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First Thoughts: How to spot a GOP wave

How to spot a GOP wave on Election Night: Watch the early races in IN-9, GA-8, and KY-6… Tomorrow’s midterm topic: How to see if Democrats are on their way toward pulling off the upset and holding the House… If John Dingell’s in trouble, you know Democrats are bracing for a tough night… Obama campaigns in Obama country… Today’s presidential stop: Providence, RI, where Obama won 83% of the vote in ’08… But one Rhode Island Dem (gubernatorial nominee Frank Caprio) isn’t happy with Obama… How outside money is impacting this midterm season… Meg Whitman’s and Harry Reid’s closing ads… Profiling PA-4… And Mark Kirk up three in Illinois.

*** How to spot a GOP wave: On Election Night, which takes place eight days from today, we'll likely be able to tell very early if Republicans are on the verge of taking back the House -- and possibly more. Polls close completely at 7:00 pm ET in five states with a handful of key races: Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Virginia. (And we’ll begin to see returns in Indiana at 6:00 pm ET, when many polling places close in the state.) Let’s start with IN-9, which has become the quintessential swing district because Rep. Baron Hill (D) lost the seat in ’04, but won it back in ’06 and was re-elected in ‘08. This race is No. 42 in our House rankings -- right about the number the GOP will need to take back the House (because Dems will likely pick up two to four seats). So if this race is called for Hill’s challenger, Tea Party-backed Todd Young, you know it’s going to be a good night for the GOP.

*** Looking at IN, GA, and KY: Another place to watch is GA-8, because if Republicans are winning it, they could very well be on their way to a gain of 50-plus seats. Rep. Jim Marshall (D) won that district with just 51% in 2006 and 57% in ‘08. The other early House contest to watch is in KY-6, which could forecast a big GOP tidal wave if Republicans are winning it -- or are even running close. The congressman representing that district is Ben Chandler (D), who won his previous contests with 65% (in ’08) and 85% (in ’06). Other races to watch in that first hour: GA-2, IN-2, SC-5, VA-2, VA-5, VA-9, and VA-11. And closing at 7:30 are the key races in North Carolina (NC-2, NC-7, NC-8, NC-11), in Ohio (OH-1, OH-6, OH-13, OH-15, OH-16, OH-18), and in West Virginia (WV-1, WV-3). If Republicans are winning a majority of these 20 races, say hello to Speaker John Boehner.

*** Tomorrow’s midterm topic: We’ll profile the races that could tell us if Democrats are on their way to holding the House.

*** And if John Dingell’s in trouble…: Here’s yet another sign that Democrats everywhere are nervous: Over the weekend in Michigan, the party's longest serving House member -- John Dingell -- had to bring in Bill Clinton to rally the base just nine days before Election Day. “It’s time to make your vote two years ago mean something by protecting the forward progress and not, not, not bringing back the shovel brigade,” Clinton said. A recent Detroit Free-Press poll showed Dingell ahead with 53%. But per NBC’s John Yang, the last time Dingell was below 60% on Election Day was in 1994 GOP revolution. Dingell won 71% in 2008. Dingell is running almost entirely on what he's done for the district; this is the ultimate test of district vs. sending a message. Dingell's ALSO not helped by a weak statewide Democratic ticket.

*** Obama in Obama country: We’ve said that President Obama’s role in the final stretch is to turn out Democratic base voters, especially young and minority Democrats. Well, as one of us first pointed out yesterday, just look at the counties/cities where he campaigned last week: Portland/Multnomah (where he won 77% of the vote in ’08), King County, WA (70%), L.A. County (69%), San Francisco (84%), Las Vegas/Clark County, NV (59%), and Minneapolis/Hennepin (63%). And today, at 6:30 pm ET, Obama delivers remarks at a DCCC fundraiser in Providence, RI, where he won 83% of the vote. These last seven stops are places where Obama won, on average, 72% of the vote.

*** Obama’s campaign activity this week: On Wednesday, the president tapes an interview with Jon Stewart before the comedian’s rally in DC this week. On Saturday, he hits rallies in Philadelphia (rally the base for Sestak and four House races), Bridgeport, CT (this is more about CT-4 than CT SEN or CT GOV) and Chicago (IL SEN and IL GOV). On Sunday, he delivers a rally in Cleveland, OH (OH GOV, OH GOV, OH GOV, and a few House seats too).

*** Unhappy in Rhode Island: Not every Rhode Island Democrat is happy with President Obama as he stumps in the state tonight. Check this out: “The Democratic candidate for governor of Rhode Island is reacting angrily to news that he won't be getting the endorsement of President Obama… Fellow Democrat Frank Caprio told WPRO-AM that Obama can ‘take his endorsement and shove it.’ Caprio called Obama's decision ‘Washington insider politics at its worst.’ One of Caprio's opponents is former Republican U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, running for governor as an independent. Chafee endorsed Obama's presidential run.”

*** How the outside money is shaping this election season: Is outside money enhancing Republican chances, or is it simply a side issue Democrats and the White House have used to change the subject? Well, to see its impact, take a look at today's NYT front page. “A vivid picture of how outside groups are helping Republicans across the country can be found here in central Florida. The incumbent Democrat, Representative Suzanne M. Kosmas, had a nearly four-to-one fund-raising advantage over her Republican challenger, State Representative Sandy Adams, at the end of September. Ms. Adams, low on cash, has not run a single campaign commercial. But a host of outside groups have swept in to swamp Ms. Kosmas with attack ads, helping establish Ms. Adams as the favorite without her having to spend on television.”

*** Whitman’s Hail Mary? In what appears to be her closing ad in California’s gubernatorial race, Meg Whitman (R) looks straight to the camera and says, “I know many of you see this election as an unhappy choice -- between a longtime politician with no plan for the future and a billionaire with no experience.” Then, in a reference to Jerry Brown’s (D) devastating ad comparing Whitman to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), she adds: “I’m not a career politician or a Hollywood star… If you want more of the same from Sacramento, then vote for my opponent. But if you want to get California moving again, I’m ready. Are you?” And speaking of closers, Harry Reid is up with his final argument against Sharron Angle: She will be bad for Nevada’s economy. Both closing ads are not the type of ads you see from candidates who are confident about their chances.

*** 75 House races to watch: PA-4: The Democratic nominee is two-term incumbent Rep. Jason Altmire, and his GOP nominee is lawyer Keith Rothfus. In 2008, McCain won 55% in this district -- which borders Ohio and includes the Pittsburgh suburbs -- and Bush won 54% in ’04. As of Oct. 13, Altmire had nearly $600,000 in the bank, while Rothfus had more than $130,000. Altmire voted for the stimulus, but against cap-and-trade and health care. Cook rates the contest as Lean Democratic, and Rothenberg has it Democrat Favored.

*** More midterm news: In Alaska, the three Senate candidates participated in a heated debate yesterday… The Washington Post on yesterday’s Florida Senate debate: “Things started off civil but gradually descended into chaos as Republican Marco Rubio accused Gov. Charlie Crist, running as an independent, of ‘heckling’ during a debate between all three Florida Senate candidates.”… In Illinois, a new Chicago Tribune/WGN poll has Mark Kirk leading Alexi Giannoulias by three points (44%-41%)… And in Maryland, a new Washington Post poll has Gov. Martin O’Malley with a comfortable leading over GOP challenger Bob Ehrlich.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 8 days

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