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Morning Jay: Special 'State of the Race' Edition!

6:30 AM, Oct 4, 2010 • By JAY COST
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There is another way to approach the question.  In 2008, Virginia’s statewide party breakdown was basically a mirror image of the national breakdown.  This is in keeping with the longstanding expectations of the emerging Democratic majority proponents, who predicted (accurately, in this case) that Virginia was turning from red to purple.  But in the 2009 off-off-year gubernatorial election in the Old Dominion, we saw the enthusiasm gap in action, and the GOP opened up a small party identification lead over the Democrats. So, let’s suppose that the shift in party strength this year mimics the shift seen in Virginia in 2009.  We’ll also continue to use our 56-40 GOP advantage among independents:

The only people who can recall a result so pro-Republican are nonagenarians, as nothing like this has happened since 1928.  How many seats this would produce is very hard to say, but I’ll put it this way: Republicans picked up 52 seats in 1994 with a +6.7 win; a +10 win should produce more than 52 seats, perhaps many more.

There are of course difficulties with using the 2009 off-off-year election in Virginia to compare to the 2010 off-year election nationwide.  The biggest is that second “off.” Virginia turnout last year was a bit lower than it was in 2006, which might have favored the Republicans in 2009.  On the other hand, the partisan composition of the 2006 electorate in Virginia was roughly identical to the 2009 electorate.  So, it’s hard to say which party was favored by the reduced turnout in 2009.  Also, the independent vote in Virginia 2009 broke much more heavily to the GOP than I’ve modeled here (ditto in New Jersey), and it’s possible that this could happen nationwide as well.

If there were a clean comparison between 2010 and some previous national midterm, I would use it over the Virginia 2009 results.  However, this hypothetical still has merit. Its point is to show that it doesn’t take much of a change in the party spreads to get to a history-making Republican victory when you assume that the GOP will have a healthy lead among independents.  And in evaluating the reasonableness of Hypothetical #3, consider it this way: 2004 was a year in which both parties were about equally motivated to cast ballots; 2006 was a year in which the playing field was slightly, but not overwhelmingly, tilted toward the Democrats; Hypothetical #3 is a little more pro-Republican than 2006 was pro-Democratic. What's more, Gallup has recently found that self-identified Republicans and Republican leaners outnumber Democrats by 6 points, the largest number since immediately after the 2004 November election.  An R +3 electorate akin to Hypothetical #3 is not an unreasonable proposition at this point.

I’m not predicting this is going to happen.  My point here is much more modest: this kind of +10 result is a distinct possibility, not just a flight of fancy.  The assumptions it requires are based on hard data - from the polls, previous results in a bellwether state, and recent midterm returns - not on pie-in-the-sky.  I think it helps explain why, with just a month to go, Democrats seem to have given up on appealing to non-partisans and instead are working furiously to gin up the party base with lots of red meat.  It explains why they are shifting money from Kentucky to Connecticut.  It explains why Gallup is talking about a double digit GOP win

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