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First thoughts: Checks and balances

A reminder about this midterm season: In recent times, one party has rarely held control of the White House, House, and Senate… And when it has controlled all three, it ended in a wave election for the other side… How well are Republicans managing the expectations game?... Obama stumps today in California (for Boxer and Brown) and in Nevada (for Harry Reid)… How do we know Pennsylvania is tightening? Onorato is gaining ground on Corbett… “Meet” to interview the RNC’s Steele… Previewing the top ballot propositions to watch… And spotlighting OH-6.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Checks and balances: If Republicans take back control of the House and maybe even the Senate, it will return American politics to its standard state: divided government. In the 21 Congresses after LBJ’s presidency, one party has held full control of the House, Senate, and White House just six times. Also since LBJ, the longest one party has controlled those three bodies is just for four years (1977-1981 and 2003-2007). And get this: Every time a party has had control of the three bodies, it ended in a wave election for the other side (1980, 1994, and 2006). So is what we’re witnessing just American politics returning to its natural state? Indeed, our NBC/WSJ poll in late August found that 62% of respondents said it was better if different parties control the White House and Congress, while only 29% preferred one party in command of both.

*** The expectations game: Of course, most of the polls, pundits, and prognosticators have settled on the consensus opinion that Republicans are set to win the House and get close to taking the Senate. And if there’s one thing right now that might make Democrats feel better about their prospects, it’s this: The DC consensus has often been wrong this cycle. Just when everyone thought Bill Halter was going to beat Blanche Lincoln, he lost. After we all thought Lisa Murkowski would cruise to primary victory, she went down to defeat. And when believed Mike Castle has learned from Murkowski’s lesson, he lost, too. So if the DC establishment could be wrong, the question becomes: Have Republicans mismanaged the expectations game, because anything less than winning the House and getting close to double-digit Senate pick-ups will be a big defeat? Imagine the infighting among GOPers if they come up short on winning the House?

*** Embracing expectations: Privately, Republican strategists admit that the expectations game has gotten out of control for them, with some analysts now predicting House gains in the 50s or 60s. But they’re embracing the expectations. In fact, they have helped Republicans and GOP-leaning groups raise a significant amount of money, which has enabled the GOP to expand the map. Bottom line: The expectations could end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

*** Obama out West: On the third day of his four-day campaign swing, President Obama is in Los Angeles, where he delivers remarks at a fundraising event for Sen. Barbara Boxer at 3:45 pm ET, speaks at a DNC rally (also featuring Boxer and Jerry Brown) at 4:55 pm ET, and tapes an interview for the Piolin Show at 6:25 pm ET. Then the president heads to Las Vegas, where he attends another DNC rally at 9:10 pm ET and raises money for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at 10:45 pm ET. Tomorrow, Obama travels to Minnesota. By the way, how likely is it the New York Times report on identifying some of the Chamber's biggest donors ends up in his campaign stump speech remarks today?

*** Elsewhere on the campaign trail: Rudy Giuliani stumps in Pennsylvania for Pat Toomey, who also today participates in another debate with Joe Sestak. Other debates today: John Hickenlooper vs. Dan Maes vs. Tom Tancredo in Colorado; Dan Coats vs. Brad Ellsworth in Indiana; and Russ Feingold vs. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin.

*** Dems are coming back home in the Keystone State: Speaking of Pennsylvania, how do we know that Democrats in that state are coming back home? Because a new Quinnipiac poll shows that not only is Sestak gaining ground on Toomey in the Senate race, but that the gubernatorial contest is tightening, too. Per the poll, Tom Corbett (R) leads Dan Onorato by five points among likely voters, 49%-44%, down from Corbett’s 15-point lead last month. Remember: Pennsylvania is a state where the Dems’ traditional get-out-the-vote apparatus (including labor and minorities) can have an outsized effect. And, well, remember the PA-12 special: The Democrats have some intangibles on their side structurally. Republicans need a strong wind at their back to overcome it. http://bit.ly/bEbnTK

*** If it’s Sunday… : David Gregory’s guest on “Meet the Press” this Sunday will be RNC Chairman Michael Steele, whose committee finds itself at a significant cash-on-hand disadvantage compared with the DNC. Of course, GOP outside groups have helped to more than make up the difference.

*** The propositions: While the Senate, House, and gubernatorial contests will be the main attractions on Election Night, don’t forget about the ballot measures across the country. Some of the more notable ones: Prop. 19 in California (which would legalize the personal use of marijuana for individuals 21 years or older), Prop. 20 in California (which would remove elected representatives from the congressional redistricting process), Prop. 23 in California (which would suspend the state’s climate-change law), and Colorado Amendment 62 (which defines a “person” beginning at conception).

*** Monday’s midterm topic: A viewer’s guide to detecting a GOP wave on Election Night; on Tuesday, we’ll run our viewer’s guide to detecting how Democrats could hold on to the House.

*** 75 House races to watch: OH-6: The Democratic nominee is two-term Rep. Charlie Wilson, who was first elected in 2006. His GOP opponent is former defense contractor Bill Johnson. In 2008, McCain grabbed 50% of the vote in this district -- which includes the city of Athens -- and Bush won 51% in ’04. Wilson voted for the stimulus and health care, but against cap-and-trade. As of Sept. 30, Wilson had nearly $700,000 in the bank, versus Johnson’s nearly $230,000. Cook rates the contest as Toss Up, while Rothenberg has it Lean Democrat.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 11 days

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