WASHINGTON (AP) — How high can Republicans go Tuesday night in padding their House majority?
The GOP currently holds 233 of 435 seats — 234 if you count former Majority Leader Eric Cantor's open Virginia seat that is expected to remain in the Republican column.
With Democrats on defense and President Barack Obama's abysmal approval ratings, Republicans could hit their post-World War II high water mark of 246 by upending Democratic incumbents and seizing open seats in North Carolina, Utah and New York.
Days before the election, some two dozen Democrats are endangered while just four Republicans are vulnerable. The two parties have an equal number of potential gains in open seats — seven.
The 2010 tea party wave gave Republicans 242 seats, a number that certainly looks like it can be matched days before the election. The question is whether the GOP gains on Tuesday are in the single digits or the teens. The party controlling the White House has lost an average 26 House seats in midterm elections since 1934.
Some questions to consider:
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF A WINNING NIGHT FOR REPUBLICANS?
The first clue could come shortly after 7 p.m. EST when polls close in Georgia. A perennial top target for the GOP is five-term Rep. John Barrow from rural Georgia, who stands as one of the last Southern white Democrats in Congress. National Republicans and GOP-leaning outside groups have spent millions against Barrow in his race against Rick Allen. If Barrow loses and 19-term Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall stumbles in West Virginia — polls close there at 7:30 p.m. — Republicans will be on a roll.
After 8 p.m. poll closings, Republican success in close races in Florida (2), Illinois (3), Maine (1) and New Hampshire (2) will provide additional indications of a GOP romp.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS THAT DEMOCRATS CAN MITIGATE THEIR LOSSES?
Democrats have several opportunities to nab Republican seats and offset expected losses elsewhere.
In West Virginia, both parties made last-minute ad buys in hopes of capturing the open seat held by Republican Rep. Shelley Capito, who is expected to win easily in her Senate bid. Democrats are optimistic about the chances of a former state party chairman, Nick Casey, defeating Republican Alex Mooney, the former head of the Maryland Republican Party who moved to West Virginia.
In Florida, two-term Republican Rep. Steve Southerland has been tripped up by his all-male fundraiser and quip to his rival, Gwen Graham, about her attendance at lingerie parties. Graham is the daughter of former Gov. and onetime Sen. Bob Graham and a top Democratic recruit.
If freshmen Democrats Brad Schneider in Illinois and Joe Garcia in Florida can hold on, Democrats have a chance at holding Republicans to single-digit gains.
TWO MEN AND A BABY
New York Republican John Katko says there's no doubt that two-term Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei has gone Washington. The proof: Maffei's wife, Abby, delivered the couple's first child, Maya, at a Washington hospital this past summer, not in the central New York district that includes Syracuse.
Maffei said at a recent debate that where his daughter was born is irrelevant and dragging his wife, who works for a Washington-based international aid company, and child into the campaign was out of bounds. Plus, he said he was able to make every House vote for the district.
"If it's not out of bounds, maybe politics is as broken as everybody says," Maffei said.
Katko said Maya's birth was fair game because Maffei announced it during the summer and mentioned the hospital.
Maffei answered with a campaign ad criticizing Katko's "personal attacks on my family" that showed the couple with their newborn.
Voters will have the final say in the close race.
First-term Democrats who won on Obama's coattails in 2012 are struggling to hold onto their seats in a far less favorable climate for the party.
Among the incumbents to watch are Bill Enyart in Illinois; Sean Patrick Maloney, in a New York rematch with Nan Hayworth; Ami Bera battling former Rep. Doug Ose in California; and Steven Horsford in Nevada, who is running a radio ad in which Obama urges voters to back the lawmaker.
There's only a handful, including Southerland, but keep your eye on Nebraska, where eight-term Rep. Lee Terry has been unable to shake off comments he made about keeping his salary during the partial government shutdown last year. In Colorado, national Democrats pulled their money though Andrew Romanoff is still in a competitive race with Republican Rep. Mike Coffman.
Then there's Republican Rep. Michael Grimm, facing a 20-count indictment on charges of tax evasion, fraud and cash payments to illegal workers at a Manhattan restaurant. Grimm is on his own financially while rival Domenic Recchia, national Democrats and the Democratic-leaning House Majority PAC have spent millions.
House Majority recently bought $1.7 million for an ad critical of the congressman. Yet Grimm just may survive, in part because he's Staten Island and his rival is Brooklyn, which comprises 35 percent of the district.