Republicans are positioned to wrest control of the House in this week's elections, the wind at their backs as they reach to capture the 40 seats they need to claim the majority — and potentially many more.
Democratic candidates face a poisonous cocktail of public disenchantment with the economy, disappointment in President Barack Obama and tea party-fuelled grassroots anger at government.
Few Democratic incumbents feel safe, least of all the 55 who seized GOP seats during the past two elections, as Republicans seek to catch a historic wave. As many as 100 races were competitive as the balloting approached, fewer than a dozen of them for seats now held by Republicans.
"We'll get to the majority, and if a wave materialises, then this is a hurricane, tornado, tsunami all in one - with a cyclone to top it off," said Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, the No. 2 Republican in charge of House campaigns. "The winds have never been stronger."
Republicans, he said, are telling candidates in scores of tight contests throughout the country, "Don't let up."
Democrats were in crisis-control mode, struggling to limit what all acknowledged were inevitable losses. They were bracing for grim confirmation of history's traditional midterm election curse: The party in power usually loses congressional seats, and prospects this year were made even worse by the sour economy.
“We've always known it was going to be challenging, and anytime you have a soft economy it’s very difficult,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Democratic House campaign chief. Still, he said he held hope that Democrats could hang on to power, if only narrowly. “We will retain the majority.”
Democratic candidates were being instructed to make a last pitch to tell voters not to turn the reins over to Republicans.
"We're telling them to be everywhere in their districts, talking to voters about that very clear choice ... between continuing the progress we're making or returning to the days when the big-moneyed special interests had their way in Washington at the expense of average Americans," Van Hollen said.
Strategists in both parties predicted privately that the GOP had already essentially won nearly two dozen Democratic seats, while fewer than a handful of GOP jobs appeared to be lost. It was shaping up as a stunning turnabout from 2008, when Obama helped propel Democrats to big gains in their House majority.