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Republican strategists are growing more and more concerned about the state of the Senate race in Pennsylvania, where former Rep. Pat Toomey has held a commanding lead for weeks over Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak.
A Democratic campaign operative shared internal poll results that showed Toomey with a lead of just two points. A similar poll had shown Sestak trailing by 10 points a month ago.
The operative allowed that a recent survey from Democratic firm Public Policy Polling that showed Sestak up by one point was probably "too optimistic" because it was based on a model that had a higher Democratic turnout than in 2008.
"But this is real. This is happening," he said.
A Republican with access to statewide Pennsylvania polls characterized the Democratic assessment of the state of the race as "accurate."
As Toomey and Sestak head into their final debate tonight, the stakes couldn't be higher.
A Republicans strategist who is advising several campaigns in the Keystone State, but not Toomey's, said that the situation is "dangerous" and that the risks were "very real."
"People took this race for granted for too long. People forget that this is an overwhelmingly Democratic state," he told Power Play. "This was never going to be easy."
Another Republican operative, though, was quick to point out that gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett was still running with a large lead over Democrat Dan Onorato, a sign that GOP voters were still engaged.
Part of Toomey's problem may have been his early success. With such large leads, his race has not gotten the attention that other Republican pickup opportunities have. Politicos looked away because this race was supposed to be in the bag for the GOP.
It's a similar experience that Democrats had in 2008 when polls in September started to show then-Sen. Barack Obama slipping from a sturdy lead to a tie with Sen. John McCain in the state.
Obama later rebounded to win the state by 10 points, but Pennsylvania voters are notoriously hard to keep in a partisan box.
There's also the fact that Sestak has always planned to base his campaign on a late surge, just as he did in his successful primary campaign against Democrat Arlen Specter.
One key to Sestak's surge may be the increased enthusiasm in urban Philadelphia following a campaign rally last weekend by President Obama and a push in local black media outlets by Democratic groups to equate a vote for Sestak with a vote for Obama.
Power Play expects conservative groups to shift resources to Pennsylvania for the final week of the campaign.
And as the success of Pittsburgh's Corbett in the gubernatorial race shows, those resources would likely be best spent convincing independents and conservative Democrats in the western part of the state that Toomey, who hails from the east, is their guy too.
Thanks to Today's Power Play Crew: Kimberly Schwandt, April Girouard, Bree Tracey and Molly Mathews
How Big a Wave? Breaking Down the Journal Poll
Democrats are rallying to their president in a time of distress. But Republicans are kicking their already supercharged voter intensity into yet another gear.
According to the new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, the Republican advantage on voter intensity, which had slipped from 19 points in August to 14 points in September, is back to an astonishing 20-point advantage.
Democrats are offering their support for President Obama (35 percent say they'll be voting to shore up the president) and Obama's overall job approval is steady at 47 percent. His handling of the economy is steady at 43 percent approval.
But overall, the news is almost impossibly bad for Democrats. As many Democratic strategists feared, the efforts by the administration to get liberals fired up and ready to go have seemingly further dispirited moderate Democrats and further incensed Republicans.
Peter Hart, the venerable Democratic pollster who conducts the WSJ survey with Republican Bill McInturff described the results as indicating a "category four hurricane" blowing against Democrats.
McInturff, the dean of GOP pollsters, forecasts a gain of 52 or 53 House seats based on the numbers.
How does the intensity gap work? The poll shows us very neatly.
Among all registered voters, Democrats lead Republicans on the generic ballot 46 percent to 44 percent - about the same as one might expect.
Among likely voters - those who say they are very certain to vote - Republicans lead by 7 points, 50 percent to 43 percent.
And in the 92 House districts judged most competitive by the pollsters, Republicans lead by 14 points.
We can divine from this that many Democrats plan to stay home and that they are more likely to stay home in the places that their party needs them the most, swing districts.
It's the Catch 22 of politics - voters where you need them the most are the first ones to slip away.
And remember too that not voting is oftentimes a vote in itself. Many in politics operate under the assumption that people aren't voting because they're not motivated. How many don't go to the polls because they don't want to vote against their own party?
And there is something of a Heisenberg Effect at work in this poll too. Such numbers from the most significant public poll will tend to send knowing Democrats over the edge, which will then trickle down to rank and file voters. Like George Soros, nobody wants to stand in the path of an avalanche.Many Democrats bragged that their advantage this cycle was being able to see the wave coming from far off and prepare for it. This poll shows that the wave has not been turned. And now it's too late to try to outrun it.
The Day in Quotes"...I feel like I've got a lot of work left to do."-- President Obama in an interview with National Journal when asked about his 2012 plans.
"Completely unfounded, completely unfounded...Completely unfounded."
-- President Obama in an interview with National Journal when asked about rumors that he might dump Vice President Joe Biden as running mate in favor of Hillary Clinton.
"I'm confident she's going to have opposition, and I look forward to supporting that opposition."
-- Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) talking about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to local TV station WWAY.
"I hope that she is not a candidate for speaker. I don't think the issues that she's pursued are good for the district I represent."
-- Rep. Jason Altmire (D-PA) to Roll Call when asked about whether he would again support Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House.
"It's hard to answer a hypothetical question when you don't know who the candidates are, you don't know if she's running again."
-- Rep. Mike McMahon (D-NY) when asked by the Staten Island Advance whether he would again support Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House."It's like Whac-A-Mole."
-- Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, speaking to the Wall Street Journal after checking a daily report on Republican campaign ads popping up from coast to coast.
"There never has been an accusation of fraud."-- Alexi Gainnoulias, Democratic candidate for Senate from Illinois, standing up in Tuesday's debate for the integrity of the voting process in Chicago.
"We're a punch line."
-- Mark Kirk, Republican candidate for Senate from Illinois, explaining in Tuesday's debate his view of Illinois political corruption.
"Were you shot at?"
-- The repeated question of Alexi Giannoulias, Democratic candidate for Senate from Illinois, in Tuesday's debate.
"I have put my life on the line for the United States as many of my fellow veterans have done, but your entire campaign is about a military record in which I served. I put it on the line. You were back in the rear with the gear."
-- Mark Kirk, Republican candidate for Senate from Illinois, in response.
"Don't vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message, you can no longer take us for granted, don't vote."
-- English translation of a new Spanish-language ad running in Nevada this year from a group called "Latinos for Reform."
"I couldn't be more proud of her and of her performance and her continued performance. So, I think, you begin to think about legacy and I think that Sarah Palin will play a very big role in the American political scene for a long time."
-- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to ABC News.
"You just don't want to hear the facts. You don't want to hear the truth."
-- Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) responding to hecklers at his debate with Republican Chip Cravaack.
"You don't know the truth."-- A heckler in response.
"The president is out this week for the third time, Michelle is out for the first time, the vice president is out here for the second time, that is all the proof you need to know that Barbara Boxer is in serious trouble and in less than two weeks we can win this race."
-- California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina on "Hannity."
"When you're running against a sitting representative Republican Governor of the state of Florida, who wants to be an independent out of convenience. And you're running against a former speaker of the House of Representatives -- two very privileged candidates -- that had a lot to do with the outcome of what we're facing right now."
-- Five-term Congressman Kendrick Meek "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" about why polls show him finishing a distant third in Florida's Senate race.
"I think a handshake is something honorable men do...before we had contracts we had handshakes that expressed we were making an arrangement based on our honor. And I don't think I can shake the hand of someone who shows a lack of honor by attacking a man's faith.
-- Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul on "Hannity"
"People don't feel it yet."
-- Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning in Florida for Democratic Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, discussing the growth he says is taking place in the economy.
"Democrats have the Midas touch this year, everything they touch turns to a muffler."
-- Mary Matalin, Republican strategist, speaking at New York's Al Smith Dinner.
"Good, you should be. Degenerates like you should be."
-- Spike Maynard, Republican House candidate from West Virginia, recorded by WSAZ when a protester outside a campaign event told him he was there supporting incumbent Democratic Rep. Nick Joe Rahall.
In a new Quinnipiac University poll of Ohio voters, 58 percent said President Obama's frequent campaigning for embattled incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland made no difference in their decision and 32 percent said the president's visits made them less likely to support Strickland. Only 9 percent said it made them more likely to support Strickland.
Gallup: Independents Almost Twice as Likely to Value a Bill Clinton Endorsement Over an Obama Endorsement
CBS News: 31% of 2008 Obama Voters Uncommitted or Leaning GOP
Rasmussen: Kentucky Senate - Paul (R) 47%, Conway (D) 42%
Insider Advantage: Georgia Governor -- Deal (R) 45%, Barnes (D 40%Rasmussen: Michigan Governor - Snyder (R) 54%, Bernero (D) 34%
Rasmussen: Nevada Governor - Sandoval (R) 56%, Rory Reid 37%
Wisconsin Public Radio: GOP up 12 Points in Statewide Registered Voter Generic Ballot
Trail Riders - Frank Fright?; Tancredo Talks; Christie a la Sherman; Krauthammer Explains Endgame
Follow the Money -- Frank-ly Alarmed?
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has loaned $200,000 to his own campaign against Republican challenger Sean Bielat.
Frank, who has been in the House since 1980, reported having $1 million on hand at the end of September according to campaign finance reports. Bielat reported $379,000 in fundraising through the end of September.
2012 Watch -- Christie Goes Sherman
Echoing the line of Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman when he was asked about running for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told an interviewer from WCBS radio on Tuesday:
"If nominated, I shall not run. If elected, I shall not serve. How about that? I'll try that one tonight."
Sarcasting About for Youth Votes
President Obama will appear on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" on the night before the election as part of his ongoing bid to reengage his supporters from 2008. Obama has already given a tacit endorsement of host Jon Stewart's ironical "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington this weekend.
Ad Watch -- Rossi Bombs Murray With Boeing
Washington state Republican Senate candidate Dino Rossi is wasting no time in capitalizing on Sen. Patty Murray's proud statement in their debate last week that she didn't just read President Obama's national health care law but "helped write it."
Murray's remarks came just before tens of thousands of Washington employees of Boeing received notices of major premium increases for their health insurance next year owing to provisions of the Democratic plan.
Rossi is up in heavy rotation with an ad that replays Murray's credit taking statement.
Democrats Level Housekeeper Charges At Blunt... From 1990
The Missouri Democratic Party has released a 1990 letter from then-Missouri Secretary of State Roy Blunt to the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a fellow Missouri politician, asking that he look into the case of a Nicaraguan woman who had "done some work" for his then-wife Roseann.
Blunt's Senate campaign said the woman was a church volunteer who the family was trying to help for a few months 20 years ago and that the woman had received no special treatment in her plea for asylum.
GOP Spends in Alaska
In a sign of concern for Republicans, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has purchased $162,000 of TV time in Alaska, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Nominee Joe Miller has been beset by questions about his long-ago tenure as a city official and his personal finances as the write-in candidacy of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whom Miller defeated in the GOP primary gears up.
Plus, it's hard for Republicans to know where the race stands. A state that is hard to poll because of remote, often isolated clusters of voters is made more challenging by Murkowski's write-in campaign. It's hard for pollsters to know whether a voter's stated preference for Murkowski will actually result in a properly executed write-in ballot.
And Now, A Word From Charles
"It's a matter of the triage of resources. Where are you going to send the big guns? If you are Democrat, you can hold the Senate. It requires the Republicans to draw an inside straight to get about six or seven of the toss ups. So in that case, you want to put all your resources in those states, for example, in Washington state as you showed earlier, because if you flip one or two of those you maintain the Senate, and that would be extremely important the next couple of years. Losing one House is one thing, losing two is a big catastrophe if you're a Democrat."
-- Charles Krauthammer explaining the Democratic endgame on "Special Report with Bret Baier."
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.