WASHINGTON -- The 2010 midterm campaign push is turning into one of those rare wave elections where the outcome is taking shape long before the votes are cast.
Five weeks before voters go to the polls, election handicappers are having as hard time keeping up with the dramatic political shifts in key Senate contests. Races where Democrats were favored for most of this year are shifting from just "lean Democrat" to "tossup" to "lean Republican," seemingly with the speed of light. Americans -- God bless 'em -- are an impatient people, and the swiftly moving poll numbers showing a looming Democratic bloodbath on Nov. 2 suggest that many voters are making up their minds earlier than usual -- well before the general election debates or the TV ad campaigns have gotten fully underway.
What is especially astonishing is that some of this movement is taking place in heavily Democratic states that were once considered rock-solid safe for the Democrats but no longer.
Moreover, this isn't shaping up as just another anti-incumbent election, although that is driving much of this movement. It's turning into an anti-establishment, anti-ruling party, anti-Democrats, anti-Barack Obama and anti-Washington election.
Republicans are poised to take back an open Democratic seat in Pennsylvania, where Democrats hold a million-voter-registration edge. They are about to topple a Democrat incumbent in Arkansas, are in a close race in Connecticut, are leading in Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Florida, Kentucky and New Hampshire, and are closing in on the Democratic stronghold of West Virginia. In Pennsylvania, former Republican Rep. Pat Toomey has broken the 50 percent barrier in a new Quinnipiac University poll, widening his lead over Democrat Joe Sestak who drew 43 percent. "Buoyed by anti-incumbent and anti-Democratic sentiment, Toomey leads among most constituencies: 54-36 percent among independents; 58-37 percent among male voters and 51-40 percent among female voters," the Allentown Morning Call reported Wednesday. The Washington Post just moved this race from "tossup" to "lean Republican."
In Wisconsin, three-term Sen. Russ Feingold, who was a shoo-in a few months ago, is trailing Republican businessman Ron Johnson by 41 to 52 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey for the liberal Daily Kos web site.
Feingold, a knee-jerk liberal who has never seen a tax increase he didn't like, is losing independents in droves and even parts of his dispirited party's base. Obama's unpopularity is a big factor in this race. The PPP poll found voters disapproving of the president's job performance by 54 to 41 percent.
In heavily Democratic Connecticut, longtime liberal state attorney general Richard Blumenthal was expected to virtually inherit Chris Dodd's seat, until Republican business executive Linda McMahon took him on -- and the New York Times revealed that Blumenthal repeatedly suggested he served in Vietnam when he had never left the United States during the war. McMahon, attacking Blumenthal's blind support for Obama's entire agenda, has turned the race into a squeaker and the Cook Political Report has just moved this once safe Democrat seat to a "tossup."
And in Arkansas, Democrat Sen. Blanche Lincoln is falling further behind conservative Republican John Boozman who has a 14-point lead among likely voters, 53 percent to 39 percent.
Few states are more reliably Democratic than West Virginia, and no Democrat was safer than the late long-serving Sen. Robert Byrd, but his open seat is now threatened to become another GOP pickup.
Democrat Gov. Joe Manchin was supposed to win Byrd's seat in a cakewalk, but a Public Policy Polling survey Tuesday showed him in a dead heat with Republican businessman John Raese, who had a 46 percent to 43 percent edge over the governor. Once again, Obama's crumbling approval numbers and his party's unpopularity are big factors here. Only 30 percent of West Virginia's likely voters approve of the job he's doing, while 57 percent say the national Democrat party is "too liberal."
And Democrat-leaning New Hampshire appears to be swinging back into the GOP's column, too. Democrats had high hopes after 2008 of picking up retiring GOP Sen. Judd Gregg's seat. But a recent PPP poll of likely voters shows former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte leading Democrat Rep. Paul Hodes, 47 percent to 43 percent. A Rasmussen poll showed her with a seven-point lead. CQ is moving the race from tossup to leaning Republican.
The GOP's prospects are only going to improve in the final weeks of this election cycle, which is all about the worsening economy under the Democrats' job-killing, big-spending policies.
The government reported this month that 27 states now had higher unemployment rates than they did the month before. A Fox News survey shows that 88 percent of Americans believe we are still in a recession. A new Heritage Foundation analysis found that if Obama and the Democrats let the Bush tax cuts expire the end of this year, it will eliminate 876,000 jobs.
A growing number of Democrats think so, too. More than three-dozen House Democrats have signed a petition calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to extend the Bush tax cuts.
And if Pelosi isn't convinced of the catastrophe that awaits her party in key battleground states on Nov. 2, she should consider this: A recent poll shows Ohio voters, by a 50-42 percent, would prefer to have George W. Bush back in the White House than Barack Obama.
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