One week out from Election Day, the GOP is in for a scare

Jim Webb appears to have a lead in Virginia as Democrats make gains in House races.

Published October 31, 2006 8:08AM (EST)

Today is Halloween, and we're betting that all those guys dressed up as Maf54 won't be the scariest thing some Republicans see. With one week to go until Election Day, there is -- as Charlie Cook puts it -- "no ebb" in the Democrats' "wave."

Indeed, by virtually every relevant measure, the Democrats' prospects on Nov. 7 are looking better than they did just a few days ago. At the front of the pack of improving news: Virginia. We declared ourselves "skeptical" when a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll put Jim Webb up by three points over George Allen last week, but a handful of polls released since then suggest that those numbers may actually be right. A CNN poll has Webb up by four points; a Rasmussen Reports poll has Webb up by two points, and up by five if "leaners" are included; and an internal Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poll has Webb up by five. The race is still incredibly close, but this is the first time we've ever seen Webb with such a string of winning poll numbers.

Missouri and Tennessee remain razor close. A new CNN poll has Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill tied at 49 percent each in Missouri. In Tennessee, the same poll has Bob Corker up by eight over Harold Ford Jr. among likely voters but up by only two among registered voters, and's average of the five most recent polls in the state shows Corker and Ford in a 47-47 tie.

In every other Senate race that matters, Democrats seem to have the upper hand for now. Rasmusssen Reports has Ben Cardin up by seven over Michael Steele in Maryland. Depending on the poll you choose, Bob Menendez is up by five or by seven over Tom Kean Jr. in New Jersey. Jon Tester is up by about five over Conrad Burns in Montana, although there's word that the National Republican Senatorial Committee may be buying some advertising as the race tightens. Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine, left for dead by the GOP, trails Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown by 11 points in the new CNN poll. Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee is trailing Sheldon Whitehouse by about six points in Rhode Island, and Rick Santorum is still down by double digits in his race against Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania.

What does it all mean? If the election were held today, and if the latest polls turned out to be accurate predictors of the outcome -- and let's be clear here, it's too early to start making that kind of assumption -- Democrats would hold on to seats in Maryland and New Jersey and pick up seats in Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Montana, Ohio and Virginia. If Democrats pick up either Missouri or Tennessee, they take the Senate. If they don't, Dick Cheney spends the next two years breaking 50-50 ties in favor of the GOP.

In the other house of Congress, the overall outcome seems at least a little clearer than that. Outside the White House, it's hard to find many folks who will predict that the Republicans will maintain control of the House. A new Majority Watch report based on polling in dozens of competitive races puts enough seats in the safe or "strong D" category to give Democrats control of the House even before any "weak D" or "tied" states are added to the mix; in 30 districts polled this time as well as two weeks ago, the group found that the Democrats' overall lead had increased from 1.9 percent to 2.7 percent.

"Barring a dramatic event," Charlie Cook writes in his own analysis, "we are looking at the prospect of GOP losses in the House of at least 20 to 35 seats, possibly more."

By Tim Grieve

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

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