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First Thoughts: Why Dems are on the verge of losing the House

The reasons why Dems are on the verge of losing the House… And why Republicans could fall short… Why the anger and high emotions we’re seeing feel different from past cycles… GOP continues to expand the House playing field… Our primer on midterm turnout… Wrapping up the final Crist-Meek-Rubio debate… Matt Lauer’s challenge to Brown and Whitman… And profiling PA-17.


*** Why Dems are on the verge of losing the House: Over the last two days, we’ve explained how Republicans could win control of the House, or how Democrats could be able to hold on to their majority. Today, we turn to the why. Here’s why Democrats are on the verge of losing the House and maybe (though much less likely) the Senate. Part of it would be history (a president's party almost always loses seats in a midterm cycle). Part of it would be the nation's disinclination of one-party control. Much of it would be due to the nation's high unemployment rate (9.6%), and the economic stimulus' inability to reduce it substantially over the past two years. Just those four items in one stew would be enough to put Democrats on the verge of a loss in House control, but it doesn't end there. Another culprit would be Democrats’ inability to sell the public on the health-care law and their inability to fire up their base. Outside GOP money has played a role, too, by expanding the playing field. And there's this: Democrats, after two years in FULL control, were unable to deliver on their biggest thematic promise to change the way the Washington works.

*** Why Republicans could fall short: And if Republicans are unable to win the House and rack up substantial Senate gains? Part of it would be the sheer number of seats they need to gain to win majorities (39 for the House and 10 for the Senate). Part of it would be the Tea Party pushing the GOP too far to the right, especially in non-GOP friendly states and districts. And much of it would be due to the Republican Party's inability to develop new ideas after its defeats in '06 and '08 (after all, our poll shows the GOP with a lower fav/unfav than the Dem Party).

*** Why this cycle feels different: We’ve seen plenty of anger, frustration, and high emotions in past campaigns. But the anger this cycle -- culminating in Monday’s stomping in Kentucky -- feels so much more different. Just think back to the contentious town halls in the summer of 2009, Joe Wilson’s “You lie,” and Newt Gingrich agreeing that the best way to describe the president is as a Kenyan anti-colonialist. More recently, we’ve seen the Carl Paladino phenomenon, a candidate’s security detail handcuffing a reporter, and Frank Caprio telling the president to “shove it.” And then there's all the women candidates (from both parties) aggressively saying, "Man up." Maybe our memories are too short, but the level of anger, disrespect, and incivility seems to be at an all-time high right now.

*** 1992 and 2010: The only comparison to now that comes to mind is 1992 after the congressional check-writing scandal. Folks forget: The reason a Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan had openings was due to distrust of the parties and Washington in general. And 1992 and 1994 were more intertwined than people realize -- just as in some ways 2008 and 2010 are both alike and different in some ways. The same national disappointment in 1992 and 1994 propelled Bill Clinton into the presidency and Republicans into the congressional majority two years later. Is that what's happening here -- hunger for change propels Obama in 2008 and Republicans two years later? But it's also not THAT easy of an explanation. The long-term discontent needs to be factored in as well. The 1992 and 1994 cycles didn't have the long-term frustration; these last two, actually three cycles (toss in 2006) include a worry of LONG term discontent.

*** Expanding the House playing field: Those of us who live in the DC area are seeing just how wide the House field is expanding, with the DCCC now running TV ads to protect Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, who represents a district Obama won with 57% of the vote in 2008. As Hotline reports, the DCCC has purchased “$21.6 million worth of air time in 66 districts… Among those 66 districts, many were once considered safe Democratic seats, including those held by Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) and Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.). Only three of the seats in which Democrats are advertising are held by Republicans.” Bottom line: Democrats are doing what they can -- just so they might be able to get their congressional majority back in 2012. And the reason Dems are having to go into these once-safe seats is largely due to outside GOP groups. Democrats aren’t going to win or lose the House because of these groups. But these groups are impacting the size of the wave that’s coming… Any gain over 52 seats may be directly attributable to the GOP outside groups. By the way, if Democrats had this kind of extra money in 2006, they would have gained the extra 20 seats in 2006 that they eventually picked up two years later.

*** Midterm turnout: In yet another effort to turn out younger voters, President Obama this afternoon tapes an appearance for Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” which will air later tonight. With so much focus on turnout, it’s important to offer this reminder: Historically, fewer people turn out to vote in midterm elections than in presidential contests -- about 30% less, on average, since 1980. For instance, in 2006, the turnout was 86 million (more than 40% of the eligible voting population). In 2008, however, it was 133 million (almost 62% of the eligible voting population). Also, don’t miss msnbc.com’s Carrie Dann’s preview of Saturday’s Stewart/Colbert rally.

*** The final Crist-Meek-Rubio debate: For “TODAY” this morning, here's how NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reported on last night's final Florida Senate debate, which was moderated by NBC’s David Gregory: "All three candidates knocked the Republican Party, including the Republican, Marco Rubio... 'Now, I think the Republican Party is to blame for much of what's happened in Washington.'" Here’s the Miami Herald’s write-up: “In Crist's last chance to chip away at front-runner Marco Rubio, with only one week left before the election, the governor frequently found himself playing defense in response to tough questions from moderator David Gregory… In three separate lines of questioning, Gregory pressed Crist to explain his defection from the Republican Party, unwillingness to say which party he would caucus with in Congress if elected and his changed positions on issues like adoption by same-sex couples, which he now favors.”

*** Tear down these negative ads: “Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman were pressed by NBC's Matt Lauer to end their negative advertising for the final week of the gubernatorial campaign,” the L.A. Times reports. “Lauer, who moderated a discussion involving the two candidates and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, asked each of the candidates to take down their negative ads until Election Day. Brown flinched at first, saying ‘negativity is in the eye of the beholder,’ but came around when the crowd began to articulate its disapproval.” More: “Whitman said she would continue to air ads that show where Brown stands on the issues. ‘I will take down any ads that can be construed as a negative attack. But I don't think we can take down the ads that talk about where Gov. Brown is on the issues,’ Whitman said.”

*** 75 House races to watch: PA-17: The Democratic nominee is Rep. Tim Holden, who was first elected in 1992. The GOP nominee is state Sen. Dave Argall. In 2008, McCain won 51% in this district, while Bush won 58% in 2004. As of Oct. 13, Murphy had about $163,000 cash on hand, versus Argall’s $55,000. Holden voted for the stimulus, but against both cap-and-trade and health care. Cook rates the race as Likely Democratic; Rothenberg rates it Democrat Favored.

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 6 days

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