If you believe some of the more creative late mail, you might be under the impression that a last-minute narrowing concentrated in crucial swing states has the US election coming right down to the wire.
A glance at Real Clear Politics provides a useful corrective: rather than cherry-picking individual polls of high news value, it aggregates polls from a range of sources and finds Barack Obama’s vote has increased for five successive days to a new high of 52.1 per cent. It may be that the Bradley effect and other manifestations of a silent Republican vote are yet to do their work, but it’s equally likely that the next few hours of counting will leave only the size of Obama’s margin in doubt.
Fortunately, there’s plenty more fun to be had amid today’s festival of democracy, which will see the election of 35 out of the 100 Senators, all 435 members of the House of Representatives, 11 state Governors and who knows how many state assemblies, municipal councils, propositions and official positions. The non-fanatical observer will do best to focus on whether the Democrats can pull off the coup of 60 Senate seats, giving them the “special majority” needed to secure real control of the chamber. Most of the Senators up for re-election were elected barely a year after 9/11, when the Republican tide was high. That leaves a bumper crop of 23 Republican Senate seats up for election, of which the Democrats need to poach 11. They seem unlikely to pull that off, but it would only take nine wins to leave the call with two independents who caucus with the Democrats: Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
VIRGINIA. Former Governor Jim Gilmore has seemingly no chance of keeping this state in the Republican fold after the retirement of incumbent John Warner, with polls suggesting unrelated Democrat Mark Warner (also a former Governor) is home and hosed.
COLORADO and NEW MEXICO face the Democratic brother act of Tom and Mark Udall, both Representatives seeking Senate seats vacated by Republicans. Outgoing incumbents Wayne Allard and Pete Domenici are replaced on the Republican ticket by former Representative Bob Schaffer and current one Steve Pearce, who both face double-digit deficits in the polls.
NEW HAMPSHIRE looms as a rematch of the 2002 election, when Republican John Sununu prevailed over Democratic Governor Jeanne Shaheen after defeating incumbent Bob Smith in the primary. Polls have Shaheen with leads of almost 10 per cent.
ALASKA is showing double-digit leads for the Democrats after Republican incumbent Ted Stevens, beyond past it at 84, was convicted last week of corruption. Democratic contender Mark Begich is mayor of the state’s second most famous municipality, Anchorage.
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OREGON is a blue state with a Republican incumbent, Gordon Smith. Polls have him trailing Democratic candidate Jeff Merkley, who is Speaker in the state House of Representatives.
GEORGIA delivered the Democrats a particularly unhappy defeat in 2002 when Saxby Chambliss defeated incumbent Max Cleland, a triple amputee veteran of the Vietnam War, after running commercials linking his opponent to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Seeking bloody vengeance for the Democrats is Jim Martin, a veteran of the state legislature.
MINNESOTA was gained for the Republicans in 2002 by Norm Coleman, after Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash 11 days before the election. Wellstone was hurriedly replaced on the Democratic ticket by former Vice-President and 1984 presidential candidate Walter Mondale, who fell 2.6 per cent short. Perhaps against their better judgement, local Democrats have nominated loud media identity Al Franken.
NORTH CAROLINA was retained for the Republicans in 2002 by Elizabeth Dole, wife of 1996 presidential candidate Bob Dole, upon the retirement of veteran Jesse Helms. Democratic candidate Kay Hagan, a state Senator, holds a slight lead in the polls.
Both Senate seats are up for election in MISSISSIPPI — Republican Thad Cochran is rated certain for re-election, but Democratic Ronnie Musgrove is given an outside chance of taking the seat vacated last year by Trent Lott from his successor Roger Wicker.
In KENTUCKY, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing a determined challenge from defeated 2007 gubernatorial candidate Steve Beshear, who is competitive but trailing in the polls.
MAINE is a Democratic state with a popular Republican incumbent, Susan Collins. Her winning margin in 2002 was 16.8 per cent, and she is thought unlikely to be troubled by the Democratic candidate, Representative Tom Allen.