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A look at the Dems’ glass

There’s no doubt Democrats will suffer significant losses in next week’s elections. The big question is whether they can hold the House and Senate. Both are genuinely in play, given the toxic political environment. 

Optimists believe Democrats will hold their ground, while pessimists fear Democratic loss of the House, and maybe the Senate. Both sides have their arguments.

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For the optimists: Early voting numbers from states that release such numbers show no sign of any significant deficits. In Nevada’s big Clark County, Democratic performance lags slightly behind the GOP’s as a percentage of registered voters, in line with historical trends. In raw votes, Democrats have banked 10,000 more ballots than Republicans because of an advantage in registered voters. In Iowa, the GOP is increasing its percentage of early votes, yet has turned in 50,000 to the Democrats’ 85,000.

For the pessimists: Democrats have invested significantly more energy into making early voting a part of their get-out-the-vote efforts, and that makes sense — it is urban, Democratic-leaning voters who have suffered the worst poll excesses. No judge has ever been asked to extend voting hours for a suburban or rural polling location because lines still snake out the door. The most motivated Democrats are more likely to vote early. But they aren’t the problem. The enthusiasm gap speaks to more marginal voters. 

For the optimists: While generic congressional ballot polling suggests Democrats are in for a beating, a look at individual races shows that some of the GOP’s lowest-hanging fruit are still not guaranteed pickups. Recent internal campaign and Democratic Party polling shows top-targeted Dems in brutally red districts — such as Rep. Bobby Bright in Alabama and Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. in Georgia — with significant leads over their Republican challengers. If they’re not going down, then perhaps talk of a Speaker John Boehner is premature.

For the pessimists: Prognosticator Charlie Cook wrote last week, “[T]here are now 23 Democratic seats in the Lean Republican and Likely Republican columns, and just three Republican seats in the Lean Democratic column. Even if Democrats were to defy the historical odds and win a bare majority of the 47 seats in the Toss Up column, they would fall several seats short of holding the House.” 

For the optimists: In the Senate, California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) appears to have put daylight between herself and her foe. In Colorado, Republican Ken Buck saw his big leads evaporate over incumbent/appointed Sen. Michael Bennett. In Illinois, GOP dreams of picking up President Obama’s former Senate seat look increasingly tough. The Tea Party folks blew a surefire pickup in Delaware. Alaska is in play, given the split on the right between GOP nominee Joe Miller and the incumbent he ousted, Sen. Lisa Murkowski. And in Pennsylvania, what once looked like a slam-dunk Republican pickup is now a tied race.

For the pessimists: What the hell is Illinois doing still being competitive? Best case for Democrats, they lose just three seats. But they have to run the board on another eight seriously competitive races to keep their losses to merely tolerable, instead of cataclysmic. 

For the optimists: According to a Newsweek poll late last week, Obama’s popularity rose significantly from the previous month, suggesting a closing of the “enthusiasm gap” that has bedeviled Democrats all cycle.

For the pessimists: According to the Newsweek article announcing those poll results, “In 1994, NEWSWEEK Polls showed a similar steep climb in President Clinton’s approval between late September and late October, but Democrats still suffered a rout in the midterms.”

And yeah, I’m with the pessimists.

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos and author of American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.