If you're too impatient to wait for results to trickle in out west, look to the Pennsylvania Senate race to serve as an early indicator of whether election night will be bad or really bad for Democrats. Right now, polls show Democrat Joe Sestak and Republican Pat Toomey are essentially tied.
Their swing state has been hit hard by the recession, and a big chunk of its white working-class voters preferred Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama. Toomey's early lead has been eroded by tough negative ads, including one that features poodle poop as a metaphor for GOP policy. "Except for the adorable-looking dog, that commercial tells a lot about this campaign: It's blunt, it's negative, and it's all about candidates trying to tie their opponents to everything voters don't like about the state of the nation," Doyle McManus writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The outcome will depend, of course, on how many voters each side can turn out. Those numbers will tell us something about whether the Republicans' expected wave is a tsunami or merely a ripple — and whether the GOP will have a mandate for big change or merely benefit from Americans' disappointment with Obama and their long-held preference for divided government."
- A Toomey Victory Would Show Tea Party Strength, E.J. Dionne argues at The Washington Post. "And the O'Donnell effect has larger implications. Republican gains next week are inevitable. But if Senate candidates on the right end of Republican politics lose here and in most of the other states they are contesting (Colorado, Wisconsin, Alaska, Kentucky and Nevada), conservatives will have trouble claiming this election as an ideological mandate and a sign that the country had moved well to the right of where it was two years ago. So far, being righter-than-right has been anything but helpful."
- Democratic Insiders Are Skeptical that Sestak can pull it off, Hotline's James A. Barnes reports. National Journal's poll of Democratic insiders finds that only 53 percent think the Democrat can win in Pennsylvania. On the other hand, Republican insiders are far more confident, with the overwhelming majority predicting Toomey's victory.
- Sestak Must Hold the Suburbs, Tim Fernholtz reports for The American Prospect. Fernholtz sees tightening poll numbers and wonders if "Democratic voters are rallying after a summer of apathy." He reports, "The residential communities of southeast Pennsylvania were for decades home to reliable, if moderate, Republican voters, but demographic shifts toward white-collar workers and minorities since 1988 as well as changes in the Republican Party have given Democrats an advantage. A concentrated effort among Democrats shifted the local rolls from a 20,000-voter Republican advantage in 2003 to a 13,000 Democratic advantage in 2008." Bush helped motivate the shift, and this election will show how by what margin they'll swing back."
- Here Come the Big Guns, Andrew Miga reports for the Associated Press. Miga warns undecided voters in Pennsylvania to "brace" as the extremely close Senate race enters its final days and the national parties ship in their very best bold-faced names. Tim Pawlenty, Chris Christie, and Haley Barbour will be stumping for GOP candidate Pat Toomey; Bill Clinton and the president and first lady will spend the weekend rallying for Joe Sestak. Sestak's campaign is calling 27,000 voters a night; Toomey's is calling 36,000. "Democrats are seen as having a superior get-out-the-vote organization in Pennsylvania, but the party's operation was not strong enough to carry Specter to victory in the party primary this year," Miga notes.
- Dems Are Using Old-School Tactics, the Huffington Post's Sam Stein reports. In Philly, "operatives are turning to a technique that President Obama deemed antiquated during his run in the state's presidential primary in 2008," Stein says. The party "will observe the time-honored practice of passing around 'street money' to ensure that the party machinery is running on all cylinders come Election Day. The money, usually totaling several hundred thousand dollars, is funneled to foot soldiers and operatives who help stream voters to polling places."