It’s an unusual cycle when I hear from my mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi so quickly after his last appearance.
Jim: What are you doing here? You said Friday that not much seemed to be changing and the weekend is never great for data but we might get some indicators by mid-week. Why am I hearing from you already?
Obi-Wan: No, not much has changed — though the Battleground poll was interesting. More on that in a second. I just thought readers who will be reacting to every new poll over the next few days might want a larger guide that tries to put things in context — four ways this could go, and what to look for as the week progresses.
Jim: Four scenarios?
Obi-Wan: First, THE FADING-GOP WAVE SCENARIO: This one is easy. If the generic GOP lead starts to fade and this continues through the weekend to a few points or nearly even on Election Day, then the GOP makes gains in the House but fails to take control, and gains three or four in the Senate. (With disappointments in places like Pennsylvania, Colorado, California and maybe Nevada.)
Second, THE OKAY WAVE SCENARIO: Polling stays about where it is — with strong generic GOP lead (5 to 9 percentage points or more) as GOP leads in many Senate races stay roughly the same; in places like Washington, California, and Connecticut, Democrat candidates either break 50 percent or keep a steady gap or widen it. Still, a wave election, with House gains of up to 50 or 60. But GOP fails at Senate control by two to four seats, which shows that (1) to some extent the Democrats’ strategy of individualizing Senate races with harsh negative attacks worked or (2) voters just chose to channel their anger at the Obama administration in their House voting but were discriminating – picking and choosing — in the Senate races.
Third, THE HAPPY-TIMES WAVE SCENARIO: Polling stays about where it is — with strong generic GOP lead between 5 and 9 and GOP Senate candidates in Washington, California, and Connecticut still within reach (6 to 9 points down). There you would see House gains of up to 50 or 60 or a bit beyond, and it’s a wave election that really does lift all boats and the GOP takes the Senate by a vote or two.
Fourth, THE SUPERWAVE: House gains of 60 to 90, even beyond. Senate races carried along as GOP ends up with three- or four-vote margin in Senate.
Jim: . . . And? Aren’t you forgetting what to look for—the indicators of a superwave scenario?
Obi-Wan: I know. In part, because we’ve never seen this sort of thing before and in part because we are already there in some ways.
In years past, the Senate races would be the early indicators — you know, some embattled GOP incumbents start to pull away. Or a safe Democratic seat or two is suddenly in play.
But where do you look for any of that this year? Our incumbents with problems in Louisiana and North Carolina seem quite safe. Same in a state like Missouri that can be troublesome for GOP in Senate races. And Democrat seats unexpectedly in play? I mean we have a GOP candidate with a steady lead in Wisconsin for heaven’s sake. And we have others that are tied or within striking distance in California, Connecticut, and Washington. And the leads aren’t just steady in states like Ohio, Arkansas, Florida, and New Hampshire, but runaways or close to that. (The size of the New Hampshire lead still surprises me because the state is conservatively inclined but not that conservatively inclined.)
Republicans have been so spoiled by seeing those numbers so early that we can forget what they mean. And please remember this should have been a tough, tough year for the GOP in the Senate with so many incumbents up and some retirements.
So, I mean, what to do for bellwethers in this environment? You know, the Scott Browns? We are left to look in heavy Democrat states like Delaware or maybe Oregon, Maryland, or one of the New York seats. With the exception of Delaware, the GOP campaigns in those states never got money and national help. So they could hide a wave. (But don’t fail to look at them either, at least for some changes in the numbers.)
Jim: Any other indicators?
Obi-Wan: Yes, of course, the GOP continuing its roll with the polling in individual House seats. If GOP leads seem to be solidifying and gaining in House seats then that’s an indicator. But I mean people have already talked about John Dingell and Barney Frank and even Steny Hoyer having problems. So where else can the discussion go? (I snidely note that Rothenberg and Cook came along reluctantly but only weeks after you and Dick Morris and a tiny few others saw 80 to 100 seats in play.) The point here is that a continuing House roll makes it hard to believe there won’t be a Senate spillover.
And we’re back to keeping an eye on the generic. Which is why this morning’s Battleground was interesting — it shows a 5 point lead among “likely voters” but it has a category called “most likely voters” — and that shows a 14 percent gap. And I mean this poll was done for Politico, which is not hospitable to the news that it had to put in the headline — how Independents have deserted Democrats. Not the way to start the week if you are a Democrat.
Jim: Is Obama’s campaigning going to make difference?
Obi-Wan: Yes, for Republicans. You know those post-election studies that show unexpected factors? I wouldn’t be surprised to see one showing that Obama orating at a rally without a jacket on instead of being president gave the country an exact daily image of what’s bothering it about him: He’s a candidate, not a president. Victor Davis Hanson wrote an interesting article about how this guy spent his whole life not really accomplishing anything but just making an impression. So he’s addicted to rallies—he needs the love. And Axelrod doesn’t know what else to do. Fire-up the base. Right. The Republican base. They should have had him playing president all election-cycle not banging a podium and working the rope line.
Jim: How are Republicans doing with their campaigns?
Obi-Wan: Well, I was worried that they didn’t have a finish. But, hey, there’s Sarah – la belle dame et magnifique —and her Tea Party Express hitting 14 states. And the GOP has to make the point that it’s not just Obama. That voters need to know the Democrat party has been extremist (sometimes secretly so) since 1972 and so it needs a real message, shock therapy.
Jim: You sound like you think the Superwave is upon us.
Obi-Wan: See, there you go getting pushy again. How can you predict something that hasn’t happened before?
American politics likes equilibrium, except when it doesn’t. Will it start to steady itself as Election Day approaches? Or head just as strongly in the currently strong direction, as in 1964?
If in the next day or two there are other senate polls showing some “tightening,” readers shouldn’t worry too much for the reasons stated in the last post. (New “likely” but still largely undecided Democratic voters and normal oscillation.) Let’s see what happens later in the week.