- Some press reports suggest Sen. John McCain is writing off Colorado, Iowa, and New Mexico. If true, this means McCain is pinning his chances on pulling off an upset in Pennsylvania — a long shot, but probably the best strategy for desperate campaign.
- In House and Senate races, things get worse every week for the GOP. Democrats will approach 60 seats in the U.S. Senate, and have guaranteed double-digit gains in the House.
- The tidal wave this year has three causes: the economic meltdown falling on GOP shoulders, McCain’s poorly run campaign, and the enthusiasm for Sen. Barack Obama.
Obama’s Hurdles: Things continue to look bad for McCain, but Obama’s task is still tougher than the polls or most media coverage would suggest.
- Since 1944, only two Democratic presidential nominees gave garnered a majority in the popular vote — Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Jimmy Carter in the post-Watergate election of 1976. The upshot: Democrats begin with the odds against him. Does a black liberal with the middle name Hussein seem like the most likely Democrat to break that streak?
- Republicans can take some solace in the knowledge that polling is an art, and not a science. In producing their final numbers, pollsters make assumptions about turnout among certain demographics, including blacks and young voters. If, as happened in 2000 and 2004, youth turnout is much lower than the media expect, Obama’s vote totals could be considerably lower than polls would suggest.
- For all the buzz about millions of new registered voters, registering to vote is much easier than actually voting. The media promise a burgeoning "youth vote" every four years — and it doesn’t materialize. On the flip side, early voting turnouts have been startlingly high in a way that has Republicans very worried.
- Then there is the talk of the "Bradley Effect:" White voters, eager to be considered racially tolerant, tell pollsters they will vote for Obama, and then vote for McCain. It’s not clear this "effect" is much more than a theory spurred by suspicions of widespread secret racism.
Final Debate: Obama won the final debate, despite an improved performance by McCain.
- This was the best McCain has done in any of the three debates, but Obama still bested him in every single round.
- Perhaps the most important factor was the visuals. All the channels carrying the debate showed a split-screen for most of the debate, which depicted Obama mostly as relaxed and calm, and McCain as uncomfortable, and again smiling creepily.
- Obama made a point of laughing off many of McCain’s charges, which could come across as his being above mudslinging, or it could come across as disrespectful and juvenile. At times, Obama got prickly — for example, when trying to fend off McCain’s tax-hiker charges — but he mostly stayed cool. By any measure, though, Obama looked more confident and more likable than McCain, and that makes the difference for many voters.
- Also, McCain’s attempts at sarcasm were confusing and came across very poorly. McCain’s best moment was countering Obama’s continued attack on President Bush, saying Obama could have run against him four years ago.
- Obama was well prepared and had an effective defense and rebuttal to every McCain line of attack. This is not surprising, because McCain seems to have telegraphed in previous days every jab he would throw, or he took his cues from the media. Obama had anticipated all the McCain offensives, for example, critiquing Obama’s fine on businesses that don’t insure their employees, or assailing Obama for never varying from the party line — and his rebuttals were usually stronger than McCain’s original attack.
- Obama comes across as having a better grasp of the issues than does McCain. For independent voters, this understanding of and confidence with the issues are probably more important than the actual positions each candidate takes on the issues.
- McCain hit Obama harder than ever before on Obama’s big-government intentions, and he finally launched a real attack on Democratic enabling of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as big contributors to the current economic crisis. But when McCain attacked Obama’s "share the wealth" line, he displayed his difficulty with discussing economics. Also, McCain diluted that attack with a big dose of "me-too" calls for regulation.
Overview: In this week’s analysis of late-breaking races, we add five more Democratic takeovers, and one more Democratic retention, but one additional GOP pickup. More worrisome, a handful of GOP incumbents have moved into the vulnerable column.
In addition to the races discussed below, Democrat Bobby Bright must now be considered the favorite in Alabama’s 2nd District.
To our previous count of a 7-seat Democratic gain, add this week’s net gain of 5, and Democrats are looking at a 12-seat gain, with most of the close races being Republican leaners. GOP losses could easily hit 20 seats. Democrats +12.
Colorado-4: Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R), always a top Democratic target as are most conservative Republican women, is in real trouble this year. A poll from September showed Democratic nominee Betsy Markey way ahead of Musgrave, but that survey was suspect. The heated nature of the candidates’ debate reveals the closeness.
In this Democratic year, Musgrave needs to hope her Republican-leaning district keeps leaning Republican, and she needs to outperform Markey in the home stretch. Leaning Republican Retention.
Florida-16: Republicans caught a break with the October revelation that Rep. Tim Mahoney (D), who in 2006 won the seat of Rep. Mark Foley (R) after Foley was forced to resign in disgrace, has carried on an extra-marital affair involving hush-money to a former mistress.
Army veteran Tom Rooney (R) is now the favorite in this Palm Beach-based district. Leaning Republican Takeover.
Florida-24: Another GOP casualty looks likely in Florida, with Rep. Tom Feeney (R) behind badly in the polls and consistently showing below 50 percent. Former State Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D) posted a 58 percent in a recent DCCC poll, and while that’s unrealistically high, Feeney is looking like a lost cause. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
Idaho-1: Democrats are very close to picking up an Idaho congressional seat that has no business being in Democratic hands. Freshman Rep. Bill Sali (R) has a bad relationship with the Gem State’s GOP establishment, and his unguarded rhetoric and erratic behavior have helped drag him below 50 percent in many polls.
Businessman Walt Minnick (D) carries the Democratic banner, and he is exploiting the degree to which many Idaho Republicans consider Sali an embarrassment. While Idaho’s a conservative state, the GOP here has a strong moderate segment, and that segment holds little love for Sali, whose unfavorables are very high.
The presidential election looks like it will be Sali’s saving grace — simply that he is down-ballot from Sarah Palin while Minnick is down-ballot from Barack Obama. Leaning Republican Retention.
Michigan-7: Rep. Tim Walberg (R) is in serious danger of losing to state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer (D). The DCCC, riffing off of Wall Street’s recent collapse, is hitting Walberg for supporting personal Social Security accounts, and a recent Democratic poll showed Schauer way up.
Both ACORN and the DCCC are running ads against Walberg, and now former Rep. Joe Schwarz, the liberal Republican Walberg defeated in the 2006 primary, has endorsed Schauer. With McCain giving up on Michigan, and Schauer outraising him, Walberg is in trouble. However, this is still a Republican district, and Walberg should be considered a slight favorite. Leaning Republican Retention.
Michigan-9: Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R) faces the toughest reelection of his life, polling even with former state Sen. Gary Peters (D). Peters has nearly kept pace with Knollenberg’s fundraising, and the DCCC and the AFL-CIO are both piling on.
Knollenberg is trumpeting his success in pushing a $25 billion carmaker bailout through Congress. A slew of third-party candidates — including assisted-suicide practitioner Dr. Jack Kevorkian could mix things up here
Knollenberg has an incumbent advantage, but that could also be a disadvantage this year. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
Mississippi-1: Rep. Travis Childers (D), elected in an upset in the spring’s special election, now looks likely to hang onto his seat for a full term. Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R), the handpicked candidate of resigned former Sen. Trent Lott (R), lost the seat by turning off Republicans in the brutal special primary, and he has not made amends.
Childers is a conservative Democrat who has played his cards right since becoming a congressman. Davis, meanwhile, has a bit of a likability deficit. One Mississippi Republican pointed to his fondness for hair gel to show how he ill fits the district, especially compared to Childers. Leaning Democratic Retention.
Nevada-3: A string of polls has shown Rep. Jon Porter (R) well below 50 percent in his race against former state Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus (D). Porter still posts leads in some of these polls, but an incumbent coming in at 43 percent is a very bad omen. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
New Jersey-3: New Jersey Democrats still look poised to pick up two House seats, and maybe three. In the 3rd District seat left open by the retirement of Rep. Jim Saxton (R), State Sen. John Adler (D) still has the upper hand on Medford Township Councilman Chris Myers (R).
This district voted for Gore in 2000 and Bush in 2004, but was drawn in the 2002 bipartisan incumbent-protection redistricting plan to be a GOP stronghold. Having a strong defense-industry element, Myers benefits from being a veteran and defense contractor. But Adler is simply proving to be a stronger candidate. A state senator, Adler has experience on a bigger stage than does Myers, and he has won tough races before, including pulling off win in 1990, a very tough year for Democrats.
The GOP base of this district has been the Ocean County portion, populated with old Italian-American retirees from New York and other parts of New Jersey. This senior-citizen population is one of the places the GOP’s strength has crumbled in recent weeks, as retirement portfolios evaporate.
Myers has a decent shot, but signs increasingly point in Adler’s direction. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
New Jersey-5: Rep. Scott Garrett (R) needs to be added to the list of vulnerable Republicans. Garrett represents the very top of New Jersey, a district centered in the upper-income suburbs of Bergen County that sit on the commuter lines into Manhattan. While a bit more ethnic and more Catholic than other pockets of suburbia, Bergen’s population is the demographic at the core of the Democratic realignment across the country.
This year, in particular, these well-heeled white voters are being won over by Obama and turned off — or at least not motivated — by McCain. An Obama surge in the bedroom communities boosts Democratic nominee Dennis Shulman, a blind rabbi psychologist. Democrats are renewing their focus on this race as a top pickup opportunity.
Garrett’s strength is in the exurban portions of the district, further North and West, and, as a three-term incumbent, he will benefit from some ticket-splitting. Leaning Republican Retention.
New Jersey-7: Of the Democrats’ three targeted takeovers in the Garden State, the 7th District is the closest thing to a sure bet. State Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D) gave a good scare two years ago to Rep. Mike Ferguson (R), helping persuade him to retire. This year, Republicans nominated State Sen. Leonard Lance (R). Combine a Democratic-trending district with a horrible GOP year, and no base enthusiasm for a pro-choice moderate Republican nominee, and things look very good for Stender. Likely Democratic Takeover.
New Mexico-1: Democrats are poised to run the table in New Mexico, taking over a U.S. Senate seat, two House races, and the state’s five Electoral College votes. The end result would be total dominance of the state: the entire House and Senate delegation, both chambers of the state legislature, and the governorship.
The Republicans’ last best chance for hanging onto a shred of power here is Bernalillo Co. Sheriff Darren White (R), running in the Albuquerque seat being left open by the retirement of Rep. Heather Wilson (R), who lost in the U.S. Senate primary.
White is probably a better candidate than Albuquerque city Councilman Martin Heinrich (D), but circumstances are favoring the Democrats. Albuquerque was always a tough place for Republicans to win, and Wilson repeatedly won by razor-thin margins. The economic downturn is causing anti-Republican mood shifts, and Obama’s coattails should be strong in this district, with McCain’s enthusiasm gap giving Heinrich a further edge.
White has a shot to be a bright spot in a bad GOP year, but the tides right now are going against him. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
New Mexico-2: Although the 2nd District is "the Republican district" in New Mexico, Democrats are favored to take over the House seat here, left open by the retirement of Rep. Steve Pearce (R), who is running for Senate.
Former Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague (D) has benefitted from a bigger war chest than restaurateur Ed Tinsley (R). New Mexico Republicans are not terribly excited about Tinsley either. Tinsley also suffers from the fact that Pearce, the hometown boy, doesn’t seem to have too much steam in the homestretch of his Senate race. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
Ohio-16: State Sen. John Boccieri (D) now looks like the favorite over State Sen. Kirk Schuring (R) in the seat left open by the retirement of Rep. Ralph Regula (R). Combined with the Democrats’ probable takeover in Ohio’s 15th District, Democrats are set to pick up two House seats in the Buckeye State. Leaning Democratic Takeover.
Texas-10: Rep. Mike McCaul (R) has reason to worry in his race against entertainer Larry Joe Doherty (D).
McCaul, a second-term congressman, has low name recognition, and Doherty has him beat on charisma. Doherty has kept up with McCaul’s slow fundraising pace, but this is one seat Obama could win for his party. The Western portion of the district is in Travis County, home to Austin. The Democratic machine there is strong, and Obama could drive turnout there.
For now, McCaul looks likely to hang on. Leaning Republican Retention.
Texas-22: A jewel in the Democrats’ crown last cycle was taking over the Sugarland seat of resigned former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R). This year, Rep. Nick Lampson (D) has a fair shot to hang onto the seat.
Republican nominee Pete Olson, the former chief of staff for Sen. John Cornyn (R), is among the Republicans two most promising challengers, but he still has a tough fight to knock off Lampson. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s decision to cut nearly two-thirds of their planned $1.5 million contribution to this race is interpreted by Republicans both as giving up on the race, because Olson is considered a sure thing. More likely, the NRCC is sharing the wealth in tough times.
For the most part, the anti-Republican disease sweeping the country has stayed out of Texas, and Olson is still the favorite. Leaning Republican Takeover.