Every election is really two elections.
First, there is the base vs. base contest, where partisans battle to see which side can turn out more of its members on Election Day (now really Election Month).
This is gang warfare. Do the Jets have enough new recruits? Do the Sharks have more switchblades?
This is the election in which the most overused and least understood phrase of the 2010 midterms comes into play: "voter enthusiasm." If the Jets think that their gang leader has been stingy with hijacked cigarettes and the Sharks are inflamed over what some Jet said about a Shark's sister, that means the Sharks will have a big advantage at the rumble.
The best example of a base versus base election in the recent past was in 2004, where Republicans won by squeezing every last possible base vote out of the electorate and getting them to the polls.
Democrats have been focusing on this fight for months. President Obama and his lieutenants have been hyping the alleged villainy of their "enemies" in an effort to get their gang as outraged as the Republicans are. They have also been employing the classic wedge issue attack by bringing up social issues in inflammatory ways.
Power Play is not aware of any time when the Senate has had to consider the issue of nature versus nurture in the origins of homosexuality, but a Colorado voter might be excused for thinking that the issue is constantly dangling over the upper chamber.
And while there has been a natural coalescing among fractious Democrats with the election nearing, the "enthusiasm gap" persists.
Today's New York Times/CBS poll shows us that 60 percent of registered Republican voters are "more enthusiastic" about this election than typical ones, compared to 40 percent among registered Democrats.
But that question could be misleading. One could be equally interested or even less interested and still vote. So we turn to the favorability of the parties - how many people line up with the Jets versus how many people line up with the Sharks.
Favorables for the Republican Party were up 7 points from last month to 41 percent. Democratic favorables were steady at 46 percent.
There are more Democrats than Republicans, so anything close to parity in this contest is a big win for the GOP. That means despite all the Obama jabs at John Boehner and Karl Rove, ranks and file GOPers are content to vote within party lines this year.
President Obama's approval rating overall was steady at 43 percent, suggesting that he had already maxed out partisan support last month. Low approval ratings largely dependent on one's own party are not the place any president wants to be after year two - a slim, shrinking coalition of ideologues is no stable base.
Interestingly, first lady Michelle Obama's favorable ratings were down 9 points from last month to 41 percent, but that is likely more a reflection of previously sympathetic Republicans disdaining her campaigning for unpopular Democrats.
This poll and a thousand other indications suggest that Republicans are winning the gang war of the base versus base election. There may be more Jets than sharks in town, but more Sharks will show up for the rumble.
The other election taking place, though, is all about romance.
This is an election about convincing fickle independent voters to come your way, wooing them, caressing their issues, playing up their concerns about your rival suitor.
Independents are now the biggest bloc of voters, and while they range from very liberal to very conservative, they are the ones who can most easily be persuaded to vote one way or another, or, importantly, to not vote at all.
And this is why Democrats are in for heartbreak come Tuesday. The object of their electoral desires has spurned them even after swooning just two years ago.
This plays out in the Times poll with shocking Democratic deficits among independents, usually constrained to single digit swings between the parties and generally leaning to the Democratic side of things.
In 2006, independents went for Democrats by a huge 16-point margin owing to Iraq war frustration and Republican scandal. In the latest poll, independents favor Republicans by 20 points - the highest level ever recorded.
The poll shows similar problems for Democrats with formerly reliable parts of their electoral base: women, Catholics and college-educated voters. Yes, this also shows problems with the party's base, but it's really about independents.
As the old Democratic and Republican coalitions break down under the broader move toward political independence, it will become harder to prevent these kinds of electoral wipeouts. And this year, when Democrats went looking for their old flames to soften the blow, they found them gone, deleted from the Facebook accounts and wiped out of their cell phones' speed dial.
College-educated voters are especially fickle. And while Democrats may have taken great pride in past elections about being the better-educated party, they are in for a beating among the brainy this year.
College educated registered voters in the Times poll went for Republicans by a 20-point margin. The previous high in 1994 was 10 points.
Republicans also pulled into the lead on which party voters think is better at creating jobs, 44 percent to 39 percent. The GOP had trailed since the 2008 election, losing the measure by 11 points a year ago.
To torture our romance analogy a bit further, independents fell very pretty hard for Democrats in 2006 and 2008 - unusually so. And while they might not be that crazy about their rebound date with the GOP, they seem determined to stick it to Barack Obama and his party for the failings of the past two years.
Every good boyfriend knows that he can't over-promise while you're wooing, lest he look like a heel once the courtship is over.
Thanks to today's Power Play crew: Kimberly Schwandt, April Girouard, Jodie Curtis, John Brandt, Jason Donner, Whitney Ksiazek and Molly Mathews
The Day in Quotes
"We have done things that some folks don't even know about."
-- President Obama responding to a charge that his administration had been "timid" by Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."
"Oh? Are you planning a surprise party for us? Full of jobs and healthcare?"
-- Jon Stewart in reply.
"Joy, Raised $150,000 online yesterday. Thanks for your help. Sincerely, Sharron Angle"
-- Card on a flower arrangement sent from Nevada Republican Senate candidate Angle to talk show host Joy Behar after Behar said Angle was "a bitch" who was "going to hell."
"They certainly don't suggest that Republicans are on the precipice of some big electoral wave."
-- Obama Campaign Manager David Plouffe in a Web video for Democrats saying the early signs he sees don't point to big GOP gains.
"This is not a time for compromise, and I can tell you that we will not compromise on our principles."
-- House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) during an appearance on Sean Hannity's radio show.
"The American public, if we are to win the majority, has laid out a very clear message. It doesn't mean they love us, but they want to see the country go in a different direction."
-- Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to the Associated Press.
"We're trying to gather some information, and that sort of stuff"
-- Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) in a Des Moines Register interview when asked about his presidential aspirations after headlining a rally for Iowa Republican candidate for governor Terry Branstad.
"With all due candor, appearing on your own reality show on the Discovery Channel, I am not certain how that fits in the American calculus of 'that helps me see you in the Oval Office'"
-- Karl Rove to the The (London) Daily Telegraph on "Sarah Palin's Alaska."
"This was about back-room Washington politics at its worst."
-- Rhode Island Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio in a debate alleging a deal between independent candidate Linc Chafee and President Obama in which Obama declined to endorse his fellow Democrat in the race."Be careful - that's a gun back there"
-- New Mexico Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez warning a CNN crew trying to hook her up with a wireless microphone for an interview Wednesday. Martinez, a county prosecutor who takes pride in her concealed-carry permit and marksmanship.
"It's not about me endorsing someone because I'm irrelevant in all of this...I'm going to run through the finish line. After I vote Nov. 2, I will tell you"
-- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) declining to endorse in his state's gubernatorial race in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
"Not at all. I love my father very much"
-- Nevada Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid, who trails by more than 20 points in most polls, when asked on MSNBC is he was "running away" from his father, Harry, during his campaign.
Trail Riders - Blumenthal's Bucks, DNC Snoops on GOPers, Krauthammer Nails Grayson
White House Schedule
While he won't start his final campaign swing until Friday, Vice President Biden is still on the march.
Obama will begin his final weekend swing stumping for deeply endangered Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA), whose liberal voting record from a conservative district Obama has repeatedly praised.
Biden today is working on the other side of the coin - a deeply endangered moderate Democrat from Maryland, Rep. Frank Kratovil. Biden, though, won't go to Krataovil's conservative Eastern Shore district for the fundraiser, but overwhelmingly Democratic Bethesda in suburban Washington.
Nevada Sen. -- Angle (R) 49%, Reid (D) 45 % (CNN/Time)
West Virginia Sen. -- Manchin (D) 49%, Raese (R) 46% (Rasmussen Reports)
Illinois Sen. -- Kirk (R) 46%, Giannoulias (D) 42% (Rasmussen Reports)
Colorado Sen. -- Buck (R) 47%, Bennet (D) 46% (CNN/Time)
Kentucky Sen. -- Paul (R) 50%, Conway (D) 43% (CNN/Time)
California Senate - Boxer (D) 50%, Fiorina (R) 45% (CNN/Time)
Pennsylvania Sen. - Toomey (R) 49%, Sestak (D) 45% (CNN/Time)
Colorado Gov. -- Hickenlooper (D) 51%, Tancredo (C) 37%, Maes (R) 10% (CNN/Time)
California Gov. -- Brown (D) 51%, Whitman (R) 44% (CNN/Time)
DSCC Pours More Cash Into Colorado
"With two new attack ads against Republican Ken Buck in Colorado, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has topped $6 million in spending in the race. The Sunlight Foundation says outside groups have poured $30 million into the race all, told.
2012 Watch - Three For the Road
Republican Govs. Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty and Chris Christie will all be at the Lancaster (Pa.) Airport Friday for Pennsylvania Senate candidate Pat Toomey and gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett.
Bubba Stumps - Sticking With Sestak
Former President Bill Clinton is scheduled to make three campaign appearances today with Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak in Philadelphia.
The two will campaign together at Bryn Mawr College, Cheyney University and Temple University.
California Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is scheduled to be back on the campaign trail today after being sidelined for two days with an infection resulting from her post-cancer reconstructive surgery.
Blumenthal's Money, Not McMahon's, At Issue in Closing Days
Connecticut Democratic Senate Candidate Richard Blumenthal has loaned his campaign $2.25 million, but filed a financial disclosure form reporting assets of between $599,000 and $1.36 million.
Blumenthal's campaign says that the discrepancy is because the Senate financial disclosure forms omit real estate and other holdings that add to his personal wealth.
Does that mean Blumenthal has sold a home to finance his election?
Linda McMahon's campaign, meanwhile, is focused on Blumenthal's very wealthy wife, who is barred from funding her husband's campaign beyond the legal limits for any donor.
Murkowski Wins At Alaska Supreme Court
The Alaska Supreme Court is laying the tracks for a potential legal challenge if Sen. Lisa Murkowski gets close in her write-in bid.
The state's high court will at least temporarily continue to allow election clerks to hand out lists of approved write-in candidates, including Murkowski, despite a challenge from both parties saying that the list defeated the whole concept of a write-in candidacy.
But the court also said that the ballots cast during early voting when lists are being used should be marked, so that if the court eventually decides that the lists were unfair, the marked ballots could be discounted.
If you think Alaska's Senate election could be a legal train wreck, you're right.
2012 Watch - Team Obama Starts Oppo Research EffortFrom FOX News colleague Justin Fishel:
"The Democratic National Committee has officially begun its political opposition research for the 2012 presidential election, asking the Pentagon to provide all correspondence between 9 potential Republican candidates and anyone within the Department of the Army.According to a senior military official, the Army received this request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) sometime in mid-October. The DNC asked that this information be completed by Friday, just days before the mid-term elections. "I don't know if we'll have it ready by then," this official said. "The process includes scanning written records, including emails. It takes time."As first reported by ABC News, the potential republican candidates listed on the request include: Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska; former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.; Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss.; Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn.; former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark.; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga.; Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind.; and Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La....
And Now, A Word From Charles
"[Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) is] the most execrable member of the Congress, and I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. He says outrageous stuff. He said the Republican idea of health care that you get sick and die. He's run outrageous ads in the campaign against opponent Daniel Webster, a distinguished former legislator. He is now behind. He won in the district by less than a fifth of a percent in a fluke victory in 2008. I think he will lose and he will deserve that loss."
-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier"
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.