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First Thoughts: Unchanged

Not much change in the final NBC/WSJ poll before tomorrow’s elections… GOP headed for big House and Senate gains… One reason why: It’s overwhelmingly winning the folks who think the country is on the wrong track… Voters, including Dems, say they want more change from Obama… Poll also suggests that tomorrow is shaping up to be more of a referendum on Pelosi than Obama… The GOP’s brand, though, is still in tatters… The final day of campaigning… And Christine O’Donnell pulls an Obama and will air a 30-minute TV ad today.

*** Unchanged: Our new NBC/WSJ poll underscores this irony: On the cusp of a third-straight change election, so little has actually changed in the past few months. In the poll, 49% of likely voters prefer a GOP-controlled Congress, versus 43% who prefer a Dem-held one, which is essentially unchanged from our last two polls; 60% think the country is on the wrong track, which is the same as in our past surveys going back to June; voters are still sour on the economy; Republicans maintain their enthusiasm advantage; and President Obama’s approval rating remains below 50% (at 45% among registered voters and 44% among likely voters). All of this adds up to BIG expected GOP gains in tomorrow’s elections; the six-point lead in the generic ballot projects to a gain of at least 50 to 55 House seats. “This is a devastating set of data for the incumbent party,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R). “It is a rebuke to the last two years.” Co-pollster Peter Hart (D) adds that on Election Day, “the Democrats are about to feel the force of hurricane winds.”

*** Why the GOP is headed for big gains: And why are Republicans headed for big gains? Check out these numbers: Among the 60% who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, more than 70% of them prefer a GOP-controlled Congress; just 19% of them prefer a Dem-held Congress. Given these numbers, the assumption by many analysts and strategists from BOTH parties is that the undecided vote ends up breaking toward the Republicans, so the six-point advantage that translates to a gain of 50-55 seats could end up being a nine-point advantage tomorrow -- and that would put the GOP pick-ups over 60 seats. Then again, it would still mean the Republicans would have a smaller majority than the Democrats currently enjoy in the House. For Republicans to equal the current Democratic majority, Republicans would need a pickup of nearly 80 seats in the House.

*** But wanting more change from Obama: Here’s another irony: Regarding the man who promised change in the presidential election two years ago, well, voters want more change from him. Per the poll, a combined 63% -- including 47% of Democrats -- say they want to see “a great deal of change” or “quite a bit of change” in the way Obama has been leading the country. Hart attributes this desire of change, especially from the Dems, to the state of the economy. But it’s also clear that Obama is having trouble with the middle of the country. Just 32% of self-identified independents approve of his job, and his job-approval among moderates is at 49%, which is lower than in past NBC/WSJ polls.

*** More of a referendum on Pelosi? Yet tomorrow’s midterm elections are shaping up to be more about Speaker Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats than about Obama. In the poll, 15% who prefer a GOP-controlled Congress say their vote is a protest against the Obama administration’s performance; 20% say it’s a protest against the performance by Pelosi and congressional Democrats; and another 10% say it’s a protest against both. (But 48% who want Republicans in charge of Congress say their vote isn’t a protest vote -- but rather a positive one for Republicans.) What’s more, Pelosi’ fav/unfav among registered voters in the poll is 24%-50% (and 8%-61% among indies). That's compared with Obama’s 47%-42% and George W. Bush’s 32%-51%. Voters are saying: We want to fire Pelosi and send a message to Obama to make some changes.

*** The GOP’s short leash with the public: As Republicans are poised to take back control of at least one chamber of Congress, their brand is still in tatters: 34% have a favorable view of the GOP, versus 41% who have an unfavorable view. By comparison, the Dems’ fav/unfav stands at 39%-42%, and the Tea Party’s is at 32%-40%. Given the GOP’s low standing, McInturff says Republicans would have a very short leash with the public if they end up controlling Congress. Americans, he argues, will keep voting elected officials out of office “until somebody gets the message -- which is fix the economy and get things done in Washington.” The good news for Republicans: They have been able to distance themselves from Bush’s presidency. Only 34% believe the GOP would return to Bush’s economic policies if they regain Congress, while 58% say they would bring different ideas.

*** The Tea Party’s “fervor” and “intensity”: Hart makes a final point on the poll: The Tea Party, he says, has captured the “fervor” and “intensity” of this election season. Per the poll, 28% of registered voters identify themselves as Tea Party supporters. Among these supporters, 57% would replace every single member of Congress if they could (versus 45% of all voters who say they want to do this), and 30% say their vote is to send a message rather than elect the best person for the job (compared with 22% of the electorate who say this). Asked what kind of message they’d like to send with their vote, 50% of Tea Party supporters say that one of their top-two messages would be to return to the principles of the U.S. Constitution (versus 23% of all voters who say this). And Tea Party backers are overwhelmingly voting Republican: 85% prefer a GOP-controlled Congress, while only 10% want the Democrats in charge. The upcoming challenge for Boehner and McConnell: While independents in the poll say they want the parties to work together, the Tea Party doesn’t.

*** Today’s campaign activity: The day before Election Day, per NBC’s Rob Rivas, Bill Clinton stumps today for several Democrats (Reps. Scott Murphy and Bill Owens in NY, Senate candidate Joe Manchin in WV, Jack Conway in KY, and Kendrick Meek and Alex Sink in FL)… First Lady Michelle Obama campaigns for Harry Reid in NV and Joe Sestak in PA… Rudy Giuliani helps John Raese in WV… And John Boehner campaigns for John Kasich and Rob Portman in OH.

*** O’Donnell pulls an Obama: Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's campaign has purchased TV time in 30-minute blocks (at 10:00 am ET and 3:00 pm ET) for a TV program intended to bypass traditional media and speak directly to Delaware voters.

*** Place your bets: Beginning today, “Meet the Press” is unveiling a three-part Web special with political pundits who will project which candidates are headed to victory tomorrow night, and which ones are headed to defeat. www.mtp.msnbc.com

*** More midterm news: In Ohio, the final Quinnipiac poll shows John Kasich (R) and Ted Strickland (D) deadlocked in the gubernatorial race, at 47%-46%, and Rob Portman up 19 points in the Senate race…

Countdown to Election Day 2010: 1 day

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