Republican and Democratic candidates are making a final push to win over voters ahead of midterm congressional and gubernatorial elections on Tuesday.
Political experts and public opinion surveys widely agree that Republicans are posed to win back majority control of the House of Representatives on November 2.
Political analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia publishes a weekly newsletter called "The Crystal Ball", in which he predicts the outcome of individual races. Sabato said despite the close to four billion dollars that has been spent on hard-hitting political ads and campaigns by all candidates across the country, his predictions have hardly changed over the last couple of months.
Sabato is predicting that Republicans will win 55 House seats, and they only need 39 to take back majority control. "So, in fact, this is an election that was over in the summer because of the bad economy and the low job approval for President Obama. There are fundamental basics in politics that drive elections and these were obvious by August. We were the first to declare the House for the Republicans, but by now almost every non-partisan ratings agency has done so," he said.
Sabato and other experts are predicting that the Senate will remain under Democratic majority control - but just barely. David Hawkings is Managing Editor of Congressional Quarterly weekly magazine. "The Republicans who need a gain of ten seats to take back the Senate would essentially have to win all ten of the ones where they are competitive. And that hardly ever happens, even in a big wave year like this. There seems to be, almost inevitably, one of their candidates will falter in the closing days," he said.
Hawkings said that usually when one chamber of Congress changes hands from one party to the other, the other chamber does also. He said you have to go back 30 years, when Ronald Reagan was swept into the White House by a huge wave of support. "The last time it would have happened in 1980. Way back in 1980 it was the Senate that went Republican, but the House stayed Democratic," he said.
Opinion surveys reveal an exceptionally volatile political climate, where voters in many races are willing to take a risk on a political newcomer to throw the incumbent out of office. Michelle Bernard of the Independent Women's Forum research institute said a recent survey of independent voters showed a high level of disdain for both major political parties.
"This is a beauty contest where all the contestants are ugly. They don't like the Democrats, they don't like the Republicans, they happen to be leaning Republican right now, not as a vote for Republicans, but as a vote against Democrats. And I think that is what is going to be very telling about the November election," she said.
Much attention is focused on the Senate race in Nevada, where veteran Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid is locked in a close race with Republican challenger Sharron Angle. Angle is a favorite of Tea Party Republicans, who favor a very limited role for government, a strong military and low taxes. Angle has served in the Nevada's state assembly, but lost a race for the U.S. House. She has largely avoided reporters on the campaign trail, giving interviews only to conservative or Christian networks sympathetic to her, and has alarmed some by calling for social security benefits for retired Americans to be privatized.
Analyst Larry Sabato said Tea Party-backed candidates tend to hold positions far to the right of most Americans. "And I think some of the Tea Party members in Congress, particularly the Senate, since they have almost unlimited access to the floor, may well embarass the Republicans from time to time if this campaign season is any indication," he said.
Experts say traditional Republicans in Congress may clash with their Tea Party Republican newcomers, but Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell says dealing with a bigger group of Republicans in Congress is a problem he is happy to have.
President Barack Obama has been out in full force campaigning for Democratic candidates over the past couple of weeks in an effort to boost support for his party.