Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Once or Twice in a Generation Election

Charles Cook over at the National Journal is making a strong forecast for Democratic gains in November's midterm election:

Election Day is three weeks from now, and unless something happens fast, this will be one of those once- or twice-in-a-generation elections when a party enjoys unbelievable gains or endures horrendous losses that prove to be the exceptions to Tip O'Neill's adage that "all politics is local." In midterm elections, Democrats last suffered such a defeat in 1994; for Republicans, it was 20 years before that in the Watergate election of 1974.

The direction, barring some unforeseen event, is clear. What is less clear is which specific seats will fall and how far inland this wave will go.

In the Senate, it would be a real shocker if Republicans Conrad Burns in Montana, Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania or Mike DeWine in Ohio got re-elected. Some would put Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee on the same list, but you could at least get a debate going on that one. Besides Chafee, the GOP seats still teetering on the edge are Jim Talent in Missouri, George Allen in Virginia and the open seat in Tennessee, although it's still worth keeping an eye on Jon Kyl in Arizona if Republican turnout truly goes through the floor.

On the Democratic side, it's appointed Sen. Robert Menendez in New Jersey hanging onto a very precarious lead. GOP strategists aren't sure they want to commit to funding a three-week TV buy in New York City and Philadelphia that would cost upwards of $7 million for a state that has disappointed Republicans so many times over the last dozen years. The GOP's chances against incumbent Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, Maria Cantwell in Washington and an open seat in Maryland are now long shots, at best. Right now, the Senate looks most likely to reflect a five- or six-seat gain for Democrats, putting the chamber at 50-50 or giving Democrats a hair-thin 51-49 majority. A four- or seven-seat gain is also quite possible, and a three- or eight-seat gain is theoretically possible, but highly unlikely.

In the House, there are now four GOP-held seats that are leaning toward Democrats and 26 more in the toss-up column. Keep in mind the Cook Political Report's almost iron-clad rule that unindicted incumbents don't get designated worse than a toss-up. Twenty more Republican seats are only leaning Republican. Another 15 seats are in the likely Republican column -- not quite in our competitive categories yet, but they could potentially be so, and some of these may be moving any day now. So call it 50 seats in jeopardy now, but a few more aren't too secure in this kind of environment....

While many attribute the Republican freefall to the scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley and his e-mails to congressional pages, it really was no more than the straw that broke the camel's back. The seeds of Republicans' problems were planted long before publication of the congressman's e-mails to pages. The war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, other congressional scandals, federal budget spending and deficits, stem-cell research, Terri Schiavo and a multitude of other factors had been feeding the creation of an undertow for the GOP that goes back over a year. The "time for a change" dynamic that worked against Democrats in 1994 gradually came into place, fueled by all those factors mentioned above, and now it would probably take some huge event to alter its course.

Take a look also at the new article by political scientist Alan Abramowitz at PS: Political Science and Politics. Abramowitz is one of the top election specialists in the country. Using a model based on pre-election Gallup Poll data on congressional races from 1946 to 2004, he predicts a 22 seat pick up for the Democrats in the House. Abramowitz expects the Democrats to have more difficulty in winning control of the Senate because only 15 of the 33 seats in play this year are held by Republicans.

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