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Two Weeks from Election Day, Nothing's a Sure Bet

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, left, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., outside the White House during D.C.'s historic snowstorm in February 2010. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

With just over 2 weeks to go until Election day, here's our attempt to handicap what's going to happen: No one knows for sure.

There are a huge number of seats in play this cycle and while the GOP is increasingly optimistic that they will win back the House, needing a net gain of 39 seats, they aren't guaranteeing anything. The Democrats are more confident that they will keep control of the Senate, preventing the GOP from 10 wins, but even that is not a sure bet.

CBS News' Critical Contest analysis says that Republicans are within striking distance of House control, but it depends on how well they do in a large number, 32, toss up districts. The GOP is favored to net, at least 27 seats, based on CBS News analysis as of today.

The Democrats are banking on their ground game and turnout - trying to remobilize the unprecedented voter-outreach program built for Obama's 08 run. They are targeting Obama voters, especially those who aren't usually midterm election voters - young people and minorities, but they could have a problem with seniors if that voting bloc gets motivated for the other side.

Democrats also continue to spread the message that the GOP candidates are too extreme, from a World War II Nazi reenactment enthusiast to a Tea Party candidate in Florida with ties to a criminal motorcycle gang.

The GOP is continuing to hit on the economy and is getting a huge boost from outside groups' spending: one study shows that the groups have bought nearly 60% of all the political ads this year, compared with less than 20% in 2006.

The ad wars are in the feverish 4th quarter and the clock is ticking - millions of dollars will be spent in the next two weeks.

The last variable is early voting. Many states have already started to vote, and some, like Washington, are vote by mail only - so the last gasps of the campaign could be lost on people who've already cast their votes.

All in all, there is a lot that can happen in the next few weeks - but it is unlikely we will have a clear picture of what will happen until the actual votes are counted.

And to add yet another possibility, some Democrats we've spoken to remind us that in 2008, 12 house seats were not settled on election night -- so that coupled with close races, mail in votes, and likely recounts -- means election night could become election week.

Critical Contests: CBS News Election 2010 Race Ratings

Robert Hendin and Jill Jackson are CBS News Senior Political Producers. Anthony Salvanto is CBS News Elections Director. 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. You can read more of Anthony's posts in Hotsheet here.
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