsters trying to figure out what this odd-looking electorate is going to look like.

Not that this election is headed for a partisan draw by any imagination. It still looks like a pretty good bet that this year will roughly match the 1994 Republican wave of 52 House seats and eight Senate seats on Election Day.

It will be a very, very formidable wave, but one that might be a bit less than what seemed possible a month or so ago, when numbers in the 60s or 70s in the House looked possible and a 10-seat GOP gain in the Senate looked to be as high as a one-in-three chance.

With many House and Senate contests so close, things still could end up in that upper territory, but it is more likely than not that this will be closer to 1994 territory.

It seems when Democrats decided to abandon defending themselves or attacking Republicans on policy and record and simply go personal, they began to break their falls and, in some cases, regain a little ground.

Democrats were fortunate that the backgrounds and activities of many of their GOP rivals offered them plenty of ammunition. But it hardly undoes a lot of the widespread damage of the last two years, and is likely to keep their losses down to simply gigantic as opposed to titanic.

The lame Democratic attacks on foreign funding of the election seem to have cut little ice with independents. But along with other efforts, they seem to have caused some stirring within the Democratic base, which is all they could probably realistically expect.

Should the Senate end up with a 9-seat net gain for Republicans, or even eight, there will be immediate speculation about what Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Joe Lieberman, I/D-Conn., do. Both are up for re-election in 2012 and neither is likely to be oblivious to the fact that Democrats have twice as many seats at risk in 2012 and 2014 as Republicans. Whether the GOP captures a Senate majority this year or not, the odds are pretty good that they will have one in either two or four years. That kind of exposure is enormously important, particularly given the rarefied circumstances in which Democrats won some of those seats in 2006 and 2008.

For Nelson, who turns 70 next year, it's hard to say what would be more difficult: seeking re-election in 2012 as a Democrat or winning a GOP primary.

This year, the party establishments had a tough time protecting party-switchers or iconoclasts in primaries. Just ask Sens. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., Robert Bennett, R-Utah, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

If Nelson decides to run for re-election, he might opt to do so as an independent. Personally, I think retirement sounds pretty good. I hear he has a nice fishing and hunting cabin, which sounds particularly inviting given the war zone that the Senate has become. For Lieberman, he might have just found his sweet spot, running as an independent and sitting with whichever party is most hospitable.

The one sobering thought that veteran Republican consultants are already contemplating is that the larger the wave this year, the more difficult it will be to hold onto some of these seats in 2012 and 2014 in the House and 2016 in the Senate.

The bigger the wave, the weaker the class and the harder it will be to hold onto those seats. Democrats only have to look at their 2006 and 2008 classes for plenty of examples.

What this means is that we will likely have our third wave election in a row this year, and the bigger this one is, the more likely that there will be a countervailing wave in either 2012 or 2014.

All these waves. Must be climate change.

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