There are a few changes to report in the nation's Senate races since we last reviewed them in July-almost all of them in favor of the Democratic candidates. Yet the fundamental outlook hasn't changed terribly much. The Democrats will pick up a fair number of seats to pad their slim 51-to-49 margin. They are defending a mere 12 seats, and all their incumbents are running again. The Republicans have drawn the short straw, trying to protect 23 seats with five incumbents retiring in a tough political environment for the GOP.
In early summer, the Crystal Ball took its first look at the likely November 4th Electoral College map. Our assessment was that, in the College at least, the contest appeared close. John McCain had 174 solid or likely electoral votes to Barack Obama's 200 solid or likely. The lead switched once we added in states that were "leaning" to one or the other: McCain had 227 votes to Obama's 212, with 270 needed for election. Fully 99 electoral votes in eight other states (CO, MI, NH, NV, OH, PA, VA, and WI) remained in the toss-up category.
Forget the Olympics. Political junkies are in the convention pre-season. As we approach the Democratic National Convention on August 25 to 28 and the Republican National Convention on September 1 to 4, analysts just want to know one thing:
How big are the bounces?
Leave the presidential contest aside for the moment.
At other levels of politics, the Republicans may eventually file the 2008 campaign under the Double Jeopardy category of "It Just Keeps Getting Worse". Surely, GOP House strategists are asking themselves whether they are cursed this year.
It looks like a clean sweep for Alaska in the Senate and House. Both of the Republican incumbents, Sen.
Ted Stevens, in office since 1968, and Rep.
Don Young, who has held his seat since 1973, appear to be going down to defeat.
We have no earthly idea if Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is Obama's choice for Vice President. All we know is that distinguished reporters who claim to have good sources are calling and saying that Kaine is on the short-short list.
Nobody now knows the exact contours of the November 4th Electoral College map. Nobody will know it until after the polls have closed. But except for the guessing game about the vice presidential nominations, there's no greater fun to be had in July.
Last December, when we first sketched out the upcoming House elections, we suggested that Democrats were likely to have a good year. Nothing has changed our forecast in the six months since, and if anything, we now see November 2008 as probably the best year Democrats have had in many a moon.
John F. Kennedy was correct about life
and politics when he famously said, "Life isn't fair." Not only is politics unfair, it may be the least fair part of life. In many election years, if we had blue-ribbon selection panels charged with considering only the qualifications and likely performance of potential presidents, governors, and senators, the list of winners would likely be quite different from the ones actually elected by the voters.
When 2008 began, it was impossible to find a nonpartisan analyst who did not project a big year for the Democrats. George W. Bush barely scaled 30 percent in the polls, the Iraq War was deeply unpopular and the economy was weakening.
Now that Iowa, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, and South Carolina have voted, at least in one party, one thing is perfectly clear:
While the identities of the two major-party nominees are not yet certain, the ranks on both sides have thinned dramatically and the finalists have emerged.
Truly important election years for the U.S. House of Representatives come around only every so often-years when party control is at stake and the House actually changes hands or the balance of power is significantly altered one way or the other.