Okay - so it's not exactly early predictions for the coming November midterm elections, but it's not last minute predictions either, so I'm calling it my "Midterm Predictions for the Midterms."
Early in the summer there was a lot of excitement in Democratic circles that during the 2006 Midterms they would take back both houses of Congress. That excitement was quieted a bit during September, when the White House used the 5th Anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks to do some campaigning, but it seems as if the Democrats are getting energized again.
The latest Mason-Dixon/MSNBC polls for contested Senate races would seem to justify Democratic excitement. As of last Friday (29-Sept.) the races stood as follows:
Maryland (Democrat held):
Cardin (D) - 47
Steele (R) - 41
Missouri (Republican held):
Talent (R) (i) - 43
McCaskill (D) - 43
Montana (Republican held):
Tester (D) - 47
Burns (R) (i) - 40
New Jersey (Democrat held):
Menendez (D) - 44
Kean (R) - 41
Ohio (Republican held):
Brown (D) - 45
DeWine (R) (i) - 43
Pennsylvania (Republican held):
Casey (D) - 49
Santorum (R) (i) - 40
Rhode Island (Republican held):
Whitehouse (D) - 42
Chafee (R) (i) - 41
Tennessee (Republican held):
Ford (D) - 43 ... (Rasmussen polls indicate - 48)
Corker (R) - 42 ... (Rasmussen polls indicate - 43)
Virginia (Republican held):
Allen (R) (i) - 43 ... (Rasmussen polls indicate - 49)
Webb (D) - 43 ... (Rasmussen polls indicate - 43)
Washington (Democrat held):
Cantwell (D) (i) - 50
McGavick (R) - 40
These numbers seem to indicate pretty good news for the Democrats and their hope to gain control of the Senate (they need to pick up 6 seats). They look pretty solid to win back thier incumbancies (MD, NJ, WA) although New Jersey seems to still be up in the air. In addition, of the seven Republican seats they are challenging in (which by the way does not include Connecticut, because although it is de facto Republican (Lieberman), it is relatively certain that the incumbent will defeat Ned Lamont in his run as an independant) they are leading in five and tied in two. Of course, five will not take the Senate. But even beyond that, these numbers should not be overly encouraging to Democrats.
What is one of the most striking and consistent things in the numbers above? The Democrats - even the ones in the lead - don't have 50% of the vote yet. Hmm... In my opinion, that does not bode well in the seven Republican controlled seats up for grabs. My guesses right now are that the Democrats will retain control of the three competitive seats they currently hold (MD, NJ, and WA). But, of the other seven seats, I am guessing that the Democrats are only able to pick up two of those seats (MT and TN), and those are both very close calls. Burns is an intrenched incumbent in Montana, and although Harold Ford Jr. is a TREMENDOUS candidate in Tennessee, that state has been voting Republican state-wide for some time now, and a Ford victory will still be a great upset.
So, what do I see in the other races? I see an electorate that is disgusted and disenchanted with the Republican leadership and the Bush Administration. Such antipathy is reflected in the poll numbers. But when election day rolls around, Republicans run superb GOTV campaigns, and that will make a difference. In Missouri, 14% are undecided, and if they go vote, they are more likely to vote for an incumbent. The exception may be Santorum in Pennsylvania. Casey is almost running at 50%, and there is a tight race with a Democrat emerging in the House district in the Philadelphia suburbs. If Santorum cannot win those suburbs, he cannot win Pennsylvania.
Overall, I'm going to guess as of today that the Democrats gain a grand total of TWO seats in the Senate (if they hold NJ) - and the Republicans and the media declares it a Grand Victory for the Republicans.
Over in the House, many have considered it a foregone conclusion since late spring that the Democrats would take back the house, based in large part on the Mason-Dixon polling which shows the Democrats having a BIG lead in the generic congressional ballot test, 48% - 43%, over the Republicans (see link above). The Democrats need to pick up 16 seats in the House to gain control.
The Cook Political Report (as of 20-Sept) lists 74 seats as potentially in play (55 held by Republicans and 19 by Democrats). BUT, of the 19 seats that Cook has listed as "toss-ups," 15 of those districts tend to lean Republican. Again, I think that in the House, as in the Senate, the Democrats are likely to gain seats, but I just don't think they will get the full 16 seats needs to gain the majority. Republicans will spin this loss as a win due to such low expectations.
Of course, all this could still change. The recent shocking scandal surrounding Florida Republican Foley, the questions surrounding why the Republican leadership never took action, and the White House characterizing the scandal as "simply naughty e-mails" and "overly friendly." If the Republican leadership and White House continue to respond like this, it could actally affect the midterms.
My Midterm Predictions for the Midterms are that the Republicans will retain both Houses of Congress. I just think that Democrats are being overly optimistic - Republicans strengths in the Districts in question, and in the GOTV operations will make the ultimate difference on November 7.
[Edit: I thought I would include my 26-Oct-2004 prediction post for the 2004 Presidential Election:
As a quick recap, at that time I predicted Bush to defeat Kerry by an electoral college vote of 271 to 267. I was off, but only by a bit, the actual result was a Bush victory of 286 to 251 (I picked Ohio for Kerry).]