Archive for the 'IN-03' Category

Filing deadline passes in Ohio, Indiana

Two new states saw their filing deadlines pass this week: Ohio and Indiana. This means retirement/recruitment season is already done in 8 states. This allows us to take a detailed look at the state of play in all 27 of these state’s House races, as well as their two Senate contests. (Note: Next up is North Carolina, with a February 26th deadline.)

Ohio: No retirement, 7 races to watch

All 18 of Ohio’s congressmen (10 Democrats and 8 Republicans) will seek re-election. Of them, a third look like they will have to fight off a competitive challenge come November, 5 of them Democrats in OH-01, OH-13, OH-15, OH-16 and OH-18. OH-12 is probably the only GOP-held seat to watch, though OH-02 could still be worth monitoring as the district has produced many fireworks in recent cycles. However, a lot depends on what happens in the May primaries, as at least two candidates highly touted by the NRCC face very crowded fields in which their victory is far from certain.

Rep. Steve Driehaus of OH-01 is arguably the most endangered of the state’s incumbents as he is sure to face former Rep. Steve Chabot, whom he defeated two years ago, in the general election: No other Republican filed. Next on the list is probably OH-15, in which state Senator Steve Stivers should have little trouble securing the Republican nomination for a rematch over now-Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy. The trouble for Stivers could come in the general election: former Hilliard Mayor David Ryon has filed to run as the Constitution Party candidate and he could draw a substantial share of the vote because of conservative mistrust towards Stivers. (In 2008, two conservative candidates totaled more than 10% of the vote, helping Kilroy defeat Stivers.)

OH-16 is home to yet another Democratic freshman, and while Rep. John Boccieri looks in a better shape than his colleagues 5 Republicans are going after him. The front-runner is financial consultant Jim Renacci, whom the NRCC is hoping will self-fund; Renacci also used to serve as Mayor of Wadsworth, a small town of about 18,000 people. Yet, Renacci should face a tough primary against a crowed field of 4 other candidates. In particular, two of his opponents (Matt Miller and Paul Schiffer) ran in 2008 and received 42% and 10% of the vote - showings that are all the more impressive given that they came against a state Senator who secured the nomination with just 47%. In short: Renacci is in no way certain of winning the GOP nod. I’d guess the NRCC will turn away from the district f Renacci loses.

In OH-18, Rep. Zach Space long hoped he would not have to face a top-tier GOP opponent, but those hopes faded back in September when state Senator Bob Gibbs agreed to jump in. In a district George W. Bush twice won by double-digits, this could be a tough challenge to overcome. The twist: there are a total of 9 candidates seeking the Republican nomination, including 2008 nominee Fred Dailey (the former head of the Ohio Department of Agriculture), former state Rep. Ron Hood, and candidates who have never ran for office but who should enjoy support among Tea Party activists (The Chillicothe Gazette has a full rundown). When we are talking about this crowded a primary, as little as 15-20% could get you the nomination and all bets are off as to who could emerge as Space’s opponent.

Last is OH-13, which is the week’s big surprise as the GOP is only able to put Rep. Betty Sutton on its list because of a last-minute decision by auto dealer Tom Ganley, who dropped out of the Senate race to announce he’d run for the House. To be sure, this is a blue district that gave John Kerry and Barack Obama double-digits victories, and if Republicans defeat Sutton they are likely already on their way to a House majority. But Ganley should nonetheless be quite a headache for Democrats: He was willing to spend more than $1 million of his own fortune on the Senate race, money he’ll now use against Sutton, potentially forcing the DCCC to play in this district rather than devote those funds to the state’s many other vulnerable Democrats. A key question: Can Ganley survive the primary? A surprise can’t be ruled out i a 6-way field filled with political novices, but Ganley’s money should carry him through.

Democrats are targeting a seat of their own, OH-12. The filing deadline is all the more newsworthy here that Rep. Tiberi has been the subject of some speculation rumors, but we now know for sure he is seeking re-election. In the general election, he is sure to oppose Franklin County Commissioner Paula Brooks, who would have had far better chances in the previous two cycles but who we should nonetheless keep track of. Finally, there is OH-02, a staunchly conservative district the GOP has struggled in because of Rep. Jean Schmidt’s persona. But the Democratic state legislator the DCCC was touting dropped out in November, leaving the party in the hands of a trio of candidates: Surya Yalamanchili, a political novice whose claim to fame comes from a bout on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, PaulDavid Krikorian, who got double-digits running as an independent in 2008, and Jim Parker.

That leaves us with 11 districts which will almost certainly not host competitive races.

Democrats Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), Dennis Kucinich (OH-10), Marcia Fudge (OH-11) and Tim Ryan (OH-17) should be safe. It should be noted that Kucinich didn’t draw a single Democratic opponent in OH-10 despite the fact that he had to face a few relatively competitive primaries in recent cycles. Furthermore, I have read that the GOP might look to contest Marcy Kaptur’s seat (but it would be a huge upset for former Food Town CEO Rich Iott or former Toledo Police Chief Jack Smith to defeat the longest-serving woman in Congress in a district that gave Obama 62%.

In addition, OH-06 has to be a disappointment for the GOP. This is a district that twice voted for George W. Bush and went for John McCain in 2008, albeit very narrowly; it’s also a district represented by a sophomore Democrat. And yet, the NRCC never made noise about challenging Rep. Charlie Wilson. As a result, the incumbent’s chief challenger is the man he already crushed in 2008 (62% to 33%), former Belmont County Sheriff Ohio Richard Stobbs. While repeat candidates are sometimes successful, it is difficult to go from a 29% defeat to a victory (even Nancy Boyda had not lost by quite that much in 2004), especially considering also made an unsuccessful run for this seat in 2006, this time losing in the GOP primary. This is one potentially tough district that Democrats should be able to hold.

Republican Reps. Michael Turner (OH-3), Jim Jordan (OH-4), Robert Latta (OH-5), Steve Austria (OH-7), John Boehner (OH-8) should be safe. All represent slightly-to-staunchly red districts, though OH-03 is competitive enough that Democrats should have a chance when Turner retires. Another Republican who looks safe despite the fact that John McCain just barely won his district is Rep. Steve LaTourette (OH-14); his main Democratic opponent is former appeals judge William O’Neill, who was already the party’s nominee in 2008. LaTourette lost by more than 20% that year, making it hard to see how he could lose to the same candidate under so much more favorable circumstances.

There were no surprises in Ohio’s statewide contest: Rob Portman and John Kasich are likely to coast to the GOP nominations, Ted Strickland will represent Democrats in the Governor’s race, and there were no major last-minute entrants in the Brunner-Fisher battle for the Democrats’ Senate nomination. That said, the last-minute entrance of two women, one of which has done work for Fisher, has led Brunner’s camp to accuse its rival of foul play.

Indiana: Uncertainty reigns

Indiana’s filling deadline was supposed to be met uneventfully, but Evan Bayh’s last-minute retirement announcement upended the landscape by forcing Democrats to figure out how to replace him. Yesterday’s deadline came and passed with no Democratic qualifying for the Senate ballot, which means a party committee will be able to choose a general election candidate after the May 4th primary results in a vacancy. Meanwhile, there will be 5 Republicans battling for the GOP nomination: former Senator Dan Coats, state Senator Marlin Stutzman, former Rep. John Hostettler, plumbing company owner Richard Behney and Don Bates Jr.

While all 5 of the state’s Democratic congressmen are running for re-election, one district could still open up if Baron Hill, Brad Ellsworth or Joe Donnelly are tapped to run for Senate, an additional headache for the DCCC to think about. All three Democrats filed for re-election, despite speculation that Ellsworth might not do so and put pressure on the party committee to give him the nod. The Republican fields, however, are locked in all three districts.

If Ellsworth does not move to the Senate race, he would be heavily favored to defend IN-8 as the GOP field is rather underwhelming. If Ellsworth withdraws before the primary, the Democratic nominee will be state Rep. Trent Van Haaften, the only other Democrat who filed (in coordination with Ellsworth). If Ellsworth withdraws after winning the primary, there will be a vacancy on the House ballot that the state party committee will be called to fill. While an open seat would be tough for the DCCC to defend, the fact that the GOP did not have time to recruit a top candidate will help Democrats; heart surgeon Larry Bucshon would be a credible Republican nominee with a good shot at winning, but other GOPers would have given the party better odds - not to mention Bucshon can’t be sure to win the 8-way primary!

If Hill does not move to the Senate race, he should face a top-tier race in IN-9 against whoever wins the GOP primary: Attorney Todd Young and former Rep. Mike Sodrel would both be strong general election challengers. If Democratic officials want to tap him for the Senate race, they’ll have him stay on the May 4th House ballot and withdraw after the primary to avoid having the nomination go to one of two little-known candidates. In IN-2, Rep. Joe Donnelly is the only Democrat to have filed, so for him to move to the Senate race would make for a fairly straightforward transition at the House level. Republicans are looking to contest this seat, with state Rep. Jackie Walorski and three other candidates seeking the nomination.

The six other districts are unlikely to change hands. Democratic Reps. Visclosky (IN-1) and Carson (IN-7) are safe, as are GOP Reps. Burton (IN-5) and Pence (IN-6). It is worth keeping an eye on IN-3, where Rep. Mark Souder is facing doctor Tom Hayhurst who has been attracting some buzz, but however unimpressive Souder’s hold on the seat has been Democrats aren’t in a position to win a district that voted for Bush by 37% in 2004 in this environment.

Finally, IN-4 is sure to host a highly competitive race - but only in the GOP primary. Just as we expected when Rep. Steve Buyer announced his retirement on January 29th, Democrats are not in a position to compete in a district that gave Bush a 39% victory in 2004 (McCain only won by 13%). On the other hand, a total of 11 candidates are seeking the Republican nod, a crowded field headlined by Secretary of State Todd Rokita, Greenwood Mayor Charles Henderson, state Senator Brandt Hershman and state Senator Mike Young.

Ups and downs of House recruitment

In OH-18, NRCC loses its last top-tier option

The NRCC has decided that Rep. Zach Space is vulnerable enough that he should be one of just a few Democrats to already be targeted by a TV ad. And there is indeed no doubt that Space is sitting in a difficult district (Bush won OH-18 by 15%, McCain by 7%). Yet, he has already had three years to entrench himself and he proved his political appeal by winning two tough races in 2006. In short, Republicans can’t expect to get very far if they don’t field a strong challenger.

Unfortunately for the GOP, it just suffered a major setback: State Senator Jimmy Stewart, who had met NRCC officials in July, is signaling that he will not run. “I don’t anticipate running for Congress next year,” he said, just a month after Roll Call flagged him as the “ideal candidate.” Stewart was the last remaining member of a trio of state legislators the NRCC was hoping to recruit in this district: state Senator John Carey and state Rep. Hottinger, both of whom were highly touted just a few months ago, have already ruled out runs.

If confirmed, Stewart’s decision, combined with those of Carey and Hottinger, reduces Space’s vulnerability and should lower his position on the NRCC’s list. The GOP now has to find a Plan B - probably a former state legislator, a lesser-known politician who will have to prove herself or a wealthy self-funder. (Attorney Jeanette Moll in the race, but it doesn’t look like the GOP is satisfied with that.) This is not to say that Space is now safe, but his vulnerability is now far more dependent on the national environment than it would have been had Stewart ran.

A banking executive against Titus

For a more concrete idea of what the GOP might be left with in OH-18, let’s turn to NV-03: In the district Dina Titus picked-up in 2008, the NRCC is now touting the candidacy of bank executive John Guedry. It’s definitely a positive sign for Republicans to have a credible candidate to tout against any freshman representative, as those should be the first to fall if the environment gets tough for Democrats. But let’s also be clear on the fact that a wealthy recruit from the private sector does not a top-tier contender make.

Sure, such a recruit can emerge as a politically sharp candidate who proves his skills on the trail, in attracting donors and in opening his own bank account to his campaign operatives - but it is just as probable that Guedry will fall flat, fail to gain traction and be weighed down by his two decades working in financial services - probably not the ideal resume line in this time of bank-induced economic crisis.

Moreover, this does not look like the type of districts Republicans should concentrate on - especially if they have no top tier candidate to field. NV-03 went for Al Gore in 2000, gave George Bush a 1% victory in 2004 and voted for Obama by double-digits last fall. Titus might have won with only 47% of the vote, but she was facing a crowded general election field and she defeated an entrenched incumbent, Jon Porter, who was deemed so politically powerful that he was generally considered to be Harry Reid’s toughest potential opponent in 2010. In short, Republicans needs for Guedry to prove a marvelous campaigner and for voters to truly turn against Democrats before we put NV-03 on the radar screen.

A repeat candidate in IN-03

In 2006, no one paid attention to Mark Souder’s re-election race but the Republican was held to an 8% victory - the smallest of his career - against an underfunded Democrat. Frustrated that it had not made the most of that opportunity, the DCCC did not lose sight of IN-03 in 2008: But after spending hundreds of thousands on the district, Democrats suffered quite a setback when Souter triumphed by 15% - outpacing McCain’s 13% margin. So what should Democrats take out of these two races? Is Souder vulnerable under the right conditions, and if so why did win so decisively despite Obama’s coattails in 2008?

That’s not an easy question to answer, but it’s one the DCCC will have to consider them quickly: Tom Hayhurst, the former Fort Wayne councilman who was the party’s nominee 2006, just announced he will run again in 2010. Hayhurst already proved that he was a worthy candidate - and the contrast between his unexpected showing and Montagano’s poor result makes him look even better. If you think that part of Souder’s improvement comes from the fact that Montagano was a poorer fit for the district than Hayhurst, then the DCCC might have a chance.

But if you think - and I believe I do - that the most important change was that Souder saw the threat coming and prepared himself rather than be taken by surprise, then the district simply remains way too Republican for Democrats to have much of a chance no matter who they recruit: If Democrats failed to unseat Souder last year, when Indiana was as hospitable to Democrats as it has been in decades, how much will they be able to do in 2010, a cycle that is bound to be tougher? Sure, IN-03 shouldn’t revert to its ruby-red 2004 coloring (Bush won 68% to 31%) but it should still prove tougher to crack than it was last fall.

Guilty of dismal fundraising, NRCC spent whatever money it had well

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole briefly flirted with another stint as NRCC Chairman but decided not to oppose the candidacy of Texas Rep. Pete Sessions. The GOP’s campaign committee will thus start the 2010 battle with new leadership, eager to recover after two disastrous cycles that saw Democrats pick up more than 50 seats.

To mark the end of Cole’s rule, it seems appropriate to take a look back at the past two years - recruitment, fundraising, expenditures - and pinpoint a few areas Sessions will have to improve.

What is particularly depressing for the GOP is that its recruitment was not that terrible. For one, the NRCC had managed to recruit a number of top challengers to freshmen incumbents: Jim Sullivan in CT-02, Dean Adler in CA-11 or Tom Bee in AZ-08 were all highly touted early in the cycle. Lou Barletta in PA-11, Melissa Hart in PA-04, Mike Sodrel in IN-09, Anne Northup in KY-03 and Jeb Bradley in NH-01 were also huge threats. The NRCC similarly fielded unexpectedly strong contenders in many GOP-held open seats (Darren White in NM-01, for instance).

Needless to say, all the candidates on this list lost on November 4th; some of them had even completely disappeared from our radar screen - quite a stunning development given their early high-profile. Given the pro-Democratic political environment, however, non-incumbent Republicans had practically no hope of victory - and we all treated them as such.

The NRCC’s huge problem, of course, was its dismal fundraising performance that left the committee in an extremely precarious financial position. This forced the NRCC to pull the plug on some of its top challengers and then make even more painful decisions as to which incumbents it should abandon. It will not be easy for Sessions to do a better job: It is extremely unlikely that Republicans will regain control of the House in 2010, which means that lobbyists and donors are likely to keep filling Democratic coffers. This should guarantee that the DCCC enjoys yet another cycle of financial dominance.

Within this context of budgetary restrictions, it is worth taking a look at the NRCC’s fall expenditures to test whether Cole’s team made the right set of choices with whatever little money they had in hand.

The snubbed districts: First of all, here is the list of high-profile districts in which the NRCC invested nothing: AZ-03, CT-04, CA-04, IL-10, IN-09, KY-03, MD-01, MI-09, NC-08, NM-01, NM-02, OH-16, OR-05, PA-04. It is worth adding CO-04 to the list, as the NRCC pulled the plug on Rep. Musgrave two weeks before the election.

Some of these reflect very good calls on the NRCC’s part, particularly in AZ-03. Democrats made a lot of noise about that race, and the DCCC poured in about $2 million; yet, the NRCC did not take the bait and Rep. Shadegg prevailed by double-digits. Similarly, the NRCC was right to estimate that Reps. Knollenberg, Hayes and Musgrave as well as open seat candidates in NM-01, NM-02 and OH-16 were in particularly bad shape. Democrats picked-up all of these seats, and none of them were close. Finally, good for the NRCC to not delude itself into thinking that it could defeat Democratic incumbents in KY-03, IN-09 and PA-04.

However, the GOP’s refusal to fund McClintock in CA-04 and Harris in MD-01 was most definitely a mistake. Harris lost by 1% and McClintock’s race is still undecided. Both districts are heavily conservative, so there was no possible blow back for national Republicans getting involved (unlike, say, in CT-04).

Defensible investments: As for the races they did fund, the NRCC’s decisions are a mix between golden investments and wasted money. While the GOP lost AL-02, AL-05, FL-08, FL-25, ID-01, MI-07, NH-01, NJ-03, NY-29, OH-01, PA-03, PA-11, VA-02 and WI-08, for instance, it seems hard to argue with the NRCC’s determination to defend these seats, all of which ended up being relatively close. The NRCC should however be faulted for not having invested more in some of them (ID-01 and VA-02, in particular). In some of these districts, the GOP invested significant sums (more than $1 million each in MI-07 and OH-01, for instance) but the DCCC simply had enough money to always outspend its counterpart.

Similarly, the NRCC’s decision to heavily defend KY-02, MN-03, MO-09, NE-02, NJ-07 and WY-AL were an important factor in huge Election Day saves - and the committee’s investments in KS-02, LA-06 and TX-22 (more than $1 million in the latter) helped Republican challengers scored pick-ups. (The NRCC should have been a bit more aggressive in Kansas, even though Lynn Jenkins did end up winning.)

Mistakes: All in all, there were few obvious mistakes in the GOP’s investments - except the largely unnecessary $600,000 spent in MO-06, the decision to go after Rep. Murtha with half-a-million dollars at the last minute and the committee’s determination to help Rep. Porter in NV-03. Another small mistake was CO-04: Even though they did end up abandoning Rep. Musgrave, they first spent nearly $900,000 on a seat that leaned towards a Democratic pick-up early in the fall - but perhaps not enough to justify an NRCC snub in a what is still a conservative district.

The NRCC is guilty of a number of other miscalls, but it is hard to blame them given that the DCCC also miscalculated in the same same districts. Perhaps the biggest such mistake occurred in NY-24, where Democratic incumbent Arcuri won an extremely tight race in a district absolutely no one was paying attention to.

The second biggest mistake was FL-21, a GOP-held district everyone thought was highly competitive and in which the NRCC spent more than $1.5 million. Rep. Diaz-Balart ended up winning by 16% - but the DCCC had invested considerable sums as well, as both parties believed that Diaz-Balart was endangered. Similarly, the GOP spent more than $300,000 defending IN-03 and more than $600,000 in NY-26. Neither race was tight on Election Night; yet, the DCCC wasted much more money on those two districts so the mistake here belongs to Democrats.

Finally, the NRCC rushed into VA-05 much too late, spending more $140,000 at the last minute to save Rep. Goode (the race has not been called yet, but it appears that Goode will go down by a few hundred votes); few people saw Perriello has a big threat to Goode - and the DCCC’s expenditures suggest they had not either. Provided he remains in the lead, that makes Perriello’s into this cycle’s Shea-Porter and Loebsack.

Election Night: OBAMA WINS, underwhelming night for congressional Dems

4am: Time to call it a night. A huge night for Democrats with Barack Obama’s victory, but for congressional Dems the results are a bit underwhelming and it is safe to say there was no wave. We will talk about this more tomorrow, but Democrats won the race that were already leaning towards them and a few toss-ups, but most of those broke towards Republicans - not to mention what looks like an incredible save by the GOP in Alaska. A number of races are left, so here’s a look at what is still being counted:

  • Senate: Democrats have only secured 5 pick-ups, with the GOP saving Kentucky and Mississippi. Left are: (1) Oregon, which looks good for Democrats since Portland is massively under-reporting and Merkley will pick up a huge share of the vote there. (2) Minnesota, which is extremely tight at the moment as Franken is nursing a 2000 vote lead [late update: It's Coleman back on top with 500 votes!] (3) Georgia, where there is now a controversy over the potential existence (as reported by the AP) of hundreds of thousands of uncounted early ballots; if true, Chambliss would go under 50% and this will head to a runoff. (4) Alaska: Incredibly Ted Stevens leads 48% to 46% with 96% of the vote reporting! But the ADN reports that there could be as many as 50,000 absentee ballots left to be counted!
  • House: Democrats stand at a gain of net 17 seats, as the GOP has saved a lot of its most vulnerable seats. We still have a number of uncalled races: AK-AL, CA-04, CA-50, ID-01, MD-01, NJ-03, OH-15, SC-01, VA-05, WA-08. All are held by the GOP. Democratic candidates look very good in MD-01, VA-05, with the rest up for grabs. Will Democrats fall short of a net gain of 20 seats?

Democrats could improve their totals still, but they are right now facing the possibility of less than 20 gains in the House and 6 Senate pick-ups. Those are strong results, but they would also constitute a huge relief for Republicans.

And then there is Proposition 8, of course, which is still too close to call with a clear edge to the yes… 3 other states already passed gay-bashing measures (Arizona, Arkansas and Florida).

3:50am: So many underwhelming results for Democrats that it is hard to know where to start, but Minnesota and New Jersey are definitely going to be at the top of the party’s disappointments: NJ-03 had been called a pick-up but has now been pulled back to the too close to call column by CNN. Republican candidate Myers is leading by 2% with 93% reporting, so it looks like the GOP might be able to hold on to its two open seats in the Garden State (who would have thought that possible?). In Alaska, meanwhile, it’s hard to see how Rep. Don Young could lose at this point (surely one of the night’s biggest upsets).

3:40am: GOP Rep. Walberg goes down by 3%  in MI-07, meaning that Dems have picked-up two Michigan districts. Also: After AL-03 and SC-02, yet another district in which the DCCC did not play went for the Republican incumbent by a narrow margin (CA-03). Democrats, meanwhile, hold on to an endangered seat of their own: CA-11.

Franken and Coleman are now exchanging the lead as the last precincts are coming on. Franken is now up by 2000, but he was trailing by just as much a few minutes ago. 97% of Hennepin County is now reporting, so Franken still retains a reservoir of votes - but this could truly go either way. But Democrats are possibly experiencing a huge disappointment in Alaska, where Ted Stevens is still leading by 2% with more than 80% of the vote reporting.

In California, Prop 8 remains in the lead 52% to 48% with two thirds of the precincts reporting. I am having trouble getting a sense of which areas have yet to report. Two Democratic districts have yet to report anything at all, so the “no” hasn’t lost just yet here.

3:20am: GOP Rep. Chabot falls in OH-01, Democrat Boccieri picks-up OH-16 but Rep. Schmidt survives yet again in OH-02. OH-15 has yet to be called but it appears that Republicans might be able to hold on to it. Less surprising holds by the GOP in CA-26, CA-45, CA-46 and NV-02.

Two other huge House developments: In SC-01, I am taking the seat back from the GOP for now despite CNN’s call. Rep. Brown is only leading 53% to 47% but all the remaining precincts are in Charleston County, which is only reporting at 34% and where Linda Ketner has 59% of the vote. She will have to win the remaining votes by the same margin, but this one could still tighten. In AK-AL, it looks like Rep. Don Young will pull the most stunning upset of the night and survive as he leads by 7,5% with 72% counted.

3:05am: Indiana has been called for Obama, Montana and Alaska have been called for McCain. Still not called are North Carolina (where Obama leads 20,000) and Missouri (McCain leads by 3,000 votes). Note that this is exactly what we were expecting: Obama would win the traditionally swing states more or less comfortably and the true toss-ups would be IN, MO and NC. Polls were pretty much on target at the state level. With Obama falling just short in a number of long-shot red states he was contesting, it looks like Indiana  will be remembered as the most shocking turn-around: Bush won the state with 21% in 2004! (If Obama ends up prevailing there, North Carolina will be a close second.)

2:55am: The roller-coaster continues in Minnesota where Al Franken takes his first lead in hours with 96% reporting - but it’s only 1000 votes. Hennepin County is still at 91%, so this is starting to look better for Franken.

In Georgia, a potentially major development: The AP is now reporting that there could be a large amount of early votes still uncounted in some dense counties. If true, that could be more than enough to put Chambliss under 50%.

2:45am: GOP Rep. Porter goes down in NV-03, GOP Rep. Drake goes down in VA-02 and it looks like Rep. Chabot in OH-01 might do the same. Democratic challenger Titus defeated Porter by a healthy margin in Nevada, continuing the Democratic take-over in the Southwest. Drake is one of the only upset losers of a night that has yielded very few surprises. (In fact, the two biggest surprises of the night come from Virginia, in the form of VA-02 and probably VA-05). And in Ohio, we went from 45% reporting to 99% reporting seemingly at once and Democrat Driehaus is now leading by 4% in what would be a great development for Democrats.

2:18am: Democrats pick-up AL-02, which becomes one of the most conservative districts in the country represented by a Democrat (ID-01 could join in if Rep. Sali is defeated). All is not finished in Georgia! As precincts keep reporting, Chambliss keeps going down and he is now at 50,3% with 98% reporting. If he goes a vote under 50%, this one is going to a runoff.

Here is my attempts at listing House districts that have yet to be called: AK-AL, ID-01, MD-01, MI-07, OH-01, OH-02, OH-15, OH-16, NV-02, NV-03, VA-02, VA-05, WA-08, as well as a number of California races. Democrats are leading in a number of these races (especially in MD-01, NV-03, OH-16, VA-02 and VA-05 where the count is basically over).

2:10am: There are still a lot of outstanding races out there for those who are trying to stay up, and Minnesota is certainly the most fascinating. Coleman is now leading by 3,000 votes but only 87% of Hennepin County (Minneapolis) is reporting. If the remaining 13% report at the same margin as the other 80%, Franken could overcome Coleman’s lead - though rural counties don’t get in the way.

In Alaska, there is no way of knowing where results are coming from but Ted Stevens and Don Young are leading right now with more than half of precincts reporting. As I said, this could be coming in from anywhere in the state - and there are certainly areas in which Young and Stevens’ support is strong (as we learned in the GOP’s House primary in August). In Oregon, Jeff Merkley is ahead by a hair but Portland is under-reporting.

1:55am: Two huge wins for Republicans in KS-02, where they defeat Democratic incumbent Nancy Boyda and in MN-06, where Michelle Bachmann incredibly wins re-election. But buckle your seat belt, we are in for a wild ride in Minnesota! With 89% reporting, Norm Coleman is now leading by 160 votes! Can Franken give Minnesota Democrats one reason to cheer?

In what is one of the most stunning race of the night, Democrat Mike Arcurci barely won re-election in NY-24, a district that no one was watching. New York Democrats can at least cheer the addition of 3 new House seats and the pick-up of the New York state Senate! The Empire State’s Republican Party has now lost all power.

1:30am: GOP Rep. Joe Knollenberg falls in MI-09, but three huge saves for Republicans in FL-25, MN-03 and NE-02, where Joe Garcia, Ashwin Madia and Jim Esch fell short. Florida didn’t end up being the treasure trove Democrats were hoping it would be: both Diaz-Balart brothers survived relatively comfortably and GOP candidates crushed their opponents in FL-13 and FL-18. Michelle Bachmann, meanwhile, continues to lead. We wait for final results out of Virginia, Ohio, Nevada.

Sure, Republicans are losing a lot of House seats - but they are also doing better than they surely expected in a number of seats and will avoid the worst.

1:10am: Christine Gregoire re-elected Governor of Washington, so Democrats have not lost a single statewide seat for the second cycle in a row. (They did lose Louisiana’s governorship in 2007, however.) Meanwhile, in Senate races: Democrats are on the verge of being denied 60 seats, but exit polls suggest Ted Stevens is going down in Alaska while Jeff Merkley is holding into a lead with Democratic counties under-reporting. In Georgia, Chambliss is holding above 50% with nearly all precincts reporting.

That leaves us with Minnesota: Coleman is ahead by more than 50,000 with 73% reporting. But if the remaining 60% of Minneapolis’s county come in as the rest has, Franken could still storm back.

1am: Outspoken social conservative GOP Rep. Musgrave goes down in CO-04, allowing Democrats to continue making remarkable gains in Colorado. Over the past three cycles, they’ve picked-up two Senate seats, the governorship, three House seats and the state’s 9 electoral votes! Combined this with New Mexico, where Democrats picked-up two House seats and a Senate seat today alone and now control all federal races! (More gains could come from Nevada). The Southwest has shifted towards Democrats, and this could have lasting consequences on the country’s political dynamics.

12:50am: Republicans keep MO-09, continuing to deny Democratic a significant wave. There are, however, a number of GOP races in which Democrats are currently leading - including VA-02, VA-05, MI-09, ID-01, CO-04 and also MI-07, where Mark Schauer has just taken a lead of a few hundred votes against Rep. Walberg.

However, it looks like the GOP might pull-out a stunning save in OH-15, as Mary Joe Kilroy (who was expected to win in 2006 before falling short by a few hundred votes) has just fallen behind by 900 votes with 96% reporting. In Minnesota, Coleman continues to expand his lead - but in Georgia Chambliss is now down to 51%. With 97% reporting, however, it looks like Chambliss has enough votes to avoid a runoff.

12:35am: Democrats pick-up NM-01, hold GA-08 and WI-08, two seats that were rated toss-ups in my ratings. However, Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda looks like she will go down in KS-02, another toss-up race in which a Republican challenger leads 51% to 46%. This means that many new Democratic representatives will be blue dogs - but all the outgoing Democrats will be as well (Cazayoux, Lampson, Mahoney and possibly Boyda).

Norm Coleman has inched ahead 43% to 41% (26,000 votes) with 63% reporting. Minneapolis’s County is under-reporting. But it looks like the GOP is surviving in Minnesota as Bachmann is leading by 6% and Paulsen is leading by 5%. Democrats

12:20am: Republicans pick-up TX-22 and they are doing a good job at holding at their marginal seats as they win SC-01, SC-02, TX-07 and TX-10. The tightest among them looks to have been SC-02, which was considered the least endangered of the night! Rep. Wilson won by 8% - will the DCCC regret not having made a move there? The Democratic House wave isn’t quite as big as some predicted. Republicans are also fighting on in OH-15, which was called prematurely for Democrats.

12:10am: Republicans hold WV-02 and WY-AL but Democrats pick-up NM-02, a conservative open seat, as Obama’s New Mexico coattails looks like it will lead to a blue sweep of all of the state’s federal races as Martin Heinrich looks really strong in NM-01. It is interesting how the GOP is performing awfully in some states (NM and VA, for instance) while proving unexpectedly strong in others (MN, where Coleman, Paulsen and Bachmann all lead - though all races remain too close to call). In case anyone had doubts about these races that were once competitive: Democrats held OR-05 and the GOP held MO-09.

midnight: Obama takes the stage accompanied by his family, delivering a rousing speech in front of hundreds of thousands of supporters and choosing to renew with the themes of his 2004 convention speech and of his January 3rd Iowa victory speech. As he speaks, Nevada is called for him - continuing a remarkable sweep of red states (IN, MO and NC are still too close to call).

11:55pm: Mary Landrieu wins re-election in Louisiana by a much narrower margin than expected. This means that Republicans will not win a single Dem-held Senate seat for the second cycle in a row. Another major congressional hold for Democrats in AL-05, where Parker Griffith barely prevailed.

11:50pm: Colorado called for Obama, and Democrats pick-up NY-29, PA-03 (two major pick-ups) though Republicans save FL-21 and NY-26. All were endangered GOP districts. Less surprisingly, Republicans kept FL-18. FL-25, MO-09 and NE-02 are extremely competitive with the GOP candidates narrowly away.

11:45pm: Sen. Wicker wins Mississippi’s Senate race, making it unlikely Dems get to 60 seats. Another for Republicans: IL-10. Obama’s coattails did not carry Dan Seals across the finish line. There are still a lot of tight House races throughout the country, but Republicans still have hope of avoiding a catastrophe at the House level - just as they seem to have saved a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

In Georgia, Chambliss is now at 52% and Democrats are gaining rapidly. Are there many more African-American neighborhoods? In Minnesota, Franken is 300 votes ahead of Coleman!

11:40pm: Arizona passes its ban on gay marriage two years after rejecting it. In Florida, the “yes” is holding at 62% (it needs 60% to pass). In California, Prop 8 is passing right now by 10% - but it’s still early and the Bay Area is not reporting.

11:35pm: More House results coming in: VA-11 called for Democrats, and it looked like they will win VA-05 as well as Perriello has expanded his lead to 2000 votes with 99% precincts reporting.  Democrats save GA-12. And a truly major relief for Republicans: Rep. Shadegg saves his seat in AZ-03.

11:25pm: Mark Udall called the winner in Colorado’s Senate race in the Democrats’ 5th pick-up. And other key House calls: Democrats pick-up NJ-03 but they stunningly lose NJ-07. They also pull an incredible save in PA-11. This is quite a catastrophe for Pennsylvania Republicans: Democrats have managed an unlikely sweep of all their endangered incumbents (PA-04, PA-10, PA-11, PA-12). And in PA-03, GOP Rep. English is not yet out - but he is trailing by 4% with 91% reporting.

Other endangered Republicans include ID-01 (where Rep. Sali trails by 10%), NE-02 (where Rep. Terry trails by 2%), VA-02 (where Rep. Drake trails by 2% with 70% reporting). What we have not yet seen is unexpected upsets though VA-05 is getting close: Perriello leads by 800 votes with 98% reporting. In NY-29, we are 98% reporting and Rep. Kuhl trails by 5000 votes (51-49).

If anything, the biggest upset of the night long looked like it would be a Republican pick-up in NY-24, and Rep. Arcuri is still not out of the woods: He is leading by 1800 votes with 98% reporting.

11:15pm: Florida calls for Obama and Arizona for McCain, as McCain takes the stage to concede. (The crowd has apparently not given up quite yet as they boo Obama’s name.) McCain celebrates the election of an African-American, salutes the historical occasion.

11:05pm: Democrat Bev Perdue wins the North Carolina governorship in what was among the tightest races in the country. As Democrats (and many in the world) celebrate Obama’s victory, Dems do get some bad news from LA-06: a major Republican pick-up that democrats believed they could protect.

Democrats get some pick-ups as well: IL-11 and AZ-01 are called for Democrats. AL-03 is called for GOP Rep. Rogers, in what ended up being a much more competitive seat than most expected.

11pm: Obama becomes President-Elect as the West Coast puts him above the top. Just moments before, Virginia was called for Obama.

10:50pm: We haven’t talked about referendums much, but those are important as well: Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly refused to repeal the state income tax. Both abortion proposals in South Dakota and Colorado are going down, though South Dakota’s remains relatively close.

In more housekeeping: Tim Johnson has won re-election in South Dakota, easily capping a remarkable comeback. In Nebraska, another race that once looked like it could be competitive but had not looked close for a while, Mike Johanns has held the seat for the GOP.

10:46pm: An update in Virginia, where Obama remains ahead 51% to 49% with Democratic precincts left to report. In VA-05, Perriello remains ahead in what would be one of the biggest upsets of the nights - but only by 700 votes with 97% reporting. In VA-02 and VA-11, two other Democrats are ahead - though they have not yet won. Could Democrats pick up the state’s presidential electors, a Senate seat and 3 House seats?!

In Alabama, three House races are very tight though it looks like GOP Rep. Rogers is saving himself; he leads by 6% with 91% reporting. Parker Griffith and Bobby Bright are ahead by extremely narrow margins in AL-02 and AL-05 with about 90% reporting. Doesn’t it say a lot about the GOP’s woes that Alabama is such a House battleground?

10:35pm: A Democratic pick-up in IL-11 and two crucial Democratic holds as Reps. Murtha and Altmire survive in PA-04 and PA-12. It also looks like Rep. Kanjorski could unexpectedly survive, he is up 51% to 49% with 80% reporting.

An update on the Senate: Sens. Wicker and Chambliss are holding on to large leads while Sen. Landrieu in Louisiana is only ahead by 2%. So a good night for Southern Republicans? African-American areas are not reporting at the same pace. We have heard nothing from New Orleans, for instance, and little from Atlanta. When those come in, numbers are likely to change.

10:25pm: Three pick-ups for House Democrats, as Larry Kissell beats Rep. Hayes in NC-08 and as NY-13 and NY-25 are called for Mike McMahon and Dan Maffei. (The latter two were the clearest pick-up for Dems, so no surprise there.) This gets us to +7 for Democrats for now.

But there might be a stunning upset brewing in favor of Republicans in NY-24, where Rep. Arcuri is trailing by 4% with 75% reporting! This was on no one’s radar screen. In NY-29, it looks like GOP Rep. Kuhl will be unseated, as he trails by 6% with 65% reporting. Good news for Florida Republicans: The Diaz-Balart brothers are for now holding their own in FL-21 and FL-25, and Republicans hold FL-13.

In Texas, Sen. Cornyn has won re-election, though GOP Reps. Culberson and McCaul are struggling (though remain in the lead in early returns). A lot of action in Alabama: In AL-03, a stunningly (and unexpectedly) close race is brewing, with GOP Rep. Rogers holding on to a 51-49 lead with 73% reporting. In AL-02, with 75% reporting, Bobby Bright is leading by 4%. In AL-05, a Democratic open seat, Democratic candidate Parker Griffith is leading by 4% with 77% reporting.

10:15pm: Republicans pick-up FL-16 (unsurprisingly) and save KY-02. The latter was rated lean GOP in my latest ratings, but there was a time in which Democrats had very high hopes here. In better news for Democrats, Debbie Halvorson is poised to pick-up IL-11 as she leads by 23% with two thirds reporting. IL-10 remains competitive. In IL-18, Republican Schock holds an open seat and will become the youngest member of the 111th House.

Could Republicans save their two open House seats in New Jersey? That would be a stunning disappointment for Democrats, but the GOP candidates are leading by 6% and 12% in NJ-03 and NJ-07. 58% are reporting in both counties. Those are shockingly disappointing numbers for Democrats, especially in NJ-07. GOP Rep. Garrett is winning a strong victory in NJ-05 against Rabbi Dennis Shulman (we talked about this race two weeks ago when Garrett unveiled one of the most vicious ads of the cycle).

In presidential news, McCain holds Arkansas and Texas.

10:06pm: A mistake in the House? CNN called VA-05 for Rep. Goode earlier - and I called it a big hold for the GOP. But with 95% reporting, Perriello is leading by 700 votes! This is a nail-biter with a slight Democratic advantage as counting winds down. In VA-02, a Democratic challenger is holding 51% to 49% over Rep. Drake with 63% reporting.

In Georgia, Chambliss is crushing Martin 56% to 40% but there are a lot of Democratic strongholds left to report. We’re also keeping an eye on MN-06, where infamous Rep. Bachmann is leading 47% to 43% with 20% reporting. And an important hold for Democrats in Indiana, as Baron Hill is re-elected in IN-09. Republican candidate Guthrie is holding on to a 4% lead with almost 90% reporting.

10:05pm: A look at Florida: Obama has a narrow lead with 61% reporting but look at where there still are outstanding votes: 31% of Miami-Dade is reporting, nothing in Palm Beach while Hillsborough County (a crucial swing county) has gone for Obama. Just as in Virginia, the remaining counties suggest Obama will carry Florida.

Meanwhile, Republicans already calling on Obama to stand up to Pelosi and Reid.

10pm: As polls close in yet more states, Iowa is called for Obama and Utah is called for McCain. So much for McCain’s (still unexplained) bravado in Iowa. Montana and Nevada are still too close to call.

A look at Virginia: 80% is reporting, but only 35% of Fairfax is in, as well as 33% of Arlington. In other words, Obama is likely to pick-up these 13 electoral votes.

9:56pm: Obama heading to landslide victory. New Mexico is called for Obama and Louisiana for McCain. Also, Obama has taken the lead in Virginia with 80% reporting, but only 50% to 49% (it is somewhat surprising that the state is so narrow given that Obama won Ohio and Pennsylvania relatively easily).

9:50pm: There are no more House Republicans in New England. Two pick-ups for Democrats as OH-15 and CT-04 are called. While OH-15 was rated lean Democratic in my ratings, CT-04 was a toss-up. In better news for Republicans, Chris Lee is crushing Alice Kryzan in NY-26.

9:45pm: Let’s check in some major House races: In OH-02, a quarter of the votes are in and GOP Rep. Schmidt is surviving 46% to 37%. In OH-07, a long shot for Democrats, GOP candidate Austria is up by 6%. In OH-12, GOP Rep. Tiberi is leading 51% to 46%. In OH-15, 36% of precincts are reporting and Democratic candidate Kilroy is leading by 6%.

In PA-03, GOP Rep. English is trailing by 10% with 30% reporting… and early totals suggest we could be in for a shocker in PA-06, where Republican Rep. Gerlach trails. In PA-10 and PA-12, Democratic Rep. Carney and Rep. Murtha are leading comfortably - but there is still a long time to go. In PA-11, a race that I have rated lean Republican, Democratic Rep. Kanjorski is ahead 53% to 47%.

Republicans will pick-up FL-16 (they’re leading 61% to 39% with almost half-in). The South Florida races (FL-21 and FL-25 are early. We’ve already called FL-08 and FL-24 for Democrats.

In CT-04, huge lead for Jim Himes with 40% reporting: 60% to 39%. In CO-04, a huge lead for Democratic challenger Betsy Markey: 61% to 39% with a third reporting!

9:40pm: Big hold for Democrats in NH-01, where Rep. Carol Shea-Porter beats Jeb Bradley for the second cycle in a row; the race was one of the few Dem-held districts that was rated a toss-up in my latest ratings.

The networks are doing their best to pretend that McCain still has a path to victory. He doesn’t. John King is pleading West Coasters to vote. Think about this: There is still 90 minutes of voting in the West Coast (more in AK) and the presidential race has effectively been called.

9:35pm: Obama will be the next president, but there are still a lot of other elections to be called… so we go on! Starting with NC-08, where Larry Kissell leads 58% to 42% against GOP Rep. Hayes with 35% reporting; however, Republicans incumbents NC-05 and NC-10 look like they will survive (they were both extreme long shots for Democrats).

9:25pm: HUGE HUGE HUGE projection: Obama wins Ohio, its 20 electoral votes and is now A VIRTUAL LOCK FOR THE PRESIDENCY. BARACK OBADIAH WILL BE THE 44th PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!

I’m sure you all know why: With Obama now safe in all blue states, all he needs is to pick up 19 red electoral votes… and Ohio has 20 electoral votes. This means that unless something goes terribly wrong for Democrats in California, Oregon, Hawaii or Washington, Obama has secured 270 electoral votes.

This is also poetic justice for Democrats: Ohio crushed their hearts four years ago… and it is now Ohio that is putting Obama over the top, despite the fact that other red states are likely to go blue by bigger margins when all is counted.

9:21pm: More good news for Republicans: VA-05 is called for GOP Rep. Goode (a huge saved for the GOP) and West Virginia is called for McCain. Democrats continue to lead in VA-02 and VA-11. GOP Rep. Capito is holding by 10% in WV-02. Democrats aren’t on track for a sweep yet.

9:20pm: Mitch McConnell survives according to CNN. A huge, HUGE save for Republicans, due to Lunsford’s weak results in Democratic strongholds. This makes it much more difficult for Democrats to reach 60. All eyes are now on Minnesota, Georgia and Mississippi.

9:10pm: Stunning numbers from CT-04, where Jim Himes leads by 30% with nearly 28% in. In VA-05, GOP Rep. Goode has now fallen behind (things are looking good for Democrats in VA-02 and VA-11 as well for now, could we be headed to a giant night for Virginia Democrats?). In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell is ahead by 3% with 62% reporting. Things are also going well for Democratic candidates in Ohio but it is very early.

Some news form exit polls: Mary Landrieu looks like she will survive in Louisiana by a comfortable - though not dominant - margin; same for Mark Udall in Colorado. At the presidential level, Colorado’s presidential race looks good for Obama, who is also crushing his rival in New Mexico. Also, exit polls suggest a Franken victory. This could be the Democrats’ 8th seat.

9:05pm: Tom Udall picks-up New Mexico’s Senate race (no surprise there). VA-05 has dramatically tightened with 84% reporting. Kentucky’s Senate race is now a 2% race with 60% reporting: McConnell is up 51% to 49%. In GA-08, a big pick-up hope for Republicans, Dem Rep. Marshall is performing well.

Updated exit polls show a dead heat in Indiana and a tighter race in Virginia though Obama still ahead.

9:00pm: Obama has swept the blue states, as Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota are all called for him. This is huge for Obama, and puts McCain in an extremely precarious position. Another major call is North Dakota, which has been called for McCain. Other calls: New York, Rhode Island go for Obama. Wyoming, Kansas are called for McCain. No call yet in Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, South Dakota, Nebraska.

A good save for Republicans: IN-03 is called for Rep. Souder.

8:54pm: Democrat Jay Nixon will become Missouri’s new Governor. No surprise here, but it’s a pick-up for Democrats. In other good news for Democrats, Barack Obama looks to be doing very well in North Carolina’s crucial Wake county. CNN (which is being much more cautious than other networks) joins in calling Hagan the winner in North Carolina.

8:45pm: Two good Florida news for Democrats: First, they got their second House pick-up in FL-08, and the second in the Orlando area as Allen Grayson has defeated Rep. Keller. The race was rated lean Democratic in my House ratings.

Second, Obama is over-performing, for instance in Pinellas County which Kerry lost and Obama won by 8%. Obama is doing well in Central Florida. (Four years ago, reports that Kerry was doing poorly in Florida’s I-4 corridor were the first signs Bush was doing well.)

8:41pm: Possible upset brewing in VA-02, where the Democratic challenger is narrowly leading with 15% reporting. GOP Rep. Goode is holding on by 6% in VA-05 while Democratic candidate Connolly is leading by 10% with 5% reporting.

In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell is slowly inching upward but it is still too close to call: He leads by 4% with 55% reporting. GOP candidate Brett Guthrie is going strong in KY-02, somewhat of a disappointment for Dems in a race they long hoped would go their way.

8:37pm: McCain gets his first big win as MSNBC calls Georgia for him. This should not be considered bad news for Obama, but it might be disappointing to those Democrats hoping for a blowout. That Georgia was called relatively early also suggests that Democrats are not over-performing enough for Martin to cross 50% today, perhaps not even to force a runoff.

8:34pm: McCain is holding the red base, as he just won Alabama. He trails 103-43 margin in the electoral college. Also: Reports are indicating turnout has hit 80% (!) in Virginia and Nevada.

At the House level, Democrats are headed towards a major pick-up in FL-08, as Grayson leads by 6% with more than 70% reporting. The race is rated lean Democratic in my latest ratings but it was not considered in the top-tier two months ago.

8:30pm: Democrats get their first House pick-up in FL-24, Tom Feeney’s seat. Things are not looking as good for Democrats in IN-03, but Rep. Shays is not doing well in CT-04. (Also, CNN just called New Hampshire for Obama - following NBC’s call.)

8:28pm: The North Carolina Senate race is called for KAY HAGAN. This is a huge pick-up for Democrats in one of the two races I had rated as lean Democratic.

8:22pm: I have been asked to comment on Virginia’s results. McCain is winning big right now, but most reporting is in Republican south and west so Obama’s strongest areas have yet to report. In VA-05, Rep. Goode is holding on 53% to 47% in a district Democrats made a last-minute push in - but Charlottesville has yet to report.

Some other interesting results: Mitch McConnell now leads by 3% with half of the votes reporting. In NH-01, Rep. Shea-Porter is up by 14% with 16% reporting. It looks like yet another strong night for New Hampshire Democrats.

8:20pm: Jeanne Shaheen wins the New Hampshire Senate race, a crucial pick-up for Democrats - though it is not particularly surprising. In Maine, Susan Collins wins re-election (again, not a surprise but Democrats once had high hopes and the DSCC did spend a lot of money). Gov. Lynch wins re-election in New Hampshire, retaining a seat he unexpectedly picked up in 2004.

8:15pm: Let’s go back to the presidential race and repeat how extraordinary it is that Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and even New Jersey were called immediately for the Democratic nominee.  Obama is now leading 103 electoral votes to 34 for McCain, and the electoral map is now very very very tough for McCain. Obama will probably win Iowa and New Mexico, which means Obama needs one more of all other red states - and things look cautiously good for him in FL, NC… even IN.

For those who are wondering what is happening in Pennsylvania, Obama has a gigantic lead in the exit poll posted by CNN. No surprises in Maine according to the exit poll, as Susan Collins should win re-election. Bad news for Democrats in the Mississippi exit poll, however, as Roger Wicker is coming out ahead - but those are only exit polls, of course, and they can always take comfort in New Hampshire, where Shaheen is destroying Sununu.

8:05pm: Let’s step back to the congressional level for a moment: With 39% of Kentucky reporting, Mitch McConnell is holding a 0.6% lead. At the House level, KY-03 has been called for Rep. Yarmuth (an important hold in what was a rematch of a 2006 race). In KY-02, GOP nominee Guthrie is now 7% ahead with 25% reporting. Republicans are also looking good in IN-03.

8pm: MSNBC CALLED PENNSYLVANIA FOR OBAMA. A stunning call that CNN does not follow. It will be very difficult for McCain to win the presidency without the Keystone State. Other calls: McCain wins Oklahoma, Tennessee. Obama wins Massachusetts, Illinois, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maryland, DC, Maine.

Let’s say it: This is atrocious for McCain.

7:55pm: As expected, North Carolina early voters are favoring Obama: We now have 450,000 votes counted (but 0% precincts, which means these are early voters) and Obama has opened a lead of 100,000 (61% to 39%); Hagan leads by the same margin. As expected, Perdue is underperforming.

The situation is the same in Florida, where we now have more than 2,5 million votes! Obama leads 56% to 44% which is a margin of 400,000 votes. McCain will need to perform strongly among voters who voted today.

7:50pm: Now that 3 states have been called, McCain leads 16-3 in the electoral college. This only means that Republicans did not completely collapse, as South Carolina was turning blue in the GOP’s worst nightmares (and I do mean worst).

IN-02 called for Rep. Donnelly (this was a race the GOP once hoped to make competitive). Democrats are looking good in the pair of GOP-held Orlando districts they are contesting, especially in FL-08, where Grayson now leads by 10% with 35% reporting.

In Kentucky, we are now at 29% reporting (Democratic strongholds are reporting as well). McCain leads by 8,3% and Lunsford is ahead by 0,4% (about 2,000 votes).

7:40pm: South Carolina called for McCain. In Florida, 1,4 million votes have been counted and Obama leads by 160,000 votes. It’s hard to know what to make of this since we already knew Democrats did well among early voters.

In IN-03, GOP Rep. Souder is looking good and leads by 17% with 30% reporting (the race is rated a toss-up in my latest ratings, so a potential disappointment for Democrats). In KY-02, however, Democrat David Boswell is holding on to a very narrow lead and slightly overperforming the 2006 nominee - suggesting this could be a nail-biter.

In Indiana, we now have 21% reporting and McCain is narrowly ahead, 51% to 48%. Democratic strongholds have still not yet reported.

7:35pm: Only 2% of Florida is reporting but there are a lot of raw votes being reporting, suggesting there has been a big dump of early voters: Obama leads 313,475 to 204,112. At the House level: 17% are reporting in FL-08, and Democratic challenger Grayson is leading Rep. Keller 56% to 44%.

CNN has posted its exit polls from Georgia (suggesting a narrow McCain lead), from Indiana (Obama is ahead), from Ohio (Obama leads among males as well as females…) and from Virginia, which look really good for Obama. Georgia exit polling also suggests that the Senate race is heading to a runoff while Kentucky’s exit poll suggests McConnell will survive. Obama is also ahead narrowly in North Carolina exit polling. These exit polls are more reliable than those we saw at 5pm, but Dems should not feel confident just yet.

7:30pm: Polls have closed in Ohio, North Carolina and Arkansas! No calls for now.

7:25pm: In Indiana, McCain is holding 51% to 49% with 12% reporting but no results from Obama strongholds Indianapolis, Bloomington and Lake County. In House races, incumbents are looking good for now: Dems are leading in IN-02, IN-08 and IN-09 (the latter is somewhat competitive). In IN-03, a district Democrats have been targeting over the past few weeks, Rep. Souder is holding on by 12% with 10% reporting.

Conservative parts of Virginia are reporting only for now, so nothing to see there. We’re keeping an eye on a few House races there. In Kentucky, McConnell leads by 2% with 15% reporting.

7:20pm: Mitch Daniels wins another term as Indiana’s Governor. This was a race Democrats were very excited about just six months ago, but Jill Long Thompson’s campaign collapsed over the past few months.

In Kentucky, 13% have reported: McCain leads by 11,3% and McConnell leads by 1,2% - that’s certainly a more promising over performance for Lunsford.

7:15pm: CBS News is reporting that the share of the African-American vote in Georgia has increased by 5%. This was a key factor we were following, and if it holds in other states it will be very good news for Obama and Democrats up and down the ballot. ALSO: Virginia exit polls suggest Obama is in the lead - which would obviously be very significant. Early exits also imply a narrower Obama lead in Indiana. All of this is obviously not indicative of any final results.

7:05pm: A reminder that at this hour four years ago, Teddy Kennedy was beaming on CNN while Robert Novak looked very depressed.

Mitch McConnell and Bruce Lunsford are essentially tied in Kentucky: with 12% reporting, Lunsford leads by 19 votes (!) Lunsford is still running only a few points ahead of Obama, and he will have to improve that once more conservative districts start reporting.

7:00pm: First calls! Obama wins VERMONT and McCain wins Kentucky! Virginia’s Senate race is called for MARK WARNER! Polls also closed in Georgia, some of New Hampshire, South Carolina, Virginia (!), all of Indiana and most (but not all) of Florida. Lindsay Graham has been called the winner in South Carolina’s Senate race.

Things are getting interesting.

6:55pm: 42% of KY-03 (a Democratic-leaning district) has reported, which explains why Obama is polling strongly in the state. As I said, Lunsford is not over-performing Obama which is a problem. Sure, he needs to primarily overperform in conservative areas rather than in KY-03, but this is not that good a start for the Democratic Senate candidate.

As for KY-03, Rep. Yarmuth is leading 57% to 43% against former Rep. Northup: it’s looking good for Democrats there in a district that the GOP once had high hopes for.

6:45pm: Finally some results: 9% of Kentucky is reporting and Lunsford is narrowly ahead (51% to 49%) and McCain is ahead by 1%. Lunsford has to outperform Obama by a far bigger margin if he wants to pull this off.

Let’s say this about exit polls: They are looking a lot like 2004, which is to say that Democrats are taking comfort in them…

6:35pm: More exit poll rumoring: Gawker has the second wave of exit polls and they have good news for Obama in the presidential race (especially in states he is expected to win like PA, IA, NM) and very good news for Senate Democrats - too good for the numbers to be reliable, perhaps. Coleman, for instance, is being shown to be trailing by 12% for now, which is highly to hold.

Still very early reporting in Indiana and Kentucky, with Democrat Boswell holding a very narrow lead in KY-02 and GOP Rep. Souder holding a 13% lead, both with very early reporting (2% each).

6:25pm: Is this actually our first election night since June 3rd? After the seemingly weekly extravaganzas throughout the spring, that seems hard to believe.

Not many precincts have started reporting. With 1% reporting in Indiana, with Obama leading 55% to 44% - obviously ridiculously early, however.

6:15pm: The very first results are in! 5 precincts are reporting from Kentucky… and they have McCain leading 64% to 35%. This is obviously not at all significant - but those are the hard numbers we are getting, so worth noting.

Some interesting preliminary data from exit polls that are being released from the broadcast channels themselves (CNN, Fox) have Obama leading big among first time voters (no surprise there, though the exact margin will of course be crucial), most voters preoccupied with the economy and thinking the country is on the wrong track (again, no surprise…).

Original post: Let’s get this party started! We are past 6:00pm ET, and polls have closed in most (but not all) of Kentucky and Indiana. Numbers should start streaming in any time soon.

I will be live blogging through the night, and as more and more polls close I imagine I wil be swamped by the number of races to cover. I will try to keep an eye on all of them but will surely miss a few, so please feel fee to email me or add comments with any result/trend I haven’t noticed and I’ll try to get to them.

As for exit polls, I am seeing contrasting news for now - so no reason to trust anything you see (not that exit polls should be trusted anyway).

Rating changes, House edition: GOP continues to lose grip on base districts

It is hard to believe that there are only three full days of campaigning let before Election Day, but in a number of districts the die might already have been cast due to the high proportion of voters who have already cast their ballot. The results might very well have already been decided, for instance, in NV-02, NV-03, OR-05, NC-08 or CO-04.

Even if nothing has been cast in stone in most of these districts, there is little campaigns can do at this point but focus on their GOTV efforts and hope that the presidential coattails will help them. The slightest change in the electorate’s breakdown could yield dramatic consequences at the House level (for instance, a boost in black turnout could be all Democrats need in at least half-a-dozen GOP-held seats), and any GOP uptick in the final days could save the party a large number of seats. Indeed, many of the Republican incumbents who have become endangered only over the past few weeks will stand or fall together.

If Democrats have a strong wind behind their back on Tuesday, we should expect a shockingly high number of races that are currently rated likely Republican to fall to the opposition. If turnout is lower than expected among sporadic voters or if late deciders break towards the GOP, the party’s second and third tier races might weather the storm.

For now, all indications point to the former scenario. Of the 14 rating changes I am introducing today, 11 favor Democrats, and yet another GOP-held seat migrates to the lean Democratic column, bringing the grand total to a staggering eighteen. (By contrast, only three Dem-held seats are rated lean or likely take-over.) To make matters worse, a number of Republican incumbents who were only recently added to these ratings (let alone to a competitive category) are being moved to the lean retention column. Who would have thought just a month ago that SC-01, TX-07, TX-10 and VA-05 would look like battlegrounds in the week-end heading into the election?

This, more than anything else, is what should terrify Republicans. The political environment is putting seats in play that would never even be mentioned in any other year. If the GOP does not pull off a strong ground game over the next… 72 hours, its House caucus risks being decimated.

Note, when reading these ratings, that a “lean” designation means that the race tilts towards one candidate but that the contest remains highly competitive and that an opposite result would not be surprising. A “likely” designation signals that a candidate is strongly favored and that the opposite result would be a considered a stunning upset - though we should certainly expect a number of those on Tuesday nights. There is simply not enough data on House races to draw exact conclusions as to which district are the most vulnerable.

  • Safe Democratic: 207
  • Likely/Safe Democratic: 230
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Democratic: 245
  • Toss-ups: 26
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Republican: 164
  • Likely/Safe Republican: 150
  • Safe Republican: 126

Full ratings available here.

AK-AL, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Any hope Rep. Don Young might have had to overcome the ethical scandals that surround him and survive Tuesday’s vote evaporated with Ted Stevens’ conviction. The state GOP’s corruption troubles and Young’s ruined reputation were once again cast in the spotlight. Ethan Berkowitz has been leading Young for months, and Democrats are poised to win their first federal race in this state since the 1970s.

FL-24, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Tom Feeney was caught in the worst position a politician can find himself in: He was so damaged by reports of his ties to Jack Abramoff that he simply had to air an ad apologizing - but in so doing he might very well have sealed his fate. Even Republicans no longer believe Feeney can survive, and the NRCC has not spent a dime on his behalf; Democrats, meanwhile, have spent more than $1,1 million and have ensured that the Abramoff-funded Scotland trip remains on voters’ minds with some hard-hitting ads of their own. The only poll we have seen of late has been a DCCC internal showing Kosmas leading by 23%; that might have seemed excessive, but the GOP’s failure to release a counter-poll reveals just as much about the state of the race as the DCCC’s poll.

IN-03, lean Republican to toss-up: This is not a district Republicans should worry about for a single minute. George Bush got 68% of the vote in 2004 - but Rep. Mark Souder only prevailed by 8% in 2006 against an underfunded opponent. This year, Democratic attorney Michael Montagano is attracting more attention and he is being helped by national Democrats. Both congressional committees have engaged in the district over the past few weeks, with the DCCC outspending its counterpart 2:1. It would be a true upset for Souder to lose, but two recent polls confirm that the race is now a dead heat and Montagano from Barack Obama’s remarkable ground game in the Hoosier State. Who would have thought a Democratic presidential candidate could help down-the-ballot candidate in such a conservative district?

KY-03, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: What was expected to be one of the hottest races of the 2008 cycle has turned out into an easy re-election campaign for Rep. Yarmuth. Anne Northup, the incumbent who Yarmuth narrowly defeated in 2006, is poised to suffer her third high-profile defeat in as many years (she also lost the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination in 2007). Recent SUSA polls show Yarmuth with a wide lead, and the DCCC has not bothered investing a dime in the district. Given how much money Democrats have, would they not have moved in this race if they thought Yarmuth was endangered?

MO-06, lean Republican to likely Republican: This has perhaps been the most disappointing race for Democrats this year. Former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes was one of their top recruits, but as other Democrats got more and more competitive, Barnes faded away. Perhaps this was due to Rep. Graves’ quick hit on his opponent: his spring ad attacking Barnes’ San Fransisco values provoked much controversy, will surely be remembered as one of the most memorable ads of the year and might have discredited Barnes. SUSA’s latest poll has Rep. Graves jumping to a shocking 18% lead, and, in the surest sign that Graves has gotten himself out of trouble, the DCCC has dropped out of the district for the past two weeks. All of this said, if there is one year in which a Democratic challenger can beat all the odds and unexpectedly prevail, it’s this one - so don’t completely rule out an upset.

MS-01, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Travis Childers won a high-profile special election in May, and it is rare for voters to fire an incumbent after only a few months. The DCCC has poured in more than $200,000 over the past few months, while the NRCC has not engaged. Childers should be boosted further by the surge in African-American turnout that is manifesting itself in Southern states that propose early voting.

NC-05, off the map to likely Republican: It seems insane to put this district on our radar screen, and frankly, it is insane. But in the current environment, no Republican incumbent who is facing a credible Democratic challenger can be entirely safe, particularly in a state like North Carolina where the electorate has so dramatically shifted blue.

NY-26, toss-up to lean Republican: While the race remains highly competitive, we can now say that Republican candidate Chris Lee has a slight advantage. Alice Kryzan’s unexpected victory in the Democratic primary led hurts her party’s efforts to win the seat, and, despite the DCCC spending almost $2 million in this seat, a recent independent poll shows Lee grabbing a double-digit lead. That might be overstating his advantage, as New York Republicans are an endangered species, but Democrats are no longer as optimistic as they were in the spring.

PA-03, toss-up to lean Democratic: Democratic challenger Kathy Dahlkemper was always considered a good recruit by Democrats. but this was never supposed to be a top-tier race. But we got our first taste of how vulnerable Rep. Phil English was when the NRCC chose to make one of its very first investments here. Unfortunately for Republicans, that did not prevent the DCCC from significantly outspending its counterpart (and pouring in a total of $1.5 million over the past 6 weeks). Pushed by the Democratic wind, Dahlkemper is in a strong position to knock off the incumbent Republican. An English victory would certainly not be shocking, but the race now narrowly tilts Democratic.

PA-12, lean Democratic to toss-up: The situation is getting worse by the day for Jack Murtha ever since he described Western Pennsylvania as a “racist” area. The comments have attracted a huge amount of attention in the local media, and the GOP is moving to make sure that every voter is aware of the controversy by Tuesday. A bombshell exploded today as it was revealed that the NRCC had bought $465,000 worth of air time to use against Murtha, guaranteeing that his comments continue to receive one play. Given that the NRCC has had to pull hte plug on a number of endangered Republican incumbents, for them to invest this much money in this seat means that they are very confident that Murtha’s comments have been a game changer.

SC-01, likely Republican to lean Republican: Republican incumbents in districts with a substantial African-American population are in grave danger of falling to the boost in black turnout that we have been already seeing in states like North Carolina and Georgia. This race was nowhere on our radar’s screen at the beginning of October, and Rep. Brown certainly remains favored. But an upset by (openly gay) Democrat Linda Ketner is looking increasingly plausible. The DCCC has only invested limited resources in the district ($70,000), but that could be due to Ketner’s ability to spend her own money.

TX-07, likely Republican to lean Republican: The DCCC might not have spent anything in this district, but that is not necessarily because they don’t believe it is competitive: Democratic challenger Michael Skelly is a wealthy business executive who has donated a lot of money to his own campaign and he entered October with more than $1 million of cash on hand. That might not be enough by itself to knock off a Republican incumbent in a conservative district, but it certainly contributes to making the race competitive. And while Bush obtained a huge percentage of the vote here in 2004, Texas Republicans are worried that their numbers will deflate now that their former Governor no longer is on the ballot.

TX-10, likely Republican to lean Republican: This district might be ever so slightly less Republican than TX-07, but Bush got more than 60% of the vote in 2000 and in 2004 - underscoring just how difficult it will be for Democrats to score a shocking upset. But Democratic candidate and lawyer Larry Joe Doherty has raised enough money to be a credible contender and contest the district even without the DCCC”s help. Until we know the post-Bush state of Texas Republicans, Rep. McCaul has a target on his back and a Research 2000 poll released this week showed the incumbent leading by only 4% - and well under 50%.

VA-05, likely Republican to lean Republican: Rep. Goode is so entrenched in this district that he has run (and won) as a Democrat, an independent and a Republican. Now, he is finally facing a difficult re-election race in a state that is quickly shifting away from the GOP. The DCCC has invested more than $600,000 in the district over the course of three weeks, confirming that we should keep a close eye on this district. A victory by Democratic challenger Tom Perriello would no longer be a shocker.

Full ratings available here.

DCCC goes on one of its last spending sprees

With a week remaining before Election Day, all campaigns and national committees are budgeting their final advertising push and buying media time to last them through November 4th. The DCCC has poured in nearly $15 million in almost 40 districts already this week. More investments are likely to come today and tomorrow, first because the DCCC has left out a number of districts in which it regularly invests and because it appears that the NRCC has yet to make its last round of expenditures. But the DCCC’s $14 million latest spending spree gives us a good idea of which seats Democrats are the most committed to. (Most of the following numbers come from SSP’s always very handy House expenditure tracker.)

In three districts did the DCCC go for broke; all are currently held by the GOP: In IL-10, the DCCC just poured in an impressive $929,279, bringing its total investment in the district to more than $2 million. (This is partly explained by the fact that IL-10 is in the expensive Chicago market). In NV-03, the DCCC bought more than $750,000 of air time against Rep. Porter, bringing its total to more than $2.3 million. And in IL-11, $600,000 worth of advertisement (and a total that surpasses $2 million) should help Debbie Halvorson win this open seat.

Another group of seats - here again predominantly GOP-held - saw massive investments of more than $500,000. Those include the once-safe AZ-03, NC-08, NH-01, NM-01, OH-15 (the total surpasses $2 million in each of these five districts), MN-06 (the DCCC has now spent more than $1 million in two weeks on Bachmann’s seat) and the conservative NM-02 (for a total of $1.5 million). This makes New Hampshire’s Carol Shea-Porter the most protected Democratic incumbent, and confirms the remarkable development by which the DCCC has poured more effort in AZ-03 than in many seats that were more obviously competitive.

Also notable are the DCCC’s expenditures that top $400,000. Here again the list is made up of Republican seats: MD-01, MN-03 and OH-01 (total spending in each now tops $2 million), MI-07 and MI-09 (total spending in each tops $1 million), CA-04 and NY-26. Between $200,000 and $400,000, we have AZ-01 (an open seat that is considered an easy Democratic pick-up but where the DCCC has now spent more than $2 million), CO-04, KY-02, MO-09, FL-24 (all now more than $1 million total), FL-21, FL-25, NE-02, OH-02, NY-29, FL-08, IN-03 and IN-09. Rounding up six-figure expenditures are AK-AL, CA-11, CT-04, LA-06, NJ-03 and NJ-07 (all more than $1 million total), AL-05, ID-01, KS-02.

A few observations about this spending spree. First, the DCCC did not expand the map this week. The only new seat they invested in yesterday is FL-08, a district that has looked highly competitive for weeks and that I just moved to the lean take-over category this past week-end. Also noteworthy is NE-02, where the DCCC’s media buy this week is eight times higher than it was last week. However, there are a number of districts we have been talking about lately in which the DCCC is not playing despite the massive loan it took last week; those include California’s seats, IA-04, FL-13, FL-18 or even SC-01 where the DCCC has not followed up on a small investment it made last week. Furthermore, the national committee appears to have given up on MO-06, which was once considered a top opportunity but in which the DCCC has not bought air time for two weeks now.

Second, Democrats seem to be very comfortable about playing defense. They have largely pulled out of AZ-05, AZ-08 or MS-01, all districts that the GOP had high hopes of contesting; they have not had to spend a dime in places like KS-03 or NY-20, seats Republicans had vowed to contest. And they do not seem to feel particular energy in many of the blue seats in which they are investing. However, we do know that the DCCC is starting to air this ad in PA-12 on behalf of Murtha, though they have yet to report that expenditure.

The NRCC, meanwhile, posted a few expenditures over the past two days though a lot more should come tonight. Noteworthy investments include $375,000 spent in WY-AL, more than $250,000 in NE-02 and MO-09, more than $100,000 in MO-06, IN-03. What do all these districts have in common? They are extremely heavily Republican (Bush won IN-03 with 68% of the vote, for instance, and let us not even talk about WY-AL) and Republican candidates are in such a bad state that the NRCC is forced to spend its money in such districts.

(There is something to be said against the NRCC’s decision making, and we might talk about this more in the coming week: Swing seats like NM-01 or OH-16 will likely be lost for a decade or more if Democrats pick them up, yet the NRCC is not spending a dime there. Conservative seats like WY-AL or IN-03 would be likely to fall back into GOP hands in the coming cycle or two, but the NRCC is spending all of its resources in such places.)

Let’s take a closer look at Southern Florida, where the battles in FL-21 and in FL-25 have become truly vicious. Both seats are in the same Miami media market, and they are represented by the (Republican) Diaz-Balart brothers. So Democrats have decided to save money - and just air an ad targeting both Diaz-Balarts:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpMgxd3aiWo"]

The GOP’s response in FL-25 is also fascinating because it bears such a close resemblance to what is going on in the presidential race. Democratic candidate Joe Garcia is blasted for being in favor of “redistribution of the wealth,” underscoring how much Republicans are banking on Joe the Plumber at this point:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTm91xZQhl0"]

Poll watch: Trackings tighten (a bit), but Obama dominates in VA, CO, PA, OH, FL and NV; Wicker opens wide lead

We start, as will now be customary, with the three states that we should be watching over this closing week: Colorado, Virginia and Pennsylvania. New polls were released today in each and they find Obama in command: He extends his lead by 3% in the latest Insider Advantage poll of Colorado, leads by 9% in Virginia and has a sizable edge in three Pennsylvania surveys (7% to 12%). That said, both Insider Advantage and Rasmussen suggest that there might be some tightening in the Keystone State, and Obama is no longer enjoying consistent double-digit leads.

It is a testament to just how huge a lead he had seized that he remains so firmly in command of Pennsylvania despite shedding nearly half of his lead in Rasmussen’s survey. And it is also a testament to Obama’s remarkably strong electoral map that he has so many other options even if McCain somehow manages to pull off one of the three states listed above.

If Obama were to lose Pennsylvania, for instance, Nevada would suffice to compensate - and two new polls out today show Obama leading outside of the margin of error and by as much as 10%. Keep in mind that the demographics of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and Nevada are very similar, so a comeback in the former wouldn’t mean that McCain is coming back in the three latter ones. McCain trails outside of the MoE in two new polls of Ohio (4% and 9%) and two new polls of Florida (5% and 7%). McCain still has a lot of work to do in all of these states.

As has been the case over the past few days, the tightest contests are taking place in states that Obama does not need: Indiana, North Carolina, Montana, Georgia and… Arizona are all within the margin of error in new polls. Losing any of these would be a catastrophe for the GOP.

McCain supporters can at least take comfort in the composite of the tracking polls, as McCain continues to close the gap after already tightening the race somewhat yesterday. But he continues to trail, and a Pew national poll taken over the same period finds disastrous numbers for McCain (I don’t believe McCain had ever trailed by 16% in a poll before). On to the full roundup of the day’s polls:

  • Obama leads 53% to 38% in a national Pew poll conducted Thursday through Monday; the margin is 16% with registered voters. 74% of Obama’s supporters describe themselves as “strong” supporters, versus 56% of McCain’s. Obama leads among men, women, every age group, independents and by 19% among early voters.
  • Obama leads 50% to 45% in an ARG national poll thanks to 83% of Democrats and a 12% lead among independents.
  • McCain makes some progress in the latest tracking polls: He gains 3% in Gallup (51-44, and only 49-47 in the LVT model), 1% in Research 2000 (50-43), 1% in Zogby (49-45). The race is stable in Hotline (50-42), Washington Post/ABC (52-45) and Rasmussen (51-46). Obama gains 1% in IBD/TIPP (48-44). That means that Obama’s leads are: 4%, 4%, 5%, 7%, 7%, 7%, 8%.
  • Colorado: Obama leads 53% to 45% in a new Insider Advantage poll, based on his staggering 81% among Hispanics. Obama led by 5% last week. The poll was conducted on Sunday.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama leads 51% to 42% in an Insider Advantage poll of Pennsylvania; a separate IA poll of suburban Bucks County finds Obama leading by 3% (the same as Kerry), a 3% decline since a poll two weeks ago. This poll was conducted on Sunday. Obama leads 53% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll; that’s a drop from Obama’s 13% margin three weeks ago. No movement in the Morning Call tracking poll, however, where Obama leads 53% to 41%.
  • Virginia: Obama leads 48% to 39% in a Roanoke College poll. The poll was conducted over eight days, however, from the 19th through yesterday.
  • Ohio: Obama leads 49% to 40% in a new LAT/Bloomberg poll conducted Saturday through yesterday. (A fascinating internal: Obama wins white, working class voters 52% to 38%). Obama leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll conducted on Sunday and Monday. Obama led by 5% two weeks ago. He leads by 17% among the 22% of respondents who say they have already voted.
  • Nevada: Obama leads 50% to 40% in a Suffolk poll conducted from the 23rd through the 27th, with 2% for Barr and 1% each for McKinney and Nader. Obama leads 50% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll in which he led by 5% two weeks ago.
  • North Carolina: The candidates are tied at 47% in a week-end Mason Dixon/NBC poll. In a PPP poll of the 8th district, Obama leads by 6% which is a 14% swing since 2004, about what Obama needs statewide to win the state.
  • Indiana: Three polls in Indiana show a highly competitive race. Obama leads 48% to 47% in a Research 2000 poll (the candidates were tied three weeks ago.) McCain leads 47% to 45% in a Howey/Gauge poll. In a separate Research 2000 poll of IN-03, McCain leads 53% to 38% - which is great news for Obama since Bush won the district 68% to 31% (that’s a 22% swing towards Obama, essentially what he needs statewide to carry the state).
  • Montana: McCain leads 48% to 44% in a week-end Mason Dixon/NBC poll (I am not sure whether Ron Paul’s name was included).

Meanwhile, in down the ballot surveys:

  • Roger Wicker jumps to a big 54% to 43% lead in a Rasmussen poll of Mississippi’s Senate race. He only led by 2% in September.
  • Saxby Chambliss leads 46% to 44,5% in an Insider Advantage poll of Georgia’s Senate race, with 2% going to other (it looks like Buckley’s name was not included).
  • Jeff Merkley leads 45% to 40% in a Hibbits poll of Oregon’s Senate race conducted from the 22nd to the 25th. No mention of early voting, unfortunately.
  • Bev Perdue leads McCrory 47% to 44% in a PPP poll of North Carolina’s gubernatorial race.
  • In IN-03, GOP Rep. Souder leads 45% to 40% in a Research 2000 poll, with 4% going to Libertarian candidate Bill Larsen. In a Howey Gauge poll of the district, however, it is Democratic challenger Montagano who leads 44% to 41% (this latter poll has a large 6% MoE).
  • In NC-08, Larry Kissell leads GOP Rep. Hayes 51% to 46% in a PPP poll.
  • In OH-15, Democratic candidate Mary Jo Kilroy leads 47% to 41% in a SUSA poll, with 6% going to conservative independent candidate Don Eckart. 37% of respondents say they have already voted, and Kilroy leads by 16%.
  • In GA-08, Democratic Rep. Marshall leads 49% to 45% in a SUSA poll. Marshall immediately released an internal poll showing him leading 48% to 31%.
  • In KS-03, Democratic Rep. Moore leads 53% to 42% in a SUSA poll.

The most important of the day’s congressional poll undoubtedly comes from Mississippi, where Republican Senator Roger Wicker jumps to a commanding lead - suggesting that Democrats might not be as close to a Senate sweep after all (Mississippi’s Senate race is currently ranked 9th in my Senate rankings). The Insider Advantage poll from Georgia, meanwhile, is further evidence that we might not get a resolution on November 4th, as both candidate are far from the 50% mark - especially since the Libertarian candidate was not even included as an option in this survey.

At the House level, Democratic taek-over opportunities in NC-08 and OH-15 (both rated lean Democratic in my latest ratings) continue to look good for Democratic, and the IN-03 numbers are outstanding: this is a massively Republican district that voted for Bush by 37% in 2004! It was on no one’s radar screen as of the end of September, and has now become a highly vulnerable district. If Rep. Souder falls, IN-03 will be remembered as one of the great upsets of the 2008 cycle.

SUSA’s GA-08 poll, however, is a reminder that there are a number of Democratic seats at risk as well. Marshall barely survived the 2006 cycle (in fact, he looked gone for much of the cycle), and it looks like this race might keep us late yet again.

Spending, spending, spending (and some cutbacks)

It might be very little compared to a $700 billion bailout, but it’s a lot of money but most other standards: Every presidential, congressional and gubernatorial campaign saved its ammunition for these final two weeks, and money is now flying left and right.

In this game of piling expenditures, woe to whoever is left behind! Or should some cutbacks perhaps be taken as good news by candidates? The Denver Post reveals tonight that the DSCC will pull-out of the Colorado Senate race because it feels that Mark Udall is now in a “commanding position” - a remarkable decision by a party committee that has a lot of cash, and a clear sign that Chuck Schumer wants to spend as much of it as possible in Georgia and Kentucky.

(While true that Schaffer has not in a single poll all year and that Udall has been ahead by double-digits in some of the latest surveys, Udall hasn’t exactly been able to put the race away either and a number of independent groups are in the state pummeling Udall, so the DSCC better be sure of what it’s doing. On the other hand, the NRSC appears to have pulled out of Colorado as well, and Udall had far more cash on hand than Schaffer at the end of the third quarter, guaranteeing that Udall has a substantial advantage in the final stretch.)

Two Republican congressmen for whom a cutback could be disastrous news, however, are Reps. Musgrave and Bachmann of CO-04 and MN-06. In the former, the NRCC bought $375,000 of air time for this week yesterday, but it will not be spending anything in the final week of the campaign. (Could they not have decided that yesterday and saved themselves the $376,000?) In MN-06, the NRCC had not yet invested any money but had reserved ad time for the final two weeks; no longer.

(It is more difficult to know what to make of this Minnesota cutback: It is certainly not a sign of confidence on the part of the NRCC given that the race just became highly competitive 5 days ago, so could it be a concession? While Bachmann is viewed as more vulnerable today than she was before her rant on anti-Americanism, she doesn’t seem to be vulnerable enough at all for Republicans to despair of holding her seat. Perhaps the GOP saw how much money Democrats were preparing to pour in the district and realized there was no way it could even attempt to match that?)

While the NRCC is busy deciding which of its incumbents to abandon, the DCCC is deciding which safe-looking red districts it should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in. The result of their deliberation resulted in a stunning new spending spree in 51 districts (SSP has the full list) - six of which are first time investments: KS-02, CA-04, MN-06, SC-01, WV-02 and WY-AL!

The most fascinating of these buys is no doubt KS-02, as Rep. Nancy Boyda had insisted that the DCCC pull out of the district because she wanted to run the campaign herself; the DCCC had canceled its reservations. But now that GOP challenger finished the third quarter in a strong position financially, national Democrats apparently decided they couldn’t afford to stay true to their word. But consider a minute the three latter districts I just listed: We knew that CA-04 and WY-AL were highly competitive, but it is still remarkable to see Democrats spend more than $200,000 in such conservative areas - and let’s not even talk of SC-01, which was on no one’s radar screen as of one week ago.

The rest of the DCCC’s investment covers districts they have already been spending in, but some of their expenditures remain nonetheless breathtaking in their attempt to expand the map onto red territory. And consider that this money comes on top of the $4 million the DCCC spent on Monday and Tuesday in other districts. (I reviewed those expenditures here.) That brings the DCCC’s total expenditures over the past three days to about $16 million; the NRCC, meanwhile, spent around $5 million.

In a number of districts, the DCCC is going all-out. They just spent more than $400,000 in 8 districts (to which we should add NC-08 and IL-10, in which they spent more than that amount yesterday). More than $643,000 is being spent on NV-03 for this week alone! The DCCC is spending nearly $600,000 in IL-11, more than $500,000 in NH-01, NJ-03 and OH-01, more than $400,000 in IN-09, MN-06 and VA-11.

The committee has now spent more than $1 million in all of these districts except MN-06, even though it is somewhat puzzling that they are choosing to pour so much money in IN-09 and VA-11, two districts in which the Democratic candidates are now heavily favored (particularly in VA-11). Might that money not have been better spent elsewhere? The same was true of the $300,000 the DCCC spent yesterday in AZ-01, bringing its total there to nearly $2 million.

That said, the rest of this money will go a long way towards boosting Democrats who are facing tough races (Shea-Porter, for instance) or who are on the brink of putting the race away (NV-03 and IL-11). An investment that could prove particularly important is NJ-03: GOP candidate Myers has been unexpectedly competitive in this open seat, but state Senator Adler has a huge financial advantage in what is an expensive district to advertise in. With this much money spent by the DCCC, Adler will swamp Myers, whose main hope now is that New Jersey voters are fed up with Democrats.

The DCCC also spent significant amounts (more than $300,000) against the Diaz-Balart brothers in FL-21 and FL-25, in the pair of contested Michigan districts (MI-07 and MI-09), in MO-09, NM-02, NY-26, NY-29, OH-16 and VA-02. More than $200,000 were poured into CA-04, CA-11, FL-24, MN-03, NM-01, OH-02, OH-15, TX-23, VA-05, WV-02, WY-AL and 8 more districts saw (including IN-03, KY-02 and NE-02) buys of more than $100,000. What is once again remarkable is the depth of the Democrats’ investment: they are leaving almost no stone unturned - extending their buys to places few Democrats were even dreaming of a week ago and pouring huge amounts of money in some of the second-tier races they are hoping to take-over.

It is hard to think of GOP-held districts that could potentially be vulnerable and that the DCCC has not invested in. Perhaps the California districts we have been hearing about over the past week? Meanwhile, the NRCC is struggling to keep up. Apart opening its wallets in 20 districts yesterday, it spent in a few more today, but only crossed the six figure mark in IN-03, KY-02 and NE-02, NV-03 - all GOP-held districts, two of which were not deemed vulnerable as of 14 days ago (IN-03 and NE-02). For the GOP, the bottom is falling out. How much can they now salvage?

Congress: NRCC spends money (!), Stevens trial enters final stage

Spending: After weeks of holding back on TV advertisements because of its meager budget, the NRCC finally unloaded over the past two days, buying more than $4 million worth of ads in a total of 20 districts. And some of these buys are quite large - perhaps unexpectedly so.

Over the past two days, the NRCC spent more than $400,000 in two red district (MN-03 and WA-08), $300,000 or more in CO-04, MI-07, NH-01 and PA-11, more than $200,000 in MO-09, NY-26, NY-29, OH-02 and OH-15, more than $100,000 in LA-06, MO-06, NJ-03, NJ-07, OH-01, PA-03 and WI-08 and less than $100,000 in AL-02 and AL-05. (Alabama media markets are inexpensive, so the NRCC’s spending those two districts is substantial.)

To this list should also be added districts in which the NRCC bought ad time at the end of last week, so that they will not have to invest more money to stay on air for a few more days. Those include: FL-21, ID-01, VA-02. Furthermore, Politico reports that the NRCC has just made expenditures it has not yet reported (and will likely do so by tonight) in three more districts, KY-02, IN-03 and NE-02 - three very conservative districts, the latter two of which were not expected to be competitive as of a month ago.

This spending offers a fascinating window into the GOP’s view of which blue seats are competitive and which red states are salvageable or deserve defending. Some omissions of vulnerable red seats continue to be glaring, particularly FL-24, NM-01, NC-08, NV-03, OH-16. That the NRCC is spending so much money helping Rep. Walberg in MI-07 while investing nothing in Rep. Knollenberg’s MI-09 is telling of the latter’s vulnerabilities. However, there are some surprises in the list.

The first is MN-03, the heated open seat in which the GOP has just poured in a huge amount of money: a week ago, the NRCC was reported to be moving out of the district and allocating that budget to MN-06 (Bachmann’s seat) instead. Clearly, the NRCC has since then decided that the district is still winnable. Similarly, Reps. Musgrave and Kuhl in CO-04 and NY-29 look to be trailing, so it is curious that the NRCC has decided to invest some of its limited expenditures into saving them. The calculation is surely that it is always easier to pull incumbents through rather than salvage open seats or help challengers.

Meanwhile, the DCCC posted far less expenditures yesterday than it usually does on Tuesday, including a strange omission of a number of seats in which it has been on air for weeks (the New Mexico, Ohio and New Jersey open seats, for instance). That suggests that there are still DCCC expenditures to come today, which will up the Democrats’ total (they have, after all, a lot of money to spend), but a few investments are very noteworthy.

The ease with which the DCCC invests amounts which appear prodigious when spent by the NRCC tells us all we need to know about the parties’ financial disparity. The DCCC just poured in a stunning $566K in IL-10. This is an extensive district to spend in because of the Chicago media market, certainly, but it is certainly a large buy - especially considering that Rep. Kirk appears to be gaining in recent polls. The committee spend more than $400,000 in NC-08, bringing its total investment in that district to nearly $2 million (the NRCC has spent nothing). The new spending is more than $300,000 in AZ-01, AZ-03, CO-04, MD-01 and almost reaches $200,000 in AL-02 (as I said, that is a lot of money to spend in an Alabama media market).

Given that nearly everyone has long expected AZ-01 to be among the easiest pick-ups for Democrats, it is somewhat bizarre that the DCCC is pouring that much money in the district, but that is their only defensive-looking move (if that can be said about a red district). Apart from that, the overall picture is as remarkable as last week: The NRCC is building a firewall in second-to-third tier seats while the DCCC is spending heavily on seats it should not even be thinking about: more than $700,000 of Democratic money spent in one day in AZ-03 and MD-01?! Who would have thought that would be possible just four weeks ago?

Alaska: Ted Stevens’s trial enters its final stage today, as the case will be handed to the jury which will start its deliberations. The always-useful Anchorage Daily News provides an overview of yesterday’s closing arguments - and through them a recap of what has happened in the trial over the past month. While Stevens’s defense made some important gains over the past month - in particular getting the judge to throw out some evidence - the trial’s last few days were not kind to the Alaska Senator. The government’s chief attorney got Stevens to lose his temper at times during his cross-examination, and she ridiculed his claim that a chair that had been in his house for seven years was a “loan” rather than “a gift.”

As soon as the jury returns, we shall have a much better idea of the dynamics of the race, as it is looking more likely every day that the trial’s verdict will also decide Stevens’ electoral fate. A new just-released Ivan Moore poll confirms that Stevens has closed the gap and that the race is now a dead heat; an acquittal would be likely to boost Stevens on top, while a guilty verdict would make it difficult for him to pull through. But what happens if the jury only partially acquits Stevens? He is, after all, being tried on seven different charges, so a guilty verdict might not be as damning as the prosecution would want it to be.

Rating changes, House edition: When will the map stop expanding?

House Republicans finally got some great news this week as Tim Mahoney’s scandals in FL-16 pushes the first Democratic seat in the likely take-over category. Yet, it is House Democrats who continue to improve their standing, putting an increasing number of seats in play in what is shaping up as a repeat of the 2006 campaign. Of this week’s 19 rating changes, 17 favor Democrats, and 8 new GOP-held districts are added to the ratings.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will pick up more than a couple of the third-tier races that are now appearing on our radar screen. But capturing just one of the four California districts that have just been added to these ratings (CA-03, CA-26, CA-46 and CA-50) would already be an upset of epic proportions that would signal that Democrats are enjoying a huge wave that could put 2006 to shame; picking-up none would in no way endanger their prospects of scoring great gains. There are already 36 GOP-held seats that are rated likely take-over, lean take-over or toss-up.

The DCCC’s financial advantage should ensure that few stones are left unturned. The committee just secured a $15 million loan (days after the NRCC took out an $8 million line of credit) ensuring that Democrats will have money to invest in races that just two weeks ago were viewed as long-shots and at the very least test the vulnerability of Republican incumbents.

  • Safe Democratic: 198 seats (=)
  • Likely/Safe Democratic: 212 seats (+2)
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Democratic: 241 seats (+3)
  • Toss-ups: 25 seats (-2)
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Republican: 168 seats
  • Likely/Safe Republican: 157 seats (+1)
  • Safe Republican: 132 seats (-8)

Full ratings available here.

AZ-08, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Republicans had high hope for state Senate President Tim Bee, but Rep. Giffords looks too strong for the GOP to defeat in this Democratic year - not to mention that Giffords has been one of the strongest fundraisers among endangered Democrats. Now, the DCCC has canceled the rest of its TV reservations after spending more than $300,000 helping Giffords, a sure sign that national Democrats feel confident about Giffords’ prospects. The NRCC cannot come to Bee’s help, meaning that the two candidates are now on their own - and Giffords had far more cash on hand at the end of September than her opponent.

CA-03, off the map to likely Republican: In what is a rematch of the 2006 race, GOP Rep. Dan Lungren has not been very worried about this re-election race (he only raised $190,000 in the third quarter) but Democrat Bill Durston no longer appears like the long-shot he was just two weeks ago. An internal Durston poll showed him within 3% of the incumbent; Lungren replied with two internal polls showing him with big leads - but under 50%.

CA-11, toss-up to lean Democratic: When Rep. McNerney picked up the seat in 2006, the GOP was determined to make sure he served one term in what is a Republican district. But former state Rep. Dean Andal has not proved as strong a candidate as Republicans were hoping he would be. While he ends up in a competitive position financially as of the end of September, McNerney outspent him 8:1 in the second quarter, which allowed him to solidify his position - especially when you add the almost $1 million of television ads NARPAC is spending on McNerney’s behalf. Meanwhile, a recent SUSA poll gave McNerney an 11% edge.

CA-26, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. David Dreier has been in office for 28 years in a GOP-leaning district. Should that not be enough to guarantee his re-election? Perhaps in another year, but Dreier is one of many Republicans who should be very careful in the coming weeks. Russ Warner is a credible enough candidate that he could be in a position of making the race unexpectedly competitive if there is a strong blue wave.

CA-46, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was nowhere on our radar screen, but Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook appears to have a chance at scoring a big upset. While we have gotten no hard numbers from the race, a Capitol Weekly article reveals that Republican internals have the race within the margin of error! Cook’s third quarter fundraising was good, but she ended September with only $30,284. She will need the DCCC’s help to make this any more competitive.

CA-50, off the map to likely Republican: While conservative, this district is not as overwhelmingly Republican than some of the others Democrats are now eying (Bush got 55% of the vote in 2004). Rep. Brian Bilbray got elected in a highly competitive special election in 2006 after the DCCC spent millions on his behalf. Now, there is some buzz forming around Democratic candidate Nick Leibham, who recently released a poll showing Bilbray leading by only 2%. Bilbray quickly responded with an internal survey that had him leading 48% to 35%, a more comfortable margin but another sign that Bilbray isn’t as safe as we thought. The race remains a difficult one for Democrats, but Leibham outraised Bilbray in the third quarter and he could pull off an upset if the DCCC joins in the fun.

FL-16, toss-up to likely Republican: Rep. Tim Mahoney was elected to replace Mike Foley two years ago - and now he himself is embroiled in a massive sex scandal that includes charges of pay-off and harassment. Pelosi has called for an investigation, Republicans are having a field day and Mahoney’s re-election prospects have fallen so low that even the NRCC moved out of the district: they don’t even see the need to spend any money to ensure the seat falls in their lap. A recent GOP poll had Tom Rooney leading by more than 20%, confirming that this race is over.

FL-24, toss-up to lean Democratic: While this week’s internal DCCC poll showing Suzanne Kosmas leading by 23% seems very much inflated, Rep. Tom Feeney is certainly slipping because of how central ethical concerns have become to this race. Feeney himself aired an ad apologizing for his involvement with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. While he might have had to do so to earn voters’ good will, his move ensured that Abramoff was at the forefront of voters’ minds. The DCCC has spent more than $600,000 on tough ads that bring up the Abramoff scandal; in the most recent spot, a woman asks “How effective could my Representative be if he’s being investigated by the FBI?”

IN-03, off the map to lean Republican: This is an extremely Republican district (Bush got 68% of the vote in 2004), and that is precisely why it was so surprising that Rep. Souder was held to 54% of the vote in 2006 against a massively underfunded Democratic opponent. This year, Souder is facing Mike Montagano, perhaps not a top-tier candidate but certainly a credible one. And contrary to the 2006 candidate, Montagano will be funded: The DCCC has decided to invest in the race, in what is perhaps the biggest surprise of the past week. The committee has already bought $150,000 worth of advertisement and more is on the way. A recent internal poll for Montagano had Souder leading by 5%, though the trendline favored the Democrat: Souder retains an edge, but the race has suddenly become very competitive.

KY-02, toss-up to lean Republican: This seat was the most chaotic of the cycle until NY-13 came around, and Democrats were excited that they had an excellent chance in this conservative a district. Polls taken throughout the spring and the summer suggested that state Senator Boswell had a slight lead. Yet, this is one the rare districts that have moved towards the GOP over the past few weeks. (SUSA has GOP candidate state Senator Guthrie gaining for the second month in a row to jump to a 9% lead, and the Boswell campaign’s internal numbers have the Democrat’s lead falling from 7% to 1%, with a lot of undecideds. This is an open seat in a conservative area, making it likely that undecideds would break towards Guthrie.) One possible explanation for Guthrie gains’ is that the DCCC’s involvement here has backfired: the committee’s attack ads were blasted as untrustworthy by the local media, putting Boswell on the defensive.

LA-06, lean Republican to toss-up: Rep. Cazayoux became one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents when fellow Democrat Michael Jackson announced he would mount an independent bid. In this Republican a district, a Democrat needs to mobilize the African-Amerian vote, and Jackson’s candidacy threatens to divide a key constituency. Yet, Democrats have released two internal polls over the past few months showing Cazayoux crushing GOP candidate Bill Cassidy, with Jackson in single digits. I have trouble believing that two Democratic candidates could receive 30% more than the Republican nominee in a district that gave Bush 59% of the vote in 2004, but the GOP has not released an internal poll of their own. I might not (yet) moving LA-06 to lean Democratic, but it is clear that Cassidy does not have the edge I thought he would.

MD-01, lean Republican to toss-up: The GOP primary between Andy Harris and Rep. Gilchrest appears to have left deep wounds that has given Democratic nominee Frank M. Kratovil a chance at a major upset in a very conservative district. Democratic internal polls are showing the race is a dead heat, and the GOP is not moving to contradict that. At the end of September, the DCCC decided to invest in the district - and they have already spent more than $900,000! Meanwhile, Harris is being helped by Club for Growth, which has spent more than $300,000 on his behalf. Demorats picking-up MD-01 would be the sign of a big blue wave.

MN-03, toss-up to lean Democratic: The battle between Ashwin Madia and Erik Paulsen was shaping up to be highly competitive, but an open seat in a swing district is prime pick-up territory for Democrats in a year whose fundamentals favor them - particularly after the past month. Complicating Paulsen’s task further is that the NRCC canceled a lot of the money it was going to spend on his behalf to invest it in neighboring MN-06 instead; on the other hand, the DCCC has already spent more than $1.2 million dollars! Without national help, Paulsen will be swamped by Democratic attacks.

M0-09, lean Republican to toss-up: This is one of those few districts the NRCC has invested in. That is both a sign that the party is worried about losing this conservative-leaning district and a sign that they think it is salvagable, putting the race right in the toss-up category. But the DCCC is making sure to significantly outspend the NRCC ($400,000 to $100,000). A further problem for Republicans: their nominee Blaine Luetkemeyer finished September with a stunningly low $43,000. That means that Luetkemeyer absolutely needs the national help he is getting just to stay financially viable.

NC-10, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. McHenry has been mentioned as a potentially vulnerable Republican incumbent for months, but in a district that Bush won with 67% of the vote in 2004, a GOP candidate is allowed the benefit of the doubt. Yet, Democrats believe their candidate Daniel Johnson has a chance at offsetting the district’s Republican balance. Given how much progress Democrats appear to have made in the state, that is certainly possible. Johnson has been added to the Red to Blue program, and he will need DCCC spending to make this really competitive.

NY-20, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Gillbrand has proved one of the strongest Democratic fundraisers, while Republican candidate Sandy Treadwell has been unable to get much traction - and is unlikely to do so without the NRCC’s help (which will not come). The district might be leaning Republican, but Gillbrand is strongly positioned to win re-election.

OR-05, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Once one of the Republicans’ top pick-up opportunities, the district is rapidly drifting towards Democrats. Republican candidate Mike Erickson has been involved in a series of (abortion and ethics-related) scandals that have prevented him from gaining any traction and truly endangering state Senator Kirk Schrader, the Democratic nominee. The DCCC isn’t even spending any money on the district, a testament to how comfortable Democrats are feeling about the race. A recent SUSA poll had Schrader leading by 13%.

SC-01, off the map to likely Republican: This is a heavy Republican district (it gave 61% of its vote to Bush in 2004) and Rep. Brown was certainly not supposed to face a competitive race. He was unopposed in 2004 and got 60% of the vote two years later. But Democrats are running a very wealthy candidate, Linda Ketner, who is spending a lot of her own money (she outspent Brown 3:1 in the third quarter). In a Democratic year, that at least gives her a fighting chance.

SC-02, off the map to likely Republican: This race is even more of a long-shot than SC-01 because Democratic candidate Rob Miller does not have the financial advantage enjoyed by Linda Ketner, but Rep. Joe Wilson should nonetheless be careful. This is a district where an increased share in black turnout could have a big impact, as a quarter of the district’s residents is African-American.

Full ratings available here.

And I will conclude with a word about MN-06. I had already moved the seat from likely Republican to lean Republican last week, and it is too early to move it to the toss-up column. But Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s  McCarthyesque rant on MSNBC yesterday immediately ensured that this seat becomes one of the hottest races of the final two weeks (it is worth also watching Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s reaction):

The DCCC has yet to invest in the race but sources tell me they are likely to do so. And Bachmann’s opponent Ed Tinklenberg has raised at least (a jaw-dropping) $175,000 since yesterday evening!

Update: The Tinklenberg campaign announced it raised an incredible $438,000 in the 24 hours after Bachmann’s appearance on MSNBC.

RNCC works on firewall, DCCC invests in new districts and passes $1 million mark in many

As the time comes for the party committees to buy time for the upcoming week, the DCCC’s ability to flex its financial muscle and will seats to become competitive once again makes itself felt. The DCCC spent more than $8 million on more than 40 districts, moved in four new races it had not yet spent any money on while seemingly withdrawing from two, and passed the $1 million mark in a number of these contests. The GOP, by contrast, appear to have largely given up on playing offense and are building a firewall around a few incumbents; the NRCC’s meager resources hardly allow it to dream of a better defense.

As always, the DCCC and NRCC decision to invest will not make a candidate, though a decision to pull out can certainly break an underfunded challenger or a swamped incumbent. But beyond illustrating the two parties’ financial disparities, a detailed look at where the two parties are spending money lays out the electoral map and tells us which seats people who are paid to track House races full-time (and who have inside information and polling we do not have access to) think will be competitive, or not.

With that said, let’s use our now familiar classification to break down the latest House expenditures:

  • Republican investments

The GOP is in such a difficult financial situation that its mere decision to spend money on a race says a lot about how they view (and how their private polling tells them to view) a race. If the GOP is spending money on a race that is supposed to be competitive, it means they think that this particular seat is more likely to be saved than others; if they spend money on a race that was not yet viewed as that competitive, it means we probably don’t have enough information and that district is indeed highly vulnerable.

In the latter category is FL-21, where the NRCC just spent more than $500,000. This district is in Miami’s media market, so advertising there is difficult. The DCCC has not spent any money on the district for now, however, so the GOP might be successful in building a firewall here. (More on the GOP’s FL-21 efforts below.) Also in the latter category is MO-06, where incumbent Sam Graves is not currently considered to be in as much trouble as other Republicans - but the NRCC is evidently worried about his prospects and intent on keeping him, as they spent more than $100,000 in one their only six-figure investments to date.

In the former category is NM-01, the open seat that I am currently rating lean take-over. The NRCC is not spending money here, but Freedom’s Watch and the Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico are each spending more than $200,000. (Democrats are spending heavily in both NM-01 and MO-06.) The NRCC also threw in modest amounts in LA-06, PA-03 and WI-08. (Update: It looks like the RNCC is looking to spend a lot of money in NH-01 - as much as $400,000, confirming its strategy of putting a lot of money in a handful of races.)

  • New DCCC investments

Democrats are now spending for the first time in four districts, two of which are obvious choices (CO-04 and NY-29) and two of which are true shockers (IN-03 and NE-02). While it might be surprising that the DCCC has not opened its wallet to hit Musgrave yet, the congresswoman has been hit by more than half-a-million worth of advertisement by the Defenders of Wildlife PAC, and that might have convinced the DCCC that its involvement was not (yet) needed. But now that the DCCC is moving in, it is clearly determined to make a splash: its first buy is an impressive $345,000.

As for IN-03 and NE-02, they demonstrate the Democrats’ determination to expand the map: neither of these seats was supposed to be even close to competitive, and I confess IN-03 isn’t even on my House ratings for now. That will be corrected soon, as the DCCC’s decision to invest a serious amount of money (it has already bought more than $150,000 and has committed about half-a-million) means that the district is indeed competitive. Democrats aren’t bluffing in NE-02 either, as they have brought more than $130,000 worth of ads.

  • Districts where the DCCC has now spent more than $1 million

This is not a guarantee that the Democratic candidate will, but it certainly means that the DCCC has put a high priority in winning these races: AK-AL, AZ-01, AZ-03 (!), AZ-05, MN-03, NC-08, NH-01, NJ-07, OH-15, OH-16. In other districts, the total passes $1 million when the DCCC’s investment is added to that of NARPAC (National Association of Realtors). In PA-11, for instance, that total reaches $1.8 million; if Rep. Kanjorski loses reelection, it will just how incredibly vulnerable he had become.

  • Districts the DCCC is playing defense

The DCCC continued to invest in AL-05 (now almost half-a-million total), CA-11, AZ-05 (nearly $250,000 this week, bringing the total to $1.2 million), LA-06, MS-01, NH-01 (the total now reaches $1.2 million), PA-10, TX-23 and WI-08. More surprising is the DCCC’s decision to dump huge resources in IN-09 (almost $300,000 this week), a district that looks increasingly safe for Baron Hill. However, the DCCC looks to have stopped advertising in FL-16 (Mahoney’s district…) and AZ-08, where Rep. Giffords looks relatively secure. Both districts could be moved accordingly in my upcoming rating changes.

  • Districts that were not so long ago considered long shots

I already mentioned IN-03 and NE-02, but those are just the tip of the iceberg as the DCCC continues to pour in money in races that were not considered that competitive as of this summer! New spending in AL-02 raises the total to more than half-a-million, an impressive sum for this relatively cheap media market. The DCCC’s spending totals in AZ-03 are truly staggering, as this is a district no one thought of as that competitive until ten days ago - and the DCCC just dumped in about $369,000. In MD-01, a large new buy brings the Democratic total to almost $900,000. (The Club for Growth is helping the Republican here with more than $200,000). Other noteworthy buys in this category are KY-02, MO-09, NM-02, PA-03, VA-02. In all these districts, the DCCC is not bluffing and is putting serious money behind its hopes of riding a blue tsunami.

  • Districts Democrats were expecting to pick-up more easily

Most of the DCCC’s biggest overall expenditures belong in this category, in what is at the same time good news for Democrats (it allows them to solidify their prospects) but also disappointing ones (since they would have liked to spend some of money elsewhere). Perhaps the most surprising development is the DCCC’s decision to invest nearly $350,000 in AZ-01 (bringing the total to $1.3 million), a race Democrats are expected to win relatively easily. The DCCC also just spent more than $200,000 in NM-01, OH-15 and OH-16 (bringing the total in each to more than $1 million), three open seats that Democrats are one point were hoping to have an easier time with. Other districts in this category are IL-11, NJ-03, NJ-07 and VA-11.

  • Districts that are and were expected to be competitive

This category contains the least surprising ad buys since the races were expected to be competitive since the beginning. Particularly noteworthy buys include the DCCC’s buy of about $300,000 in NC-08 (total of more than $1.3 million), more than $200,000 in MI-07, NV-03, NY-26, OH-01 and WA-08. Combined with AFSCME’s spending, the Democratic buys in MI-07 have an impressive size. The DCCC also spent in CT-04, FL-26, IL-10, MI-09, MN-03 and MO-06.

While it would be too long to take a detailed look at the committees’ new ads, it is worth taking a quick look at the themes these new spots are emphasizing. On the Democratic side, the day’s biggest news undoubtedly comes from the DCCC’s decision to heavily invest in IN-03 and attack longtime Representative Souder for having been changed by Washington:

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eijpzkDXfIM"]

On the Republican size, the biggest news by far is the RNCC’s massive investment in FL-21. The GOP might have chosen this district because of the scandals that have long surrounded Democratic candidate Raul Martinez, a controversial figure who has enough baggage for the GOP to seize easily. The ad’s closer says it all - “We know Martinez is corrupt enough for Washington, but that doesn’t mean we should send him there:”

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JroM8wR1sCQ"]

Poll watch: Obama remains in command in national and state surveys; tie in Georgia’s Senate race

Barack Obama’s large lead in the latest Newsweek national poll (52% to 41%, up from a tie in mid-September) confirms the current strength of the Democratic nominee, who would win in a landslide if the election were held today. At this point, the McCain campaign is not even close to being competitive - neither in national polls nor in state surveys (McCain trails by big margins today in Florida and Colorado, neither of which he can afford to lose, while Obama continues to crush McCain in Iowa, a state Republicans actually still believe is competitive since McCain keeps traveling there).

This might not be what we have grown used to over the past few cycles, but national polls now look to be much more important than state surveys: McCain will only have a shot at getting a majority in the electoral vote if he substantially improves his national standing, and every day the tracking polls show Obama up double digits is one more wasted day for the GOP.

What is most problematic for the McCain campaign is that Obama’s surge has come first and foremost among registered Democrats. Obama had trouble consistently getting 80% in that group, but surveys (starting with the Newsweek poll) now regularly show him with high levels of party loyalty - Newsweek even finds that 88% of Clinton supporters are now voting for Obama versus only 7% for McCain, a startling change from summer numbers. I have long explained that Obama would be guaranteed victory if he captured the Democratic vote in a year in which Democrats vastly outnumber Republicans, and that is exactly what has happened over the past three weeks because of the financial crisis.

That McCain’s path to salvation requires reversing Obama’s gains among his base rather than among independents and Republicans is just one sign of the difficulty of McCain’s task. And with that, on to the full roundup of the day’s polls:

  • Obama retains his dominant position in the tracking polls, taking his biggest lead ever in Hotline (50% to 40%), ahead 52% to 40% in Research 2000, 50% to 41% in Gallup (-1%), 52% to 45% in Rasmussen (+2%) and 48% to 44% in Zogby (-1%). Zogby remains the tightest of the five due to its partisan weighting, but the trend lines have shown no movement over McCain over the past week. [Update: Zogby's October 13th release is already out, and it shows Obama jumping to a 6% lead, 49% to 43%.]
  • Obama leads 52% to 42% in a PPP poll of Colorado on the strength of getting 71% of the Hispanic vote! He led by 7% three weeks ago.
  • Obama leads 54% to 41% in a SUSA poll of Iowa.
  • McCain leads 62% to 35% in a SUSA poll of Alabama.

Meanwhile, in down-the-ballot polls:

  • A stunning Insider Advantage poll finds Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin tied at 45% in Georgia’s Senate race.
  • Mark Udall leads 49% to 39% in a PPP poll of Colorado’s Senate race. He led by 8% three weeks ago.
  • Kay Hagan leads 45% to 42% in a Civitas poll of North Carolina’s Senate race. She trailed by 2% three weeks ago.
  • In AZ-03, Research 2000 finds Rep. Shadegg leading 48% to 39% while a DCCC poll finds Democrat Bob Lord ahead 45% to 44%.
  • In WV-02, Research 2000 finds Rep. Capito leading Anne Barth 53% to 39%.
  • In VA-02, Research 2000 has Rep. Drake leading Glenn Nye 51% to 37%.
  • In VA-05, an internal poll for the Perriello campaign finds the Democratic challenger trailing Rep. Goode 48% to 40%.
  • In IN-03, an internal poll for the campaign of Mike Montagano finds GOP Rep. Souder leading 44% to 39%. A month ago, Souder led 50% to 37%.

Senate: All three of the day’s polls bring good news for Democrats, who first and foremost solidify their leading Colorado’s race. Udall has not been able to put the race away, but a 10% lead in mid-October looks far more solid than the same margin in late spring. Hagan, meanwhile, continues to inch ahead of Dole in most polls, and while the situation might not be as catastrophic for Dole as Repubican operatives seem to believe, the incumbent is clearly in big trouble. What is stunning, meanwhile, is to see Chambliss and Martin tied in what is the first poll of the Georgia Senate race to not find Chambliss leading - though a number of surveys over the past two weeks have shown the race dramatically tightening.

House: The polls are far more disappointing on the House side for Democrats, as Research 2000 brought very disappointing news for the DCCC’s efforts to expand the map in WV-02 and VA-02. Both seats are GOP-leaning, and while Drake and Capitlo have been looking relatively safe, Democrats had some hope of contesting both races. Another interesting race is AZ-03, where it is hard to know what to make of the DCCC’s internal numbers. The DCCC’s polls have been finding some suspiciously good results for Democrats over the past few days (an 11% lead for Peters in MI-09?).



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