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First Thoughts: One week out

One week to go, and it’s getting crazy out there… Laying out Democrats’ tricky path to holding on to the House… How Dems are hoping third-party candidates end up taking away votes from GOP nominees… McCain -- after helping Fiorina and Rossi -- stumps for John Raese in West Virginia at 1:30 pm ET… Profiling PA-8… Blumenthal leads in Q-poll by 12 points… And the Q-poll also has Kasich up by six and Portman ahead by 17 in Ohio.

*** One week out: How do we know we’re one week out from Election Day? Because everyone is going crazy right now. Before last night’s final Jack Conway-vs.-Rand Paul debate, a Paul supporter stomped on a MoveOn activist. In Florida, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink was accused of cheating at last night’s debate (her makeup artist reportedly passed her a note from the campaign during the debate). As we noted yesterday, the Democratic gubernatorial in Rhode Island told President Obama to “shove it” for remaining neutral in the race. And we learned that Mississippi Congressman Gene Taylor (D) said he didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 (so he voted for Nancy Pelosi for speaker, but not Obama in ’08?). October's campaign phrases that pay: "Shove It" and "Man Up." Can you tell it’s a week out? It’s a fitting conclusion to a nutty campaign year.

*** How Dems keep the House: Despite the polls and predictions of big GOP gains, there is a visible path to Democrats holding on to the House. It’s a tricky path, but it’s a path we’ve seen traveled before in politics (John McCain's presidential primary in '08), sports (the Red Sox vs. the Yankees in '04), and even movies (the blackjack scene in "The Hangover") -- to win, you have to run the table. Here’s a race-by-race guide how they could do it. First, Democrats need to win the four or five GOP-held seats they’re counting on (DE-AL, FL-25, HI-1, IL-10, LA-2), which would increase the Republicans’ Magic Number from 39 to 43 or 44 (i.e., the GOP needs to pick up 43 or 44 seats to win back the House).

*** The must-win races (or close to it): Then Democrats need to triumph in the Toss-Up contests where they’re still competing. In the 7:00 pm ET poll-closing states, the key races to watch are: GA-2 (Sanford Bishop) GA-8 (Jim Marshall), IN-2 (Joe Donnelly), IN-9 (Baron Hill), and SC-5 (John Spratt). In the 7:30 pm ET states, they’re OH-18 (Zack Space) and WV-1 (the Mollohan open). In the 8:00 pm ET states, they’re AL-2 (Bobby Bright), IL-17 (Phil Hare), MA-10 (Delahunt open), MS-4 (Gene Taylor), MO-4 (Ike Skelton), NH-2 (Hodes open), NJ-3 (John Adler), PA-8 (Patrick Murphy), and PA-10 (Chris Carney). And in the 9:00 pm ET poll-closing states, they’re CO-3 (John Salazar), MI-7 (Mark Schauer), NY-20 (Scott Murphy), NY-23 (Bill Owens), NY-24 (Michael Arcuri), SD-AL (Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin), and WI-7 (Obey open). If Democrats can win an overwhelming majority of these races, they’re on track to keeping their losses below 40. If not, Republicans will win the majority. It’s that simple.

*** Third parties to rescue Democrats? There’s another way Democrats are hoping to win some competitive contests next week: by having third-party candidates take votes away from the GOP nominees. Check out this TV ad Rep. Tom Perriello (D) is airing in the competitive VA-5 contest, which is a blatant effort to get conservatives to vote for someone OTHER than GOP nominee Robert Hurt: “ANNCR: What do real conservatives say about Robert Hurt? ALBERMALE REPUBLICAN: Robert Hurt is a career politician, Robert Hurt in my opinion has shown no leadership. REPUBLICAN ACTIVIST: Robert Hurt would be the opposite of where I am on fiscal issues because of his 1.4 billion dollar tax increase.” If Perriello wins this contest, it’s because the third-party candidates (Jeff Clark and Bradley Rees) will end up taking votes away from Hurt. Should Democrats hold the House, they'll do it on the backs of candidates like Perriello and a dozen other winners who somehow survive, even though they've gotten less than 50% of the vote. There are a dozen or so competitive races where Democrats are hoping the anti-Washington atmosphere captures the minds of some angry voters to vote against BOTH major parties. It's a stretch to count on this, but it's better than simply lighting a candle.

*** McCain’s heavy lifting: While the political world loves to focus on Sarah Palin and her campaign activities, it’s John McCain who’s been doing a lot of the heavy lifting for GOP candidates in competitive races these last two weeks. After pitching in for Carly Fiorina (where he accused Barbara Boxer of waving the white flag of surrender) and Dino Rossi (saying in a conference call that Patty Murray engaged in the “corrupt” practice of earmarks), McCain today stumps for John Raese in West Virginia at 1:30 pm ET. It’s a reminder who has a better pull with swing voters.

*** 75 House races to watch: PA-8: The Democratic nominee is two-term incumbent Rep. Patrick Murphy, who was first elected in 2006. The GOP nominee is former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick. In 2008, Obama won 54% in this district, while Kerry won 51% in 2004. As of Oct. 13, Murphy had nearly $600,000 in the bank, versus Fitzpatrick’s nearly $500,000. Murphy voted for the stimulus, cap-and-trade, and health care. Both Cook and Rothenberg rate the race as Toss Up.

*** More midterm news: In California, Jerry Brown has a new TV ad that uses Meg Whitman’s words against her. In Connecticut, a new Quinnipiac poll has Richard Blumenthal leading Linda McMahon by 12 points among likely voters (54%-42%)… In Ohio, Quinnipiac has John Kasich leading the gubernatorial contest by six points (49%-43%) and Rob Portman ahead in the Senate race by 17 points (53%-36%)… And in Washington state, Patty Murray has a new TV ad hitting Dino Rossi.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 7 days

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