Election Day: A tsunami or a disaster averted?

One analyst says Republicans could lose 45 to 60 seats in the House. But Karl Rove may still have reason to believe.

Published October 27, 2006 1:58PM (EDT)

Keep in mind all of the usual caveats about October surprises and unhatched chickens, but political analyst Stuart Rothenberg says Republicans may be going too easy on themselves if they think Nov. 7 will be like 1994 in reverse.

Rothenberg notes that George W. Bush's approval ratings -- he's averaging in the high 30s now -- are worse than Bill Clinton's were in 1994. Congress' approval rating (16 percent) is lower than it was in 1994. The generic ballot match-up polls show better numbers for Democrats than they did for Republicans in 1994. "Moreover," Rothenberg says, "the problems hounding Republican congressional candidates -- which range from a second midterm election (as compared to a less dangerous first midterm in the Clinton administration) to House scandals to an unpopular war -- are far more challenging than anything Democratic congressional candidates faced in 1994."

What does it all mean? For a proper perspective on 2006, Rothenberg says, Republicans ought to be thinking about all of the recent "wave" elections -- 1994, yes, but also 1958, 1974 and 1982. And what does that mean? "With the national environment being as it is -- and given the last round of redistricting, which limits possible Democratic gains -- Republicans probably are at risk to lose as few as 45 seats and as many as 60 seats, based on historical results. Given how the national mood compares to previous wave years and to the GOPs 15-seat House majority, Democratic gains almost certainly would fall to the upper end of that range."

The flip side? National Journal's Hotline lays out seven reasons why Karl Rove might still be feeling optimistic about holding on to both the House and the Senate. Among them: The GOP's GOTV effort can make a difference in races where Republicans trail by a point or two; internal Republican polling shows GOP leads in Senate races in Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee and Conrad Burns closing the gap in Montana; and "what happens during the last week of the election matters as much as what happened during the last month, what happens during the last three days matters as much as the last week."

One other reason for Rove to feel optimistic? He can't risk being seen as anything but. "The base will pick up on signs of Bush's pessimism, of Mehlman's pessimism, of Rove's pessimism," the Hotline says. "It pays real electoral dividends for the captain of the aircraft to be optimistic and calm as he or she tries to pull out of a downward spiral."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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