This election year is a wild one compared to most of the straight ahead, target the same nine states in the Presidential, target five or six Senate races, target 15-20 House races, focus on the same predictable frequent voting swing voters elections of the past 20 years. The quote of the weekend, maybe the most fun quote of the election, came from a Republican operative saying, "There are no safe Republican seats in this election. That doesn't mean we're going to lose them all, but there is no election we couldn't lose." Wow. It's like the 50 State Strategy on steroids.
So while there is still a slim chance McCain could pull out a miracle (Obama or Biden say something dumb, McCain cuts the national lead by a few points, a bigger Bradley effect then we thought, and we lose all the key swing states by narrow margins-unlikely, yes, but not impossible), the main operative question now in Congressional and Senate races is how big is the wave? This is where it gets wild and unpredictable. In 2006, we had a strong wave, but it wasn't as bad for the Republicans as it could have been-we left 17 seats on the table that we could have easily won. So if Obama fades a bit in the national polling, the Obama GOTV operation doesn't turnout as big as we hoped for, and the Republican GOTV operation is better thought, the wave is pretty modest: 15 or so House seats, five or six Senate seats. But if the wave keeps building, and the turnout among youth and African Americans and Hispanics and single women is huge, we could be looking at big, big numbers.
Here are a few thoughts on some of the wave building stuff out there:
The DSCC is now targeting an incredible 12 seats for takeover (VA, NM, CO, AK, NH, NC, OR, ME, MN, KY, MS, GA). That list does not include appealing candidates running uphill races like Slattery in KS, Noriega in TX, Rice in OK, Kleeb in NE, and LaRocco in ID. All five of these candidates have run solid campaigns when nobody was giving them a chance, and like the scrappy underdog at an NCAA tournament, are keeping things relatively close. I've seen new polls out in recent days that show Noriega and Rice with single digit deficits, and LaRocco cutting a 26 point deficit to 12 in recent days (with Risch at only 45 percent). If the national wave keeps building, and there's a much bigger than usual turnout among African-Americans, Hispanics, and youth, even one or two of these longer shot races might slip in at the end.
The other thing to remember is that in the last four elections, one party- the party with momentum at the end-has won the overwhelming majority of close Senate races. If the race closes, and Obama's lead fades at the end, we probably lose most of the close ones. But, if we finish strong, we could get 10 or more seats.
Old cynics like me have been skeptical of the chances for candidates like Dennis Shulman in NJ and Annette Taddeo in FL, but they are showing increasing signs that they have a great shot. The new Taddeo poll showing her surging is really exciting, and Scott Garrett's hysterical ad about Shulman is a sign of how scared he's become.
Races in extremely conservative districts that I thought to be way uphill, like Tinklenberg vs. Bachmann and Markey vs. Musgrave, look like they are moving steadily toward solid wins. While I still expect the right wingers to fight hard to save those districts, the idea that we could win these races with room to spare was unthinkable just a couple weeks ago (of course, going on a bizarre rant like Bachmann did helps some).
I went door knocking this weekend in Judy Feder's NoVA district. Judy's been running an uphill race against a well-known, well- liked Republican incumbent in a Republican district, and it's a crowded expensive market, so it's tough to get her message through. But, I was running into a lot of people planning to vote for Obama and Warner who just didn't know much about Judy, and were wide open to voting for her too. It's districts like this where a tide may well make the difference.
The Georgia dynamics alone are a microcosm of the wave. The fact that both Obama and Martin are even competitive there is amazing given the strong Republican trend there over the last eight years.
The most exciting thing about this potential wave is also, ironically, the thing that may help hold Republican losses down: aware of the danger they are in, Republicans are turning increasingly to appeals to the base vote rather than appeals to swing voters in the last days of this campaign. They are on the verge of giving up, which is wonderful, but if they go especially nasty at our candidates to pump up their base vote, they may be able to hold down our margins in some of the toughest Republican districts. In the last election's great Democratic year, they were still able to win 64 percent of the races decided by 3 points or less, because they are good at squeezing every last vote out of micro-targeting in these lean GOP districts. And if our momentum is still not building on Election Day, but peaked a few days earlier, we could be looking at more modest gains.
The potential is there, though, for an amazing year. And if we can win this one really big, we can spend even more time celebrating.