WASHINGTON -- Democratic majorities in Congress will become a lot bigger in January, as Americans are expected to vote based on their economic fears and frustrations on Nov. 4.
In a turbulent election that is shaping up to be the political equivalent of a tidal wave, campaign forecasters now say that as many as eight or nine Republican Senate seats will fall to the Democrats -- possibly 10 -- which would give them a filibuster-proof, iron grip on the chamber.
"Voters are blaming the nation's financial crisis on Republicans, causing the (GOP's) candidates' poll numbers to sink noticeably," elections tracker Stuart Rothenberg said last week. "We are raising our current estimate from five-to-eight seats to six-to-nine seats."
Other election analysts are similarly forecasting that a large number of Republicans are going to be washed overboard by a perfect storm driven by a deepening recession, an unpopular president and the belief by 90 percent of the voters that the country is seriously on the wrong track.
Open GOP seats in New Mexico and Virginia are likely takeovers, with five more seats leaning toward a flip -- including Sens. Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, Gordon Smith in Oregon, Ted Stevens in Alaska, John Sununu in New Hampshire and an open seat in Colorado.
Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman is a tossup at best in a three-way race that includes former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Al Franken, a dilettante who would be a pushover in any other environment. But even Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are now threatened, and just a few weeks ago both lived in the "safe" column.
The only Democrat in any trouble is two-term Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She has won her two previous races narrowly (52 percent in 2002) and leads in recent polls, but she is clearly vulnerable to an upset from GOP state Treasurer John Kennedy.
When word circulated through Washington last week that Mitch McConnell, seeking a fifth term, was in a tighter-than-expected re-election fight against wealthy businessman Bruce Lunsford, GOP officials knew their party was in deeper trouble than they had expected.
In many races, the banking bailout plan approved by Congress is hurting incumbents who voted for it, and McConnell is being attacked in TV ads by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for backing deregulation of the financial services industry.
"McConnell opened the gate and Wall Street ran wild. Now our entire economy is at risk," the ads says. Never mind that a Senate bill to tighten regulatory oversight of the housing mortgage industry, which McConnell supported, was killed by Democrats who said the bill would undermine "affordable housing," i.e. subprime mortgages.