What Surge?

Much of the day-before chatter about the House is centering on national polling numbers that show Republicans drawing closer to Democrats in a generic ballot, with Drudge, among others, pushing the idea of a last-minute surge.

But the latest race-by-race data still portends a big day for Democrats tomorrow. For incumbents, the magic number in polling is supposedly 50 percent – the idea being that undecided voters overwhelmingly break for the challenger on Election Day.

One classic case study of this phenomenon was in New Jersey in 1993, when Jim Florio led Christie Whitman in poll after poll – sometimes by double digits – from June all the way until November. But he never surpassed 49 percent – which is exactly what he ended up with on Election Day, when he lost by 29,000 votes.

The rule is hardly universal, as George W. Bush’s win over John Kerry proved. But for Republicans, it’s a very ominous sign how many of their House and Senate incumbents – even in supposedly safe seats – continue to poll significantly below the 50 percent mark in independent polls. A good example of this can be found in the upstate 20th District, where a weekend Siena College poll placed Kristen Gillibrand three points ahead of Republican Rep. John Sweeney, 46 to 43 percent.

Granted, there are some extenuating circumstances, but in the national picture, this has not even been a top-tier Democratic target. And it’s not an aberration. In New Hampshire, for instance, which last sent a Democrat to Congress 14 years ago, Charlie Bass, an exceedingly moderate Republican incumbent with a famous-in-his-home-state surname, now can’t even crack 40 percent – this in a race that wasn’t even in the Democrats’ top 40 list of targets just two months ago.

And that’s not even taking into account the completely unforeseen surprise results that always accompany national political waves. But look at Nebraska’s dirt-poor Third District – now represented by the retiring Tom Osborne, who coached the state university to one national football title and a share of two others – and you may get the feeling something big is coming. The district gave George W. Bush 75 percent of the vote in 2004, making it one of the reddest in the nation. And yet in the race for its open seat, Democrat Scott Kleeb is within striking distance of Republican Adrian Smith – so much so that Kleeb’s national party ponied up $100,000 last week for his cause and Bush himself campaigned for Smith over the weekend.

If the John Sweeneys and Charlie Basses of the world are actually trailing the day before the election – and if President Bush is being forced to spend his time in the heart of what is supposedly his party’s firewall – well, that’s why some Democrats privately believe they’re on the verge of a 30 to 40 seat gain in the House tomorrow.

– Steve Kornacki