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Photo Finish: Close Presidential and Congressional Races Could Affirm the Status Quo

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
President Barack Obama delivered his closing argument to voters in the swing state of Virginia this week. No matter who wins the presidential election today, the partisanship of Washington, D.C. isn’t likely to change much.

This dynamic is playing out as Congress is expected to take up hugely important legislation in the lame-duck session and next year. Congress will have to raise the debt limit as soon as January. The fiscal cliff of automatic spending cuts and tax increases starts to take effect without action Jan. 2. Many Republicans are eager to look at reconfiguring the tax code and want to overhaul the entitlement system. And there is also talk of the hot-button topic of immigration bubbling to the surface.

Bills that were routine in sessions past — the farm and highway reauthorizations, to name two — were stalled last year amid conservative opposition. With all leaders promising to take up extraordinary issues next year, it remains to be seen how and whether Boehner and his leadership team can lure Members into taking tough votes on big issues in the post-earmark era.

— Daniel Newhauser

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Leader

She reluctantly relinquished the Speaker’s gavel after the 2010 GOP wave, but this year’s elections had the potential to sweep Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi back into power as a triumphant comeback kid.

Tonight’s returns, though, are likely to show her party falling short and lead to more speculation that the California Democrat will begin looking for an exit strategy.

Pelosi has remained steadfastly optimistic, even unrealistically so, about the feasibility of Democrats retaking the House. As recently as Sept. 16, Pelosi said, “We have a very excellent chance to take back the House.”

Analysts said that was not plausible, in part because of GOP-led redistricting efforts.

“Few who really looked at the new districts ever thought the Democrats were going to take back the House. Even Democratic consultants downplayed the odds and simply hoped that Democrats could just get 10-15 of the needed 25 — setting up a possible victory in 2014,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“You expect party leaders to predict the unlikely for their side. In that sense, Pelosi was just doing her duty,” Sabato said.

As GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign flailed in the summer, fortunes briefly appeared to improve for House Democrats. But after the first presidential debate, Romney’s standing improved, and Republicans solidified their grasp on the House.

Now Democrats talk, some openly, about Pelosi leaving, although those who know her well say she is unlikely to opt for a quick exit. Instead, they predict, she will stay on for a time to build up a successor whom she prefers to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.). A spokesman for Pelosi has called that scenario “ridiculous.”

— Jonathan Strong

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Majority Leader

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has a lot to lose today. On the line for the Nevada Democrat is not only his ability to set the chamber’s agenda, but his partner in the White House.

Reid’s chances of holding onto the Senate majority look better today than they did two years ago, when defending 23 Democratic seats was a long shot.

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Election Day Forecast

Election Day weather doesn’t look to be much of a factor in many House and Senate races this cycle, although the fallout from Hurricane Sandy will no doubt hurt turnout in the Northeast.

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