We should closely watch voting results in three of 10 key U.S. Senate races and five of 35 key U.S. House races to see if a voter tidal wave is going to toss out Republican control of Congress in both houses.
If Democratic candidates win Senate seats currently held by Republicans in Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia, watch for a tidal wave that will give the donkey party control of the Senate.
Likewise, if donkeys fell elephants in four key House districts held by battle-tested Republicans for many years in Kentucky, Ohio, Connecticut, and North Carolina, head for solid tornado-proof basements. The electoral storm that follows would surely wipe out Republican control on Tuesday, making President George W. Bush not only a lame-duck but a dead duck.
There are some important caveats that some pundits have noticed, but here's a scorecard that seems to make a lot of sense.
In Senate races, Missouri incumbent Republican Jim Talent and Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, the state auditor, are neck-a-neck in the polls and McCaskill has blitzed the state in a final campaign tour after being endorsed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sunday. This is a key bellwether race to watch after big guns for both parties have repeatedly gone to Ohio to affect the outcome.
In Tennessee, the battle for retiring Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's seat between Republican businessman Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. is another squeaker, according to latest polling.
The same in Virginia, where incumbent Sen. George Allen has repeatedly flubbed on the campaign trail in his effort to thwart a tight challenge from moderate Democrat James Webb, a Marine who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as Navy secretary for President Reagan. The race is billed by competing pollsters as too close to call, and will obviously be decided, as will all races, by which party gets out its voters.
Polls are actually meaningless. It's boots on the ground, who shows up at the polls and actually votes. This year, both parties and their vested interest groups are working furiously and spending a lot of money to get out the vote for their respective candidates.
So let's fasten our seat belts. All the bloviating on TV and in the print press will be crossed out on Tuesday, November 7, 2006.
If Republican-held Senate seats are won by Democrats in Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia, Democrats will surely ride a tidal wave to take control and install Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada as majority leader.
The caveat that could change that outcome is if the very popular black Republican Lt. Gov. Michael Steele of Maryland beats Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin for the seat of veteran retiring Democrat Paul Sarbanes, which looks quite likely.
Double that if Republican State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. of New Jersey, son of his popular former governor father, beats appointed Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in an equally tight race laced by corruption allegations against Menendez.
Other hard-fought bellwether Senate outcomes to watch on Tuesday night:
Michigan's tight race between incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Republican sheriff of Oakland County Michael Bouchard (a possible Republican pickup); the battle for Montana's seat held by Republican Conrad Burns, considered a dead duck some months ago, but who has recently surged against a fierce challenge by Democrat John Tester (a possible Democratic pickup); tight races between incumbent Republican Mike DeWine and Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown in Ohio, incumbent Republican Lincoln Chafee and challenger Sheldon Whitehouse in Rhode Island, and incumbent Republican Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania (all possible Democratic pickups).
Republican challenger Michael McGavick hopes to knock off Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington in a tight race pollsters say leans to Cantwell.
The five bellwether House races include:
Florida's Rep. Clay Shaw in the southeast Congressional District 22, neighboring that of disgraced Rep. Mark Foley, who resigned amid a homosexual scandal involving a former teenage House page. Shaw faces a strong challenge by Democrat Ron Klein as news of the Foley scandal has saturated area media. Foley remains on the ballot, although Republicans chose candidate Joe Negron to defend the seat against Democratic challenger Tim Mahoney.
The two neighboring Florida districts are likely Democratic pick-ups as a result of the Foley scandal.
In Kentucky's left-leaning Congressional District 3 that encompasses part of Louisville and Jefferson County, incumbent five-term Republican Anne Northup faces Democrat John Yarmuth, who has brought in former President Bill Clinton and other big guns to help finance a Democratic pickup.
Ohio is afire with Democratic challenges.
In Ohio's House District 1, incumbent Republican Steve Chabot faces a fierce challenge by Democrat John Cranley.
Rep. Deborah Pryce, the fourth-ranking House Republican in Ohio's district 15, is in a close battle with Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, a Franklin County commissioner.
And in Ohio's District 18, where six-term incumbent Republican Rep. Bob Ney was forced to resign amid corruption and bribery charges involving Jack Abramoff, convicted lobbyist for Native American casino interests, GOP candidate state Sen. Joy Padgett faces a strong challenge by Democrat Zack Space that pollsters say is too close to call.
Rep. Rob Simmons in Connecticut's Congressional District 2 is in another bellwether race against Democrat Joe Courtney. Also, in another race to watch, veteran moderate Republican Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut District 4 has enjoyed endorsements for years from the New York Times, which this year endorsed his Democratic opponent Dianne Farrell.
In North Carolina's Congressional District 11, serving Asheville, veteran Republican Rep. Charles Taylor, one of the wealthiest members of Congress worth more than $55-million, has been hit with accusations that he used his Appropriations subcommittee chairman post to send federal funding to companies with which he and family members were associated. Taylor's Democratic opponent is former National Football League quarterback Heath Shuler, a popular figure in Asheville, making this another race to watch closely.
Other tight House races, according to pollsters, that might result in Democratic pickups and ultimate Democratic control of the House:
District 5 - Incumbent Republican Rep. J.D. Hayworth versus Democratic challenger Harry Mitchell. The Arizona Republic newspaper in Phoenix has endorsed Mitchell.
District 8 - The open seat in predominantly Democratic Tucson-Pima County of retiring Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe, who has refused to endorse the Republican candidate Randy Graf, who faces Democrat Gabrielle Giffords. The state Republican Party has already conceded the race to Giffords.
District 4 - Incumbent Republican Rep. John Doolittle faces a strong challenge from Democrat Charlie Brown.
District 5 - An open seat represented for many years by Republican Rep. Joel Hefley, who has refused to endorse Republican candidate Douglas Lamborn, a state senator, in his rece to keep the seat for the GOP against Democratic challenger Jay Fawcett. A recent Denver Post/Mason Dixon poll said the race is tied 37 percent for each candidate with 26 percent of voters undecided.
District 7 - An open seat represented by Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez, who is lagging in his current race for governor. Republican candidate Rick O'Donnell faces Democrat Ed Perlmutter and a recent Zogby poll said the race was too close to call leading up to the election.
District 13 - An open seat of Republican Rep. Katherine Harris, who ran for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. The district leans Republican, but GOP car dealer Vern Buchanan is in a fierce contest with Democrat Christine Jennings, who has out-distanced Buchanan 50-38 in recent independent polling.
District 8, redrawn by the state legislature, has former Rep. Mac Collins running against incumbent Democrat Jim Marshall, another race too close to call, so a possible Republican pickup.
District 6 - Open seat represented for decades by retiring Republican Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the House's champion of pro-life legislation. Republican businessman Peter Roskam has lots of money in his race to succeed Hyde, but faces Democrat Iraqi war veteran Tammy Duckworth, a double leg amputee after she piloted a Blackhawk helicopter downed by a rocket-propelled grenade. Duckworth has mounted an aggressive challenge for the seat, making it a possible Democratic pickup.
District 8 - Incumbent Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean faces a strong challenge from Republican David McSweeney in affluent Chicago suburbs of Schaumburg and Lake County. A possible Republican pickup.
District 1 - Republican Michael Whalen versus Democrat Bruce Braley, in a Republican-leaning district with conflicting polls showing the race is a toss-up.
District 3 - Five term Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell faces Republican challenger Jeff Lamberti in a race that pollsters say is too close to call.
District 6 - An open seat represented by Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy, running for the Senate, has Republican Michele Bachmann running again Democrat Patty Wetterling, who has an eight-point lead according to a recent poll by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. A possible Democratic pickup.
District 1 - Incumbent Republican Rep. Heather Wilson faces state Attorney General Patricia Madrid in a swing district. Madrid has hit Wilson heavily for her consistent support of Bush administration policies, particularly in Iraq.
District 7 - Incumbent Republican Rep. Curt Weldon, facing accusations by Democratic challenger Joseph Sestak, a retired Navy admiral, that he has fostered a climate of incumbency corruption, is seen as another possible Republican casualty.
District 17 - A possible Republican pickup as incumbent Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards faces accusations of tax evasion. His Republican opponent, Van Taylor, is an Irag war veteran.
District 22 - The resignation of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has caused turmoil in this race as DeLay remains on the ballot. Votes for him will apparently go to Republican write-in candidate Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, who is opposed by former Democratic Rep. Nick Lampson.
At-large District - An open seat as Independent Rep. Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist who caucused with Democrats, is running for the Senate. Republican candidate Martha Rainville, an Air Force officer and adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, is running six points ahead of Democratic state Sen. Peter Welch, according to recent polls. A possible Republican pickup.
District 1 - Incumbent Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan resigned his post as senior Democratic member of the House Ethics Committee amid charges that he used his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to secure more than $150 million for five non-profit groups in his district - one run by a former congressional aide. He is opposed by Republican businessman Chris Wakim in a conservative-leaning district that voted 68 percent for President George W. Bush in 2004. A possible Republican pickup.
Watch these Senate and House races. My media and political brethren on all sides of the ideologlical and political divide are talking about Democratic takeover of the House as a probable certainty and reserving the Senate for Republicans with perhaps a four-seat gain by Democrats.
I simply urge you to watch these listed Senate and House races as a more likely gauge of what will actually happen.