The X-factor in Tuesday’s midterm elections could be the Democrats who are lukewarm about President Barack Obama’s job performance but who are not ready to return power to the GOP, analysts said.
Many polls predict that Republicans will reclaim the House and narrow the gap in the Senate.
Observers, however, largely agreed that they’re not putting much stock in the polls this year.
“Any political analyst who tells you they know what’s going to happen is wrong,” said Alan Chartock, professor and political scientist at SUNY Albany. “The pollsters have no sense of who’s going to vote. And that’s huge.”
As many as 100 Democratic-held House seats are within reach for the GOP, which needs to gain 39 seats to assume control.
The odds are longer for the Republicans to claim a majority in the Senate. The GOP, which has spent recent months attacking Obama’s spending and handling of the economy, needs to pick up 10 seats, but only 11 spots are reasonably up for grabs, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
The uncertainty about voter turnout largely hinges on Democrats. Will their sense of party loyalty be enough to drive them to the polls?
“There’s a lot of volatility in the electorate,” said Dan Gerstein, a Democratic political consultant. “Voter-turnout models have been problematic in this environment.”
Keli Goff, a political writer for TheLoop21.com, compared this year’s election to the 1998 midterms, when black voters exceeded expectations by flocking to the polls to protect “their president,” Bill Clinton, facing impeachment at the time. That year, the Democrats gained five House seats and did not lose any in the Senate.
“And there’s a lot more love and support among some of the Democratic base, particularly in communities of color, for this president than there was for Bill Clinton,” Goff said.
Karol Markowicz, a conservative blogger for AlarmingNews.com, said she is concerned that Republicans are being overly optimistic.
“I don’t know if you saw The Onion article: ‘Republicans poised to take 8,000 seats in the House,’ ” she said. “That’s sort of how I feel all the stories are going right now. If Republicans think it’s such a lock that we’re going to win everything, they’re going to stay home [on Election Day].”
5 SENATE RACES TO WATCH
The state’s economy – namely its record 14 percent unemployment – has given Tea Party challenger Sharron Angle plenty of ammo in her bid to unseat Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid.
In the race for President Barack Obama’s former seat, five-time GOP Rep. Mark Kirk has apologized for embellishing his military record, and 34-year-old Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias has had to answer questions about his family’s failed bank.
As California’s jobless rate has climbed, three-term Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer’s approval rating has plummeted. She’s now locked in a high-profile battle with Republican Carly Fiorina, a former Hewlett-Packard executive.
All anyone can seem to focus on nationally is Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell’s declaration that she “dabbled in witchcraft” and launched a 1996 anti-masturbation campaign. Democrat Chris Coons, a former county executive, is leading by as many as 21 points in the polls.
Neither candidate has been able to avoid gaffes. Tea Partier Rand Paul said on national TV that he didn’t agree with part of the Civil Rights Act. Democrat Jack Conway has come under fire by his own party for ads that said Paul belonged to a group in college that “mocked Christianity.”
5 HOUSES RACES TO WATCH
Riding the wave of Barack Obama’s popularity, Democrat Tom Perriello squeaked out a 727-vote win in 2008. The vulnerable freshman congressman should expect another nail-biter against Republican state Sen. Robert Hurt.
Running on just $500,000, Allen West lost to Democratic incumbent Ron Klein in 2008. Facing Klein again, West, a Tea Party favorite, now has better name recognition and $3.5 million in his coffers.
After being unseated by Democrat Mark Schauer, Republican Tim Walberg is looking for payback in this rematch. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent more money on this race — about $1 million — than any other this year.
When he defeated Republican incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick in 2006, Democrat Patrick Murphy capitalized on the unpopularity of President George W. Bush. Four years later, Fitzpatrick hopes Obama’s low approval rating will help him oust Murphy.
If his 2008 opponent, Rep. William Jefferson, hadn’t been facing corruption charges, Republican Anh “Joseph” Cao might not have won in his left-leaning district. State Rep. Cedric Richmond could gain a seat for the Democrats.