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Midterm Elections: The Five Themes to Watch

The midterm elections are less than a month away. Here are the five themes that could determine whether Democrats or Republican emerge from them with control of the House and Senate in the next Congress.

Hopes Dashed

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama holds a discussion on the economy with neighborhood families in the backyard of a home in Albuquerque, N.M., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

It's hard to believe that President Obama has been in the White House for less than two years. In that time, the promise of hope and change from 2008 has for many given way to fear and loathing. People don't feel better about the direction of the country and are scared for the future.

That anger has turned into a palpable frustration with all things government - and it's not just aimed at Democrats. People from across the political spectrum are disillusioned.

A horrible economy, high unemployment and general anger at Washington for not being able to fix Americans' most pressing problems has threatened the Obama voting coalition from 2008, and put some normally very safe seats in jeopardy. Americans just don't feel better off than they did when President Obama and the Democrats took charge in Washington.

Though Americans' frustration is aimed at both Democrats and Republicans, their disillusionment stands to benefit the party that's not in charge of anything in Washington right now. It appears to be a big year, potentially a wave, for the GOP. Republicans need to pick up 39 seats to take control of the House. In the Senate, Republicans need to take ten seats to take the majority.

Consider Pennsylvania. Mr. Obama won the state by ten points in 2008 -- a win so convincing that you could question the state's battleground status. But two years later, the Obama glow is gone and the GOP has congressional Democrats on defense.

In the Senate race, Joe Sestak, the Democratic congressman who's voted for every major Democratic initiative, including the stimulus and health care, is fighting against the fiscally conservative Pat Toomey, who's running as an outsider with a strong business background. In the House, there's Democrat Patrick Murphy, who's facing a rematch northeast Pennsylvania against former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick. This race has largely focused on who is to blame for current economic conditions.

Critical Contests: Interactive Map with CBS News' Election 2010 Race Ratings

The Anti-Washington, Anti-Politics, Anti-Government Movement - AKA the Tea Party

People attend a tea party protest in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2010. AP

Conservatives, Independents and people who usually aren't involved in politics reacted to Mr. Obama's policies and the economic downturn with fervor not seen in years. Voters tossed out career politicians in Republican primaries and got involved in GOP politics. More than a half dozen major Senate candidates carry the tea party moniker.

Sarah Palin's star has also risen along with the movement as an unofficial leader of the Tea Party and candidate kingmaker. Palin endorsed five of the six Senate Tea Party candidates as well as her former running mate John McCain, Carly Fiorina in California and Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire.

The Senate race in Nevada is one of the best examples of the rise of the Tea Party nationwide. The state's double digit unemployment and housing collapse have made voters frustrated with all incumbent politicians, and especially angry with Senate majority leader Harry Reid. That anger has also made Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle a household name. But Angle's actions and statements (check out this latest drama) leave the door open enough for Reid to potentially survive. The same could be said in Delaware, where Republicans thought they were likely to pick up Joe Biden's old Senate seat until tea party candidate Christine O'Donnell ousted the Republican establishment's pick in the primary.

It was always going to be tough for Republicans to pick up the ten seats needed to control the Senate, but the Tea Party may have made it all the more difficult. That said, the energy from this conservative movement could help bring out voters that will help elect Republicans to the House.

Second-Time Voters: Will Obama's 2008 First-Time Voters Stay Home and Cost the Democrats the House?

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., center, shares a laugh with voters in front of a polling place in Indianapolis, Tuesday, May 6, 2008, as voters in Indiana and North Carolina crowd polling places Tuesday for the states' primary elections. AP

First time voters, young people, African Americans and suburbanites were key to President Obama's victory in 2008 and to many Democrats winning in conservative districts that year. The question in 2010 is whether those voters will stay home without Mr. Obama on top of the ticket.

While conservatives have the edge on enthusiasm, Democrats are working to bring out the vote through Organizing for America, which is led by Obama's campaign architect in 2008 David Plouffe. He's set a goal to bring out 15 million voters on November 2nd. OFA is reaching out to voters by having volunteers go door to door across the country to make clear that Mr. Obama needs a Democratic Congress to continue pushing forward the Obama agenda.

House Democrats in Ohio are in grave danger of joining the unemployment lines if those 2008 first-time voters don't show up in 2010. Rep. John Boccieri (D-OH) is on defense in a highly competitive race in Canton, where manufacturing jobs are on the decline. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy is running for her political life in the suburbs of Columbus, and Rep. Steve Driehaus is facing off with the incumbent he ousted in 2008 in the Cincinnati suburbs.

Driehaus and Kilroy benefitted in 2008 from minority turnout for Obama in 2008, but they are unlikely to keep their seats if those same voters don't turn out. All of these lawmakers may also pay the price for supporting the economic stimulus, health care and cap and trade/energy legislation.

2010: Greasing the 2012 Field and Changing Washington for the Next Decade

Rick Perry
In this April 15, 2010 photo, Texas Governor Rick Perry has some fun with a six shooter filled with blanks as NASCAR driver Colin Braun looks on at an event in downtown Fort Worth. AP Photo/Fort Worth Star-Telegram

It's a once in a generation election - 37 governors mansions are at stake in the November elections, and what happens in these elections will have a direct impact on 2012 and beyond. The results will not only give the president or his opponent a strong ground game and party operation in major swing states, but also affect the make-up of Congress. Governors have a big say in how new congressional districts are drawn, giving either party a decade-long advantage.

If Democrats lose control of Congress, it will be a bad night. If they lose a few governors mansions, like the big ones in Austin, Columbus, and Tallahassee, it will be a horrible night. Why? The 2010 Census means that after this election many states will see their number of House seats in Washington change. Texas could gain as many as three seats, while Ohio could lose two. Who controls those states could change who controls Congress for the next decade. Because of this, Democrats are fighting hard and have a strong incumbent in Ohio and strong challengers in Texas, where Governor Rick Perry's approval is sliding.

The Businessman Versus the Career Politician -- Who is Best Qualified to Save the Economy?

Republican candidate for US Senate Carly Fiorina. Anne Cusack

The major issue in this campaign is the economy -- Republicans are blaming Democrats for voting for what they cast as the Obama/Pelosi liberal agenda and the failed stimulus, among other economic policies. So who can best fix the economy? The GOP is putting forward candidates with business experience to make the case that they can.

Nowhere is this trend more at play than in California, where the top of the GOP ticket is occupied by not one, but two former CEOs. Both are women: former HP CEO Carly Fiorina running for Senate, and former EBAY CEO Meg Whitman running for governor. Against them the Democrats have two career politicians running: incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer and Former Governor Jerry Brown.

Democrats are fighting back by blaming these powerful business candidates for getting the country into the economic mess in the first place. But the Republicans, with support of extensive spending from pro-business groups, have been hammering them over the state of the economy.

CBSNews.com Special Report: Election 2010


Robert Hendin and Jill Jackson are CBS News Senior Political Producers. You can read more of Jill's posts in Hotsheet here or follow her on Twitter. More of Robert's posts in Hotsheet are here and you can follow him on Twitter here.
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