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No Sign of a Wave for Either Party This Cycle

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

That was evident in 2010, when Democrats held three of their most vulnerable seats - in Nevada, Colorado and Delaware - even in a Republican wave.

"Senate races have the ability of sort of creating their own weather patterns, much more than House races do, just because of the media attention they get and the amount of money they spend," Anderson said.

Republican strategists don't believe the House will move more than a few seats in either direction. The potential for a stalemate was aided, in part, by a redistricting process that provided no net gain for either party. Both parties have newfound opportunities to play offense following redistricting, but also made some of their own districts more secure.

"We're not going to trade within a very wide range, barring some unforeseen development - and Lord knows we could see something like that," Republican pollster Jon McHenry said.

Democratic strategists hope that if the party can't win the majority this cycle, it can at least position itself to do so in 2014.

Democratic media consultant John Rowley said Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) as the vice presidential nominee could help Democrats pick up an extra five to seven seats, with Medicare more of a central theme in individual races where a Democratic challenger can make the race a referendum on the incumbent.

"If you're trying to defeat an incumbent Republican, this is part of the referendum on their job performance," Rowley said.

However, it likely won't be a national game-changer given the environment.

"It individualizes the campaigns," Rowley said. "The stronger individual candidates who often can localize rather than nationalize the race typically come out ahead."

Each of the past few cycles have featured successful candidates who, in a less friendly environment for their party, likely would never have made it to Capitol Hill. Successful candidates this cycle need to be far more aggressive and strategic in framing the race, GOP media consultant Erik Potholm said.

"A wave election often helps even poor candidates cross the finish line who didn't run the best campaigns, because the voter backlash against the party in power is so strong and intense," Potholm said. "But in a more neutral environment, there is clearly a premium on candidates running top-notch campaigns and having every level of their operation running on all cylinders."

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