Election Outcome: Can GOP Win Despite Losing? genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

A head scratcher

With less than a month until the midterm election, we begin another week with a number of new polls and growing signs that the GOP is scrambling to determine the most effective ways to defend their majorities in the House and the Senate. The New York Times reports that the GOP is being forced to choose which seats to defend and which seats to abandon in light of the growing signs that the number of contested races continues to expand. At the same time, new Rasmussen polls suggest that the potential for the Democrats to assume control of the Senate has become more than a hypothetical musing.

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 — Senior Republican leaders have concluded that Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, a pivotal state in this year’s fierce midterm election battles, is likely to be heading for defeat and are moving to reduce financial support for his race and divert party money to other embattled Republican senators, party officials said.

Republicans are now pinning their hopes of holding the Senate on three states — Missouri, Tennessee and, with Ohio off the table, probably Virginia — while trying to hold on to the House by pouring money into districts where Republicans have a strong historical or registration advantage, party officials said Sunday. Republicans also said they would run advertisements in New Jersey this week to test the vulnerability of Senator Robert Menendez, one of the few Democrats who appear endangered.

Assuming the report is accurate, it appears that the GOP is conceding that they will lose at least three Senate seats currently held by Republicans and that the number has the potential to get much worse if they don't focus their efforts on three very close races. While three weeks is still a significant amount of time, the closer we get to the election the more difficult it will become to make last minute adjustments...especially if there were to be any new revelations that would add to the already long list of negative news that has prevented the GOP from dictating the campaign dialogue for the last two weeks.

From Rasmussen:

Virginia Senator George Allen’s lead is shrinking again and Rasmussen Reports has moved the race from “Leans Republican" to “Toss-Up" status in our Senate Balance of Power summary. Rasmussen Reports now rates 48 Senate seats as Republican or Leans Republican and 48 seats as Democrat or Leans Democrat (see State-by-State Summary). Three other states remain in the Toss-Up category—Tennessee, New Jersey and Missouri.

Democrats have to win eight of the nine races classified as "leaners" or "toss-ups" to regain control of the Senate. While that’s a tall order, recent history shows that it is quite possible for one party or the other to sweep all the close races. The Democrats did so in Election 2000 and the Republicans returned the favor in 2002.

The more I look at the current dynamics of this election, the more I'm convinced that the trends on election night will be early and obvious. I see two possible scenarios. One, the reports of an energized Democratic Party materialize and the early returns suggest they are winning some seats that were close but expected to be held by the Republican Party...a scenario that will be characterized by the media as a repudiation of the Bush administration and a voter determination that the GOP had abused its position of power. In this scenario the Democrats are likely to win a clear majority in the House and may well win control of the Senate.

The other scenario is that the early returns on a number of close contests suggest a traditional turnout whereby it is determined that some key toss up races in Republican strongholds will be held by the GOP. If this latter scenario unfolds, the Democrats will make some gains but will either win or lose the House by the narrowest of margins and the Senate will remain in GOP control...and the media will suggest that the Democratic Party leadership failed to capitalize on a monumental opportunity and that they may be in for a serious power struggle prior to an important presidential election.

The key thing that I anticipate coming from this election is that both parties have the potential to be declared the victor despite the fact that the actual numbers are likely to reflect Democratic gains. In other words, the GOP can still be declared the winner even if they lose a significant number of seats. With that said, I am not suggesting that I will agree with the latter assessment but the media will no doubt be compelled to draw such a conclusion just as they did after the 2004 presidential election...one that suggested that the Bush administration had achieved a majority mandate. In the end, the absence of a clear Democratic victory will be characterized as a loss.

As such, politics may well be the one game where what is said about the numbers is more important than the actual numbers. Perhaps that explains why many voters refuse to play the game?

Daniel DiRito | October 16, 2006 | 10:59 AM
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