WASHINGTON — Barring a dramatic change in the political landscape over the next three weeks, Democrats appear headed toward a decisive victory on Election Day that would give them broad power over the federal government.
The victory would send Barack Obama to the White House and give him larger Democratic majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate — and perhaps a filibuster-proof margin there.
That could mark a historic realignment of the country's politics on a scale with 1932 or 1980, when the out party was given power it held for a generation, and used it to transform government's role in American society.
Obama, a 47-year-old first-term senator from Illinois, is now well positioned to win the Electoral College. He's comfortably holding most of the "blue" states that went for Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry in past elections, polls show, and he's gaining momentum to take away several "red" states that have voted Republican in recent elections, including Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Virginia.
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The Democrats are also widely expected to take big gains in House and Senate races. Like Obama, they're reaching deep into once solid Republican territory. Even such stalwarts as North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, could be in jeopardy.
Building on the Democrats' sweeping wins two years ago when they seized control of both chambers of Congress, big gains this year would be reminiscent of the Republican gains in 1978 and 1980 that delivered "the Reagan Revolution."
Former Reagan political adviser Ed Rollins likened today's landscape to that in 1980, when voters were angry at President Jimmy Carter and the Democrats and turned to Reagan in droves once they felt comfortable with the idea of him as president.
"Barack has met the threshold," Rollins said. "Once Reagan met the threshold, people wanted to get rid of Carter and they did in a landslide. This is going to turn into a landslide."
Democrats already had a political advantage heading into the fall campaign, with just 9 percent of Americans thinking the country's on the right track, the lowest ever recorded. President Bush's approval rating this week was only a point higher than Richard Nixon's on the day he was forced to resign from office, reflecting voter anger at Republicans as the party controlling the White House.
Add the collapse of stock prices and anxiety about the economy, and polls show public opinion surging in favor of Democrats.
"The fundamentals have come together almost perfectly and at just the right moment for the Democrats," said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "It could hardly look better for the Democrats."
"This election right now is exclusively about economy," said independent analyst Charlie Cook. "Despite the fact that the House and Senate are in Democratic hands, Republicans seem to have total ownership of the problem. Fair or not, it's true."
It's also made it much more difficult for Republican John McCain to score with his escalating attacks on Obama for his ties to such controversial figures as William Ayers, a former member of a violent Vietnam-era protest group. "You can't break through with the economy being so overwhelming," Rollins said. "No one cares."
Obama's strength is evident on the political map.
Confident of holding all the states that went for Kerry in 2004, Obama's playing offense in several Republican states. He has an edge or is competitive in such states as:
_ Colorado, where he's up by an average of 4 percentage points, according to recent polls there compiled by RealClearPolitics.com.
_ Florida, where he's up by 3 points.
_ Nevada, where he's up by 3 points.
_ Ohio, where he's up by 3 points.
_ Virginia, where's up by 5 points.
Most of those are still close enough to be considered toss-ups.
But as of this week, Obama now leads in enough states to secure more than the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency.
He could lose some of those leads, of course. There's still one more presidential debate on Wednesday. And events could change. A terrorist attack, for example, could turn voters back to McCain's political strength: his standing on foreign policy and national security.
"But I don't know if even that would work," Cook said. "It's not like people would forget their pocketbooks."
Democrats also are expected to expand their majority in the House, which they now control 235-199 with one vacancy, and in the Senate, which they control 51-49 with the support of two independents.
Three renowned analysts of congressional races — Cook, Sabato and Stuart Rothenberg — this week all increased their forecasts of Democratic gains.
In the House, they expect the Democrats to pick up 15 to 30 seats. In the Senate, they expect the Democrats to pick up six to nine.
"I now can't rule out 60 seats for this November," Rothenberg said. That's the magic number a majority needs under Senate rules to break filibusters — and something that no party or president has enjoyed for nearly three decades.
All tend to agree that the Democrats are all but certain to pick up Senate seats in New Mexico and Virginia. Other potential gains are in Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina.
In North Carolina, Dole trails by an average of 2 points. In Kentucky, McConnell leads by an average of just 7 points — he won by 65 percent to 35 percent in 2002.
Even in solidly Republican Georgia, Sen. Saxby Chambliss finds himself in a fight, leading by only 3 points.
"When you're paying attention to Georgia and Kentucky, wow," Cook said. "Who would have thought Republicans would be having problems in places like this?"
Added Rothenberg: "Republicans appear to be heading into a disastrous election that will usher in a very bleak period for the party. A new generation of party leaders will have to figure out how to pick up the pieces and make their party relevant after November."
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