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Staking Their Future on Voters

Today’s midterm elections are about more than control of Congress and voter satisfaction with President Barack Obama’s first two years in office. The results stand to launch or derail the careers of Washington’s most powerful players.

By Wednesday morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) could essentaily see her career in politics ending, House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) could be the undisputed leader of the Republican Party and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could be a lame duck.

Roll Call takes a brief look at the stakes for those with the most to lose — or gain — from today’s vote.

President Barack Obama

Two weeks, 12 states, 19 events. Nothing underscores the stakes of the 2010 midterms for President Barack Obama like his jam-packed schedule in the runup to today’s elections.

But the real stakes for the president have to do with his own re-election campaign in 2012.

The expected erosion of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will weaken Obama’s ability to govern over the next two years. The more seats that his party loses to Republicans, the more pushback he can expect on his top priorities in the next Congress, which include climate change legislation, immigration reform, a $50 billion infrastructure investment and the start troop withdrawals in Afghanistan — all of which will be talking points in his re-election campaign.

Over the past two months, Obama has been investing significant political capital in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, three of the most critical states in presidential elections. And recent surveys on the effects of his trips to Ohio illustrate how his travel schedule seems to be more about 2012 than affecting this year’s outcome.

[IMGCAP(1)]A Quinnipiac University poll found Obama’s four visits to Ohio since August have had no effect on voters’ decisions on whether they will re-elect Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. A second poll from Fox News conducted by Pulse Opinion Research showed Strickland’s GOP opponent, John Kasich, ahead 49 percent to 43 percent, largely unchanged from its last survey a week earlier. Yet after both polls were released, Obama made another trip to Cleveland.

Obama has also been emphasizing the need for bipartisan cooperation on the biggest problems facing the nation. In his weekly radio address Saturday, he focused on the common ground that exists on jobs and the economy — issues likely to dominate the political sphere between now and 2012.

There are “practical steps we can take right away to promote growth and encourage businesses to hire and expand,” Obama said. “These are steps we all should be able to agree on — not Democratic or Republican ideas, but proposals that have traditionally been supported by both parties.”

— Jennifer Bendery

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid

LAS VEGAS — Like he has so many times during his tenure as Majority Leader, Sen. Harry Reid is counting votes.

But this time, Reid is not cajoling and bargaining to put together 60 votes for health care reform, financial reform or a stimulus bill — legislative accomplishments that, for better or worse, have come to define him. This time, Reid is counting to votes to save his career, and possibly a Democratic majority in the Senate, in a tossup battle with tea party favorite Sharron Angle (R).

Inside a high school gymnasium Monday in North Las Vegas, Reid rallied 1,200 Democratic activists who showed up for one last get-out-the-vote event before today’s elections. Before giving the microphone to first lady Michelle Obama, whom he called “the closer,” Reid made his case for a fifth term and urged his supporters to stretch to the finish line.

“We feel so good. Early voting was very good. But we’re heading into that final round. It’s right before us,” Reid told the crowd. “Leave nothing to chance. We need to work hard; we need to work very hard for the next 36 to 48 hours. I don’t mean just getting out the vote. Get your family, your friends, their neighbors, your co-workers. Go with them, point them in the direction of their polling place and say, as the first lady says, ‘Let’s move.'”

Beyond politics, Reid’s appeal to his supporters was personal. “I need you in the next few hours. Don’t let someone else work harder than you,” he said. “You need to knock on an extra door. You need to make that extra phone call. … For those of you who haven’t voted, I’m asking for your vote.”

Reid and Angle have been deadlocked for several weeks, and with few undecided voters left to persuade, voter turnout will be critical.

A loss for Reid spells the end to his Senate career, and the beginning of a race to succeed him between Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). But if he survives — and Reid has narrowly escaped defeat in the past — he is expected to continue as the Senate Democratic leader and be surrounded by a largely loyal Democratic caucus.

— David M. Drucker

Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi’s tenure as the first female Speaker — and arguably the most powerful one in history — is on the line tonight.

And all signs indicate the California Democrat’s tenure may be coming to a close.

Pelosi and her advisers have refused to acknowledge a possible Republican takeover or discuss whether the Californian would want to return to the Minority Leader post that she held for four years before becoming Speaker in January 2007.

Whatever happens, Pelosi’s place in history is already assured.

“Every time a woman achieves a position of importance and breaks through that marble ceiling, she lifts all women up with her. … I never thought I would see a female Speaker,” Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said.

Pelosi’s top-down leadership style has led her to install close allies, including a number of Californians, in influential leadership and committee posts. So the end of her eight-year reign as Democratic leader would send shock waves through the Democratic Caucus and likely create a scramble for top spots.

Pelosi marshaled the House to pass President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform bill, but a Republican rout would spell the death of the rest of the agenda that she has spearheaded, including the controversial climate change bill that became a political albatross for House Democrats this campaign season.

But expectations are so low for House Democrats at the polls today that anything short of a GOP tidal wave could be viewed as a victory for Pelosi.

The best Pelosi can hope for is that Democrats defy predictions and hold onto a far slimmer majority than their current 39-seat edge.

But even then her power would be dramatically curtailed, and there are questions about whether the 11-term lawmaker would have enough support in the Caucus to secure a third term as Speaker.

A handful of moderates have already said they would prefer someone else, while almost 20 others have refused to commit to supporting Pelosi for a third term as Speaker.

— Kathleen Hunter

House Minority Leader John Boehner

CANTON, Ohio — Minority Leader John Boehner climbed off the back of a flatbed truck and into the arms of a welcoming crowd Saturday, looking confident and at ease despite the fact that the biggest election of his career was just days away.

If all goes well for the Ohio Republican today, he will be poised to become Speaker in the 112th Congress.

“We have rosaries!” shouted two women trailing Boehner as he made his way to a charter bus plastered with campaign signs for Ohio candidates.

Perhaps sensing the prayer beads could be of some use, a volunteer accepted the gifts as the Minority Leader disappeared into the vehicle.

The stop in Canton, an event for GOP Congressional candidate Jim Renacci, was one of 20 that Boehner attended over the weekend in an eleventh-hour push around his home state to encourage Republican volunteers to keep working until the polls close.

Boehner has spent the past decade rebuilding his power base after he was cast out of House leadership in the aftermath of the 1998 elections.

During his tenure as Minority Leader, Boehner has surrounded himself with longtime political allies, but he has also taken care to bring potential adversaries — such as Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) ­— into the leadership circle to defuse attacks from the right.

His campaign for Speaker has been carefully managed as well, beginning in February and gaining steam rhetorically and financially as the year went on.

“I think he has certainly prepared himself for this moment. This is his moment,” ex-Sen. Mike DeWine (R) told Roll Call at an event last weekend. “We are very excited as Ohioans. … It’s a great thing for the state, and it’s a great thing for the country.”

Keith Cheney, the executive chairman of the Allen Country Republican Party in Lima, Ohio, put Boehner’s place in this election in context: “He is the leader of the Republican revolution.”

Asked about the stakes of the election before a rally at the historic Spread Eagle Tavern & Inn in Hanoverton, Ohio, Boehner paused and signed the guest book.

Looking up, he asked, “For me personally?”

“Obviously there is a lot riding on this election,” he told Roll Call, then turned and walked outside to address a waiting crowd.

— Jackie Kucinich

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Unlike other top Congressional leaders, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell enters today’s elections with relatively little to worry about.

After all, the Kentucky Republican isn’t in cycle, and therefore, unlike Majority Leader Harry Reid, he is not facing the possibility of being ousted.

And while House Minority Leader John Boehner and Speaker Nancy Pelosi have their leadership posts on the line today, short of an electoral surprise, McConnell’s future as Minority Leader appears secure — at least for two more years.

“It’s a win regardless of what happens,” McConnell acknowledged in an interview with Roll Call on Monday, adding that “there’s going to be a lot of new faces” in his Conference, even if Republicans don’t take control of the Senate.

Nevertheless, McConnell wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

Despite pols showing Kentucky Republicans — including tea party favorite Rand Paul’s campaign for Senate — well-positioned for victories, McConnell attended seven campaign events Saturday for Republicans across the state.

The schedule forced the University of Louisville alum to be a rare no-show for his alma mater’s football game against the University of Pittsburgh.

“It shows you how important this election is,” McConnell quipped.

McConnell also continued to discourage premature gloating by his colleagues.

“It’s important not to misread what may happen” during today’s elections, he said.

Republicans “need to view this with humility and gratitude. This is not about us. … There is no poll data showing the public is in love with us,” he said.

Rather, the Senate Republican leader maintained that the elections are a referendum on the policies that Democrats have pursued over the past two years.

This election is “a classic midcourse correction … a report card on the first two years of the Obama administration, and they’re as close to an ‘F'” as you can get, he added.

— John Stanton

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