X Factors That May Decide Key Senate Races

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by Karl Rove,

from The Wall Street Journal,

Polls look good for the GOP but ‘low propensity voters’ and undecideds may tip the balance.

Campaigns across the country have reached the stage where everything is about getting out the vote, especially in contests that will decide control of the Senate.

The election’s fundamentals have not changed. President Obama remains quite unpopular, as do his policies. Americans are sour on the economy—65% believe the nation is on the wrong track in an Oct. 16 CBS News poll. Likely voters prefer a Republican Congress by 11 points, 52% to 41% in this week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Annenberg survey. Intensity and enthusiasm are also with Republicans.

Every major news organization prediction model puts the chances of a GOP Senate takeover at 62.3% (FiveThirtyEight.com) or higher, with the Huffington Post at 63%, the New York Times at 66% and the Washington Post at 93%.

In Wednesday’s Real Clear Politics average of recent polls, Republicans led by double digits in three open Democratic seats (Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia), by 5% in Arkansas, 4.5% in Louisiana (which by all accounts is headed to a December runoff) and 3.3% in Colorado. The GOP’s leads are smaller in Alaska (2.2%) and Iowa (2.1%). Similarly, Democrats hold narrow leads in North Carolina (1%) and New Hampshire (2.2%).

Republicans are ahead in two of three vulnerable GOP seats: Mitch McConnell is up in Kentucky by 4.4%, and David Perdue regained the lead in Georgia by half a point. Sen. Pat Roberts trails in Kansas by 0.9%, but has gained 1.5 points in the last two weeks.

With so many close races, the quality of each party’s ground game will be critical. People are already voting by absentee ballots or at early voting locations. Both parties can find things they like in the results.

Of low-propensity voters who cast a ballot through Monday in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina, Democrats were 39% of the first group and 30% of the second, while Republicans were 30% of the first and 32% of the second. This Democratic advantage could be offset by undecided voters, who range from 6% of voters in New Hampshire to 13% in North Carolina, according to RCP averages. In a midterm, undecideds should break for the party out of power in most contests—but by how much?

Republicans are upbeat, but they must remember it’s difficult to defeat incumbents, the GOP’s key task. The Senate flipped from Republican to Democratic in 2006 when Democrats won Montana by 2,847 votes.

Alaska’s polls don’t close until 12 p.m. Eastern time. It will be Wednesday morning before Republicans know just how well it went for them, and it may take until December or January before the contest is finally settled. But watch Kentucky, New Hampshire and North Carolina, which report early. If the GOP does well there, it could be a great night for Republicans, a very bad night for Democrats, and a tipping point for the Obama presidency.

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