Donald Lambro

A Washington Post poll said this week that 40 percent of Americans side with President Obama and another 40 percent side with the Republicans on jobs. There were "similarly even splits on the economy generally and the deficit."

That means that next year's elections, barring any mind-changing improvement in the economy, will probably turn on swing voters and independents who deserted the Democrats in droves last year.

Independent voters are especially critical of Congress, with 14 percent saying most members deserve re-election, compared with 24 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of Democrats who say that, Gallup says.

It may be a little premature to make any hard and fast predictions about the outcome of the House and Senate contests next year, but a few top election analysts are doing just that.

The emerging consensus now seems to be that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be the minority leader after the 2012 election.

"Right now, they're (the Republicans) favored to take control of the Senate, but it's not a done deal yet," says Jennifer Duffy, the Senate elections analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

The Senate's lopsided math clearly favors Republicans next year. There are 33 Senate seats at stake, with 23 held by Democrats and just 10 by Republicans, and all but two of those are considered safe for the GOP.

But nearly a dozen Senate races will be very competitive, and almost all of those seats are held by Democrats. Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Montana's Jon Tester, who squeaked into office in 2006 with just 49 percent of the vote, are among the most vulnerable, according to both the Cook analysis and the Rothenberg Political Report, which also tracks the races.

At the same time, there are six open seats being vacated by retiring Democrats, including one in rock-ribbed, conservative North Dakota that will likely switch to the GOP column. Three others are now rated "toss-ups."

Thus, at least nine Democrat seats are threatened, and the Republicans will need to pick up only four of them to take control of the Senate.

Could the Democrats win back the House? Right now that seems extremely remote for several reasons. Congressional redistricting favors the Republicans in a number of states.

An unpopular president at the top of the ballot makes the election an even tougher sell for the Democrats, some of whom are already distancing themselves from him. Throw in an economy that's expected to remain weak next year and a dispirited Democratic Party that has been losing independents, and the chances of putting Nancy Pelosi back in charge of the House are highly unlikely.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.