The wave’s momentum, the Palin effect, and Obama’s rationale for defeat

Finally, it’s time to vote. But there’s a full day left to wait for results. In the meantime, here are three dominant political themes for the days ahead.

One, the Republican wave gained serious momentum over the last three days and could be a tsunami. Two, the divisions within the Republican Party may be just a prelude to what happens starting this week. And three, President Obama appears ready to offer up the same explanation he’s given after past setbacks: voters don’t understand what he’s doing and that’s why they don’t like it.

The Wave is getting bigger by the hour

A series of data points moved the needle back closer to panic for Senate Democrats over the weekend and through Monday. Indicators in virtually every close race for Democratic-held seats – Illinois, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania – moved those contests toward the Republican. And in Washington, last minute polls made clear that Sen. Patty Murray will have to sweat it out Tuesday night, possibly keeping the entire nation waiting to see who controls the Senate. The two remaining wild cards are West Virginia and Alaska. Polls tightened in the Mountaineer state, and Republican Joe Miller got a much-needed dose of good news Monday in the form of a Public Policy Polling survey that showed him with 37 points to 30 points for both Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Scott McAdams.

It seemed over the weekend as if a Senate takeover for Republicans was out of the question. But on Election Day, the energy is going to the right in a big way and no one knows how far that goes. That said, polls close in West Virginia at 7:30 p.m. Eastern and that will tell us a lot. If Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin can’t pull that race out despite holding a few point-edge in polls (Nate Silver of the New York Times gives him an 88 percent chance of winning), it’s going to be a very long night for Democrats.

In the House, estimates of how far above 39 seats the Republican pickup would go have been climbing as well. Last week it was 50 to 60 seats. Over the weekend prognosticators began to mention the 70-seat threshold. The Cook Political Report’s last analysis showed 25 guaranteed GOP pickups, with an additional 49 Democratic-held seats in the tossup category. Democrats can win half the tossups and still see Republicans gain 50 seats.

One of the first races to look for is at 6 p.m., when the first polls of the day close in Indiana and Kentucky. If Rep. Joe Donnelly, the incumbent Democrat in Indiana’s 2nd district, can’t defeat Republican challenger Jackie Walorski, that might be the first sign that GOP gains are going to be much higher than 50 seats. If Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly in Virginia’s 11th district and Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher in Virginia’s 9th district get knocked out when polls there close at 7 p.m., that will be the second sign of an epic wave.