For political junkies everywhere, and particularly for those who like reading electoral tea leaves, the midterm elections start in less than a month Jan. 19, to be exact, when the special election in Massachusetts to fill the late Sen. Edward Kennedys (D) seat will take place.
While even the thought that state Sen. Scott Brown (R) might upset state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) is probably too much for anyone to consider, true political junkies will be keeping their eyes on Coakleys margin.
Does Coakley pile up a normal win, or does Brown do better than expected? Given Democratic problems last month in Virginia and New Jersey, a disappointing showing by Coakley, even if she were to win the election, would certainly set off another round of Democratic grumbling and media tongue-wagging.
Over the past decade, Democratic nominees for president have been carrying Massachusetts with about 60 percent of the vote, while no Republican has come close to the 40 percent mark since President George H.W. Bush drew more than 45 percent of the total vote against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988.
Last year, for example, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) drew 36 percent against then-Sen. Barack Obama (D), about the same showing that President George W. Bush had against Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.
Democratic Senate candidates have also been rolling up big numbers for years. The last GOP Senate nominee to draw at least 40 percent of the vote in the state was former Gov. William Weld, who drew 45 percent against Kerry in 1996.
If Brown can crack the 40 percent mark against Coakley, it would be noteworthy.
In February, Illinois voters will head to the polls to nominate a slew of candidates.
Democratic strategists have been arguing that Republican primaries and particularly the ideological split within the GOP will severely hurt Republican prospects in the midterm contests. But a solid win in his partys Senate primary by Rep. Mark Kirk (R) could undermine that Democratic message.
Attorney Patrick Hughes, a first-time candidate, is generally regarded as Kirks main challenger from the right, since he has been endorsed by Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, the Joliet Tax Day Tea Party and a long list of movement conservatives.
Through Sept. 30, however, Hughes had raised less than $129,000 from individuals and political action committees (plus put in $250,000 of his own), far less than Kirks $2.9 million raised at the same point.
If Kirk wins convincingly, he can undercut the Democratic argument. But if Hughes gets uncomfortably close to the Republican Congressman, his showing will both provide further talking points to Democrats and embolden conservative insurgents who care more about making a statement than winning an election.