The GOP is hoping to turn polls showing a tightening race into something like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ken Mehlman sent a message to supporters this morning in which he claimed that "momentum" is "shifting dramatically toward Republicans" now. The RNC Research Department chimed in with word that Democrats are "freaking" as the 2006 race reaches its finish. The theory at work here? It's the same as the explanation the president offers for Iraq: People will support you if they think you're going to win.
That's the big "if." And for all the newfound confidence Mehlman & Co. are proclaiming, there are plenty of prognosticators -- including some Republicans -- who still think that Tuesday will be a very bad day for the GOP.
Republican pollster Steve Lombardo tells the National Journal's Hotline that any Republican "surge" has come too late to save the party on Election Day. While three polls released over the weekend showed Republicans making gains on the generic, Republican vs. Democrat ballot matchups -- two polls out today say the Democrats are gaining -- Lombardo notes that even conservative estimates of the Democrats' edge have it in the same range as the advantage the Republicans enjoyed going into the 1994 elections.
Twelve years later, voters are "angry," Lombardo says, "and they know who is in charge."
Lombardo says voters' disapproval of George W. Bush's job performance and their unhappiness with the war in Iraq represent a two- to four-point "drag" on every Republican candidate for Congress. The result: Lombardo expects Democrats to pick up 21 seats in the House but to fall short in the Senate, picking up Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Ohio and Missouri but losing Montana, Virginia and Tennessee. The net result: Republicans retain control of the Senate, 51-49.
On the other side of the aisle, Daily Kos' Markos Moulitsas Zúniga is up with his Election Day predictions. He may be engaged in some momentum building himself; warning that he's been wrong before, he predicts that the Democrats will pick up between 24 and 36 seats in the House and take control of the Senate, winning Senate seats in every potentially competitive state except Tennessee and Arizona. He even predicts -- some pretty convincing contrary polls notwithstanding -- that Ned Lamont will squeak by Joe Lieberman in Connecticut.
How do these projections stack up with the latest Senate polls? Here's the rundown from the states at least potentially in play:
Virginia: A SurveyUSA poll out today has Jim Webb up by eight points over George Allen. USA Today/Gallup puts Webb's lead at three points. Rasmussen has the race tied at 49-49, and a McClatchy/MSNBC poll released over the weekend had Allen up by one point. We don't know who's going to win in Virginia, but it's clearly much more of a race than it was just a week ago.
Missouri: USA Today/Gallup has Claire McCaskill up by four points over Sen. Jim Talent. McClatchy/MSNBC has McCaskill up by three. Rasmussen has Talent up by one.
Montana: USA Today/Gallup has Jon Tester leading Conrad Burns by nine points, but other polls show the race much closer. Rasmussen has Burns down by just two, while McClatchy/MSNBC has the race tied.
Tennessee: USA Today/Gallup has Corker up by three. Rasmussen has Corker up by four. Those numbers suggest that the race is closing a little bit; just a couple of days ago, Rasmussen had Corker up by eight, and McClatchy/MSNBC had him leading by 12.
Rhode Island: Republicans seem awfully glum about their chances in Rhode Island, but polls suggest the race it still a tossup. USA Today/Gallup shows Lincoln Chafee trailing Sheldon Whitehouse by three percentage points. McClatchy/MSNBC has Chafee up by one point. Both results are within the polls' margins of error.
Arizona: Polls of early voters had Democrats feeling optimistic about a late pickup opportunity, but the McClatchy/MSNBC poll shows Jon Kyl holding on to an eight-point lead over Jim Pederson.
Maryland: Aside from a single SurveyUSA poll that had the race tied, all recent public polls in Maryland have had Democrat Ben Cardin up over Republican Michael Steele, most by three to five percentage points.
New Jersey: Democrat Bob Menendez seems to be holding on against Republican Tom Kean. USAToday/Gallup puts Menendez up by 10 points, but that seems to be an outlier. A new Quinnipiac University poll has Menendez up by five points, while a new Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll has him up by a within-the-margin-of-error three points.
Ohio: It's not over until it's over, but Mike DeWine seems to be done. A new University of Cincinnati poll has DeWine trailing Sherrod Brown by 12 points, which is pretty consistent with the numbers we've been seeing elsewhere.
Pennsylvania: Rick Santorum also seems to be finished. He remains about 10 points behind Bob Casey Jr. in every poll we've seen lately.