Democrats Brace for the Worst in Midterms

President Obama and Democrats are convinced it's going to be ugly at the polls Tuesday. But how ugly?

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BY Michael Mcauliff


DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU WASHINGTON - President Obama and his fellow Democrats are convinced it's going to be ugly at the polls Tuesday.

The only questions is, How bad?

"I'm not vomiting yet," said one fatalistic Democratic operative running several candidates this year.

[Read more about the 2010 midterm elections.]

But some Democratic experts polled by the Daily News admit the country is so angry with its leaders that an electoral calamity is conceivable.

At best, just about every Democratic consultant agrees losses in the neighborhood of 50 seats in the House are likely. And that means the Republicans, who need to take over 39 Democratic districts to win the majority, are poised to seize control from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

That would mean the end of any grand legislative designs Obama contemplated for the two years leading up to his reelection campaign.

"There could be some surprises Tuesday night, but somewhere around 50 is probably about right," said Chris Lehane, a California-based consultant who cut his teeth in the Clinton White House.

The reasons, he said, are pretty obvious.

"You have a President who walked into office facing some of the greatest economic challenges since the Great Depression, and on top of that, two wars," Lehane said. "It's an extremely difficult environment trying to govern in," he added.

Lehane added that people are afraid, impatient and frustrated that Obama's promise of change didn't come fast enough - a view GOP consultants echoed.

"We really think all these problems should be solved by the 11 o'clock news," said Rich Galen, a veteran of the 1994 GOP takeover. "If it doesn't happen, then we get really cranky."

He also predicted his side will grab about 50 seats, but envisions bigger gains.

"If lightning strikes and Barney Frank loses in Massachusetts, then you're looking at 65 or 70, but I've never seen that in my lifetime," said Galen, referring to the well-known liberal congressman who has an unexpectedly tight race.

"I have never seen the Republican generic ballot this positive this close to an election," he said.

Political scientists say this year is shaping up like many expected - but on steroids. "It's just the classic pendulum swing of a midterm election," said the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato. "It's bigger than usual," he added, noting the venom of voters on a host of topics, such as the economy and health care reform.

The biggest wild card is control of the Senate. Few pundits see a likely path for the GOP to grab the upper chamber, in part because Tea Party candidates won primaries in moderate states like Delaware, turning near-certain wins into tossups.

Most political pros, including Sabato, think eight Senate seats are likely to shift to the GOP. He notes that the last six times the House has flipped, the Senate has gone with it.

[See a roundup of political cartoons on the 2010 campaigns.]

The difficulty in history repeating itself is that in some of the states that need to swing Republican, Democrats have been especially aggressive in their ground game.

In two states where Democrats are in trouble - Washington and California - voting began by mail weeks ago, before the flood grew as red as it is now.

Lacking those states, the GOP needs to run the table elsewhere, and that's a tall order.

The Connecticut Senate race now appears to be trending back to the Democrat, and battles in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Illinois are too close to call.

Obama was in Cleveland Sunday, urging Buckeye State voters to head to the polls.

"I need you to keep on fighting," Obama told a half-full auditorium in Cleveland. "I need you to keep on believing. I need you to knock on some doors. I need you to talk to your neighbors."

Either way, GOP gains this year may be short-lived.

"The leash that the Republicans are going to have in the House is going to be very short," said Galen. "If they don't get something done in a hurry, it's going to switch right back in two years."

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