A tepid economy, expected record Democratic turnout and a vast fundraising divide have set the stage for big Democratic gains when voters go to the polls today, as Republicans may lose dozens of House seats and their ability to filibuster in the Senate.
Initially saddled with more than $18 million in debt and ultimately forced to defend 29 open seats this cycle, House Republicans are expected to bear the brunt of the bloodbath, with even conservative estimates of the carnage netting Democrats 25 or more seats, many of which are districts that generally perform well for the GOP.
A dozen or more House Republicans may lose their jobs by midnight tonight, as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has poured at least $1 million apiece into 15 districts now held by GOP incumbents. Even more, the DCCC as of Monday had invested $2 million-plus in districts held by GOP Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Jon Porter (Nev.), Robin Hayes (N.C.), Steve Chabot (Ohio) and John Shadegg (Ariz.).
Election Day prospects appear rosier for Senate Republicans, but only slightly. Although Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has grinned for weeks about the possibility, Democrats as of Monday appeared unlikely to capture the nine seats necessary to reach 60 and a filibuster-proof majority.
Reaching that rare electoral feat 60 seats has been achieved only seven times since 1959 and not once in the past three decades would require Democrats to flip three GOP-held open seats in Colorado, New Mexico and Virginia, while defending Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and ousting all but two of the following targeted GOP incumbents: Sens. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), John Sununu (N.H.), Ted Stevens (Alaska), Gordon Smith (Ore.), Norm Coleman (Minn.), Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
Democrats on Monday were busy managing expectations.
At this point we expect to pick up a significant number of seats tomorrow, but it is unlikely that well get to 60, DSCC spokesman Matt Miller said.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) said on Monday that although it is theoretically possible … its unlikely that they get to 60. Ensign said that 57 or 58 Democratic seats was more realistic, but that such a margin would still take this country radically to the left.
That means higher taxes, more spending, greater dependence on Middle Eastern oil, Ensign said Monday morning on Fox News Channel. It means that theyre going to take away the right to a secret ballot when it comes to union elections.
But should voters on Tuesday hand Democrats the ability to cut off Senate debate, there is near-consensus that the blame for the GOP losses will lie squarely with the countrys financial woes, which have driven up home foreclosures, decimated retirement accounts and forced some conservative lawmakers to cast a tough vote a month ago on a $700 billion economic rescue package.
We are taking the brunt of the blame for this economy, a Republican strategist said on Monday. The economy and the bailout vote are going to play a big role on Election Day, the strategist added, and if the frustration level is that high, thats where youre going to see the wave.
What weve seen is that Republicans fairly or unfairly have taken the blame for this economy, the source continued.
Republican pollster and Roll Call contributing writer David Winston agreed that the economy is clearly the No. 1 issue this cycle, but he said voters continue to look for answers, not just an acknowledgement.
One thing that definitely comes through in terms of research is a general sense by the American people that no matter what administration comes next, voters [want to know] how do we get back on the path of economic growth? Winston said. If you can take your positions back to voters and [theyre] credible, then thats what voters are looking for.
Expected heavy Democratic turnout in the presidential race, particularly by African-American voters, also stands to unravel GOP control in historically strong Republican areas such in North Carolina, Virginia and other parts of the South.
In Georgia, for example, Chambliss is facing a closer-than-anticipated challenge fueled by conservative outrage over his bailout vote and expected heavy turnout among African-Americans, who account for 29 percent of the states population.
A Republican operative said on Monday that GOP leaders expect Chambliss to survive, but not perhaps after what is expected to be a very expensive Dec. 2 runoff with former state Rep. Jim Martin (D). A runoff will be necessary if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote.
Were already gearing up for the Georgia runoff, the operative said.
DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) agreed that the economy has been the main driver for his party in the final weeks of the campaign, but he argued that Democrats were offering solutions, while Republicans were in denial.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said targeted GOPers who emerge victorious on Wednesday are those who have established their own personal brand and have framed their respective races around creating a clear choice.
At a time when the economy is in crisis, Democrats are offering up candidates that want to raise taxes and have a history of putting their own political needs above those of the middle class, Spain said.
But should Democrats ride rare back-to-back electoral waves this cycle a feat not achieved in almost a century Van Hollen suggested his successor likely will have a tough row to hoe.
Weve gone from purple territory to pink to red, and some cases ruby-red areas, Van Hollen said. If we make some decent gains in the House or the Senate, its going to be important to try and hold on to those.
He added: Hopefully well have another opportunity to beat history.