It’s races like Ryun getting closer that is driving the “wave theory” among the prognosticators. They figure if he’s vulnerable, Republicans are in big trouble. But I was talking to a GOP type about this and he says it’s kind of funny—races like that are coming into play, but they haven’t seen a corresponding deterioration in other races that have been toss-ups all along. In other words, you figure if a formerly safe GOP seat is coming into play, all the former toss-ups would be titling Democratic. Republicans say they aren’t seeing that. Also, they think some of the Republicans you would write off this year in tough areas—Shays, Johnson, etc.—are doing better than expected because they already have built in a certain independence from the GOP. So, if you’re mad at Bush, you might not take it out on them. They hope this is true in places like CT, NY, and PA. ~Rich Lowry

There are two explanations for why there has been a sudden endangerment of many previously safe Republican seats (or at least those seats considered to be safe): the first is that they were always endangered all year long but no one was paying attention before now and so they are not proof of a growing wave of discontent, and the second is that they have become endangered because the wave continues to build.  In one sense, it is irrelevant which it is, because the same number of districts is at risk no matter how we understand how it happened.  But the dismissive Republican reply that they are not seeing increasing Democratic strength in the hotly contested races that have been on everyone’s radar all year is not convincing, and here’s why: because the GOP has spotted the weaknesses in some of their “hurricane shutters,” as Chuck Todd often calls them, they have moved to repair and upgrade their defenses against the coming storm.  So, even as the storm rages around them, the well-known vulnerable districts continue to remain as “toss ups” rather than shift clearly into the Dem column as Lowry’s Republican contact thinks they would.  Meanwhile, in the process of focusing on these relatively few districts, they have neglected equally vulnerable spots elsewhere, in part because they never expected the storm to be as bad as it actually seems to be. 

It’s as if they prepared the outlying coastal areas well for a hurricane but didn’t bother doing anything further inland on the assumption that all they had to defend against was storm surge and not massive flooding in the interior.  Now that the storm seems to be even bigger and is hitting even more territory than they anticipated, they are rushing to shore up their defenses at the last minute while they hope that the reinforced “shutters” they have put up in the better-known endangered districts in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, New Mexico and Kentucky continue to hold while they try to save other districts that are being buffeted by gale-force winds and heavy rains.  (They are also hoping that the Dem candidates self-destruct in the final days, dissipating the storm before it makes landfall.)  The problem is that the more attention and resources they put towards these new weak districts the less they will have available for the final week elsewhere.  In the end, the reinforced defenses and the new weak points may all give way under the brunt of the storm. 

The Republicans are now banking on the hope that the Connecticut Republicans, for example, were so far-sighted and well-prepared that they will ride out the storm and make a crucial difference.  But all signs point to the relative irrelevance of the Connecticut races to control of the House at this point.  The Midwest and now, incredibly, the Plains states are becoming the main battleground where the fate of the House will really be decided (with some help one way or the other from the Mountain West).  The Northeast, long believed to be the region that would see the greatest GOP bloodletting, may also see multiple GOP losses, but it may end being, along with the South, one of their relatively better regions because they were always expecting a tough election to a degree that Ryun, Smith, Musgrave and Hayworth, among others, obviously were not.  Structures build with a hurricane or tornado in mind tend to do a lot better even in the worst storms than those that get hit with a freak storm that no one was expecting and for which no one had prepared.