The Realclearpolitics U.S. Senate forecast reflects a similar shift. Since February, surveys have projected either a 50-50 tie or a Republican-controlled Senate. But this week, as polls turned against Republican candidates, the projection changed from a 52-48 Republican Senate to a 52-48 Democratic Senate.
The trend could reverse again, of course. Now that some pundits are declaring Romney toast, Republican friends are tweaking me for having said that about George W. Bush in 2000. But one of my mistakes in that premature verdict was failing to appreciate the full universe of possibilities. One possibility now is that Romney and the GOP will recover. Another is that things will get worse for them. All year, we’ve been asking whether Republicans will take the Senate. What if we’ve been looking at the wrong end of the Capitol? If Democrats build an advantage on the generic ballot, could they retake the House?
I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before. And while a Democratic House would certainly help Obama, he doesn’t need that to make his point. An election-day purge of notable Republican congressmen, coupled with defeats in Senate races they had expected to win, would sober the GOP. The party that says foreign adversaries listen only to intimidation, not to Obama’s rational pleas, might develop new respect for the president’s agenda.
That seems to be what Obama is thinking. At last night’s forum, he urged Hispanics to make immigration a voting issue. If Republican see “that people who care about this issue have turned out in strong numbers,” he suggested, “they will rethink it, if not because it’s the right thing to do, at least because it’s in their political interest to do so.”
If I were a Republican politician looking at the current generic ballot numbers, Hispanic voting trends, and long-term demographic projections, I wouldn’t be keen to talk right now about whether Washington can be changed from the inside. I wouldn’t want to spend the rest of this election debating whether Congress needs a clear message from the people. I wouldn’t be comforted to see Obama feeling confident enough in his lead and in his party’s poll numbers to ask for a Democratic mandate.
That isn’t Romney’s perspective. He isn’t running for Congress. He’s looking for something, anything, to change the dynamics of the presidential race. And he may have found it. I’m just not sure the change will be what his party had in mind.
William Saletan's latest short takes on the news, via Twitter: