To the People

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Monday, November 06, 2006

The Coming Republican Wave?

OK, time for my counter-conventional election prediction: The Democrats won't make large gains in Congress, and the Republicans stand a chance of holding both the House and Senate. Blasphemy I know. But let's examine the facts.

Karl Rove is no dummy (although he works for dummies). He has spent the last several months trying to localize elections (making it about the individual incumbents, not Bush or the Republican Congress as a whole), highlighting the major differences between Republicans and Democrats on spending, taxes, national security, and social issues (to bring their base back home), switching the conversation away from Bush and Iraq to "weak-kneed" Democrats and terrorism (the "Kerry hates our troops" campaign was smart, and sentencing Saddam Hussein to death a few days before the election was even smarter), and turning out Republicans in large numbers (the GOP unquestionably has a better GOTV machine than the Democrats, and the media's insistence that Democrats are going to make major gains is likely to depress Democratic turn-out - if it's not going to be close like 2004, then why vote?) There is evidence that Republicans have regained their footing and that an anti-Democrat wave is forming. The question is, is it too little too late? Can it block the large anti-Republican wave?

First, the Senate. Democrats are set to take GOP Senate seats in Ohio and Pennsylvania; but they still need four more seats to capture the Senate. Their chances of picking up four more seats have shrunk over the last week. The Republican incumbent in Rhode Island has closed his opponent's lead and is now running even in the polls. The Republican incumbent in Montana may have also done the same (depending on which poll you believe). Meanwhile, the Republican candidate in Tennessee has turned a toss-up race into a sizeable lead over his opponent. These amazing come-backs suggest that whatever Republicans are doing is working. In fact, the once safe Democratic Senate seat in Maryland is now in trouble. The Republican candidate has shrunk his opponent's sizable lead to just a three-point lead. (Maryland Republican Governor Ehrlich has also made a stunning come-back, closing the once substantial lead of his opponent.) The Republican candidate in New Jersey has shrunk his opponent's sizable lead to a (still whopping) five-point lead. And despite their best efforts, Democrats are still only in statistical ties with Republicans in Missouri and Virginia. When you look at what has happened in these Senate races over the last several weeks it's clear that Republicans are holding and gaining in some states. Assuming Democrats keep Maryland and New Jersey (not a certainty), and hold their gains in Ohio and Pennsylvania (very likely), they would still need to win four out of five of the other races. This seems unlikely. And whatever momentum is fueling the stunning turn-around in Senate races will also boost Republican chances of holding the House.

10 Republican House seats currently lean Democrat and 20 GOP seats are toss-ups. One way of looking at this is that Democrats are only five seats short of what they need to take the House - and they only need to win 25% of the swing races to do it. But another way of looking at is that the Democrats are falling short. Voters overwhelmingly tend to vote for incumbents. And many of these toss-up races are in conservative districts. Any half-way decent Republican GOTV campaign should be able to swing most of these races to the right. But then again Democrats only need to win five. Complicating matters for them, however, is that at least five Democratic incumbents are now in trouble. An anti-incumbent wave could sweep several Republicans into Democratic seats. On top of it all, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Democrats only have a six-percentage-point lead nationally among likely voters asked which party they prefer for Congress. This is down from 14 points two weeks ago. Again, whatever Republicans are doing is working. But is it enough?

Superb overview of latest election news from The Hotline here. Good Washington Post overview of close races here and here. Latest from Roll Call here and here. Other news here, here, and here.