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North Carolina state House speaker Thom Tillis
Thom Tillis (R-NC) won one of the closest U.S. Senate races in 2014. Where did it rank among the most discussed races here at Daily Kos?

Regular readers of Daily Kos and Daily Kos Elections know that, during the 2014 campaign cycle, we instituted a lot of new election-based features. One of them was the incorporation of monthly "power rankings" for the U.S. Senate and the gubernatorial battles.

These power rankings were not, as was often seen elsewhere, a rank-order list of races most likely to flip parties (those, quite frankly, seemed obvious from very early in the cycle). Nor were they a subjective list of favored races among our staff for this reason or another. Rather, it was an attempt to use one subjective measurement (our own Daily Kos Elections race ratings) and two objective criteria (number of times said race was polled, as well as the number of times it appeared in our Daily Digests), to create a top ten list of the races that dominated America's political conversation.

To close the year, we will look back at a "power ranking" of a different sort. We will look at the ten races that were most dominant in the conversation right here at Daily Kos. The metric here was very simple: a search of the tags employed on any piece, front-paged or otherwise, here at Daily Kos and Daily Kos Elections between January 1 and December 28 (hey—I had to pick a consistent time to close the books).

In a sign of how engaged this community was about the 2014 midterms, a race had to be mentioned in 171 separate diaries/essays to even crack the top ten. Which race was the most "talked about" U.S. Senate race on Daily Kos? Did your state's Senate race make the cut? Head past the jump to find out.

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A map showing the states carried in the last four elections for President by each party. Democrats have swept in states with 242 electoral votes. Republicans have swept in states with 179 electoral votes.
If only counting states swept by a single party since 2000, Democrats have a built-in 242-179 EC lead.

Maps like the one above have given some modest amount of comfort to Democrats whenever discussion of the 2016 presidential election comes around. It has long been an article of faith, particularly among those on the left, that Democrats have a built-in systemic edge in the Electoral College because of the winner-take-all format coupled with the tendency of larger, more urban states to lean Democratic.

The map generated above (and you can go generate your own, if you wish) helps to buttress that basic argument. If one looks at the past four presidential elections (2000-2012), with a perfect partisan split (two-and-two) of Electoral College majorities, Democrats have gone four-for-four in states totaling 242 electoral votes, just 28 shy of electoral victory. Republicans, meanwhile, have swept states that tally up to 179 electoral votes (actually 180, but the ability of Barack Obama to snare Nebraska's 2nd District in 2008 drops them by a single electoral vote).

Viewed through this lens, two things stand out. One: there aren't a hell of a lot of "swing states." Giving that extra Nebraska vote to the GOP, all that remains are 10 states, totaling 116 electoral votes, that have offered their electoral votes to both parties since 2000. Two: the Republicans have to win the outsized majority of those "swing" electoral votes to win the presidency. If the Democrats can hold onto just 24 percent of the electoral votes "in play," they win the White House.

There is only one problem: there are considerably better ways to analyze the "generic" lean of the Electoral College. And all of them, to varying degrees, paint a far more perilous picture for the Democrats. Follow me past the jump to explore those other scenarios.

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Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (L) receives a petition from rancher Pete Tomera at the Nevada State Capitol after cattlemen and ranchers finished a 320-mile (515-km) relay horseback ride from Elko, Nevada to the State Capitol in Carson City to deliver a petition to Sandoval, May 30, 2014. The ranchers want Sandoval?s help in ousting a regional Bureau of Land Management official whose office in northern Nevada has reduced by 20 percent the number of cattle allowed to graze over the next 12 months in the Battle Mountain region east of Carson City, citing lingering drought. REUTERS/Max Whittaker (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS AGRICULTURE ENVIRONMENT) - RTR3RL6H
Gov. Brian Sandoval led a Republican landslide in Nevada on Nov. 4.

At the risk of sounding obvious, the 2014 midterm election cycle proved to be a pretty universal disappointment for Democrats.

At the top of the ticket, the loss of the Senate, and roughly a dozen House seats, puts the Republicans in fairly firm control of the U.S. Congress heading into 2015. But that was only the tip of a deep and wide electoral iceberg, which included the loss of several closely contested gubernatorial elections, and a disaster at the state legislative level.

One could build a credible argument that two states were the epicenter of the Democratic doldrums in 2014.

In the eastern half of the United States, it was West Virginia. Not only did the Democrats surrender an open U.S. Senate seat by north of 20 points, and lose an incumbent member of the House with nearly four decades in office, but they also lost control of both chambers of the state legislature. This might not seem like a huge deal, until one realizes that the Democrats held a 24-10 advantage in the state Senate prior to the election, and lost eight seats (one due to a post-election party switch) to fall into the minority.

In the western half of the nation, the story, without question, had to be Nevada. The irony is that the state was scarcely a story going into November. Its Republican governor was considered an absolutely safe bet for re-election, there was no U.S. Senate seat at stake, and once the prospects for a competitive contest in the swingy 3rd district in the U.S. House dimmed, it appeared that the House delegation was going to be unchanged.

And, then ... electoral disaster for the Democrats. In his traditional pre-election predictions, Nevada sage Jon Ralston predicted a very ugly election night for the Democrats. It was worse than even he projected. They not only lost the state Senate, but also lost the state Assembly, which nearly no one had in play. And freshman Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford wound up losing his Vegas-area House seat (which few saw as competitive until mid-to-late-October) to Republican assemblyman Cresent Hardy. And, in the litany of statewide races, it was a total wipeout. The ultimate indignity: Democratic rising star Ross Miller, the son of former Gov. Bob Miller, lost his bid for attorney general to Adam Laxalt, whose candidacy was so flawed more than a half dozen of his own relatives endorsed Miller.

It was ugly, but it was also instructive. Follow me below the fold for some lessons from this enormous batch of electoral suckage.

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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk of Illinois speaks to supporters after beating Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias for the Senate seat formally held by U.S. President Barack Obama, at an election night rally in Wheeling, Illinois November 2, 2
Sen. Mark Kirk (IL) is liable to be among the most endangered Republicans as the 2016 cycle heats up.

Absent a handful of runoffs in the state of Louisiana, the 2014 cycle is, for all intents and purposes, over.

For Democrats, it will be comforting to put the 2014 midterm cycle in the rearview mirror. It is virtually impossible for Democrats to describe the cycle as anything less than a major disappointment. It was a cycle in which it was universally assumed, given the nature of the Senate map and the fact that the class of 2008 was a disproportionately Democratic class, that continued Democratic control of the U.S. Senate was going to be an uphill climb. The final outcome, however, was marginally worse than all but the most dire forecasts, with Republicans seizing every tossup race.

When all is said and done, absent a major upset (in the form of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu somehow holding onto her seat in Louisiana), the Democrats will have surrendered a total of nine Senate seats in the midterms, in addition to 13 seats in the U.S. House.

That not only makes 2014 a forgettable cycle, but it has real-world implications for 2016. When the consensus was that a Republican majority would wind up being comprised of 51-52 senators, that meant that Democrats would only need to pick off one to three seats in 2016 (depending, of course, on the presidential outcome). After the slightly larger-than-expected gains for the GOP, however, now the Democrats need to pick up at least four, and possibly five, Senate seats. Meanwhile, while the current series of House maps render a Democratic majority unlikely, the poor 2014 cycle means that Democrats now have gone from a rigorous hill to climb to a majority (17 seats) to a virtually insurmountable mountain (30 seats).

Still, major gains (and, yes, perhaps even a majority) are very possible in 2016. Follow past the fold to look at the best prospects for a Democratic congressional renaissance in the 2016 election cycle.

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Mark Schauer talking with voters
Want an "upset" pick for Election Night 2014? Mark Schauer (D-MI) could be that guy.
After twenty-four months, and well over 2000 general election surveys (our own Daily Kos Elections polling database topped out at 2090 polls), the 2014 midterm election cycle is down to the one day that matters more than any other: Election Day in America.

And, perhaps more than any other recent cycle in memory, this election cycle has an overflowing pile of races where the outcome is far from certain. Polls might show consistent edges for one candidate or the other in many of these high-profile contests, but what advantages exist live well within the margin of error.

If you don't believe me, head below the fold and check out the final 135 polls of the 2014 election cycle, along with some final thoughts about this wonderful (and often, admittedly, maddening) expression of democracy that is already underway.

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Senator Mark Udall joined Sandy Gutierrez (to his left), the president and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Pueblo, at a Senate Democratic Hispanic Task Force meeting in Washington, D.C., to talk about innovative ways to encourage job growth acros
Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) ends 2014 atop the Power Rankings for competitive Senate races.
After the long two-year midterm cycle, we are now down to the final sprint. Within 72 hours, we will have the identity of (most of) the winners and losers of the 2014 elections from coast to coast.

With the finish line now in sight, the final weekend brings us to the very last edition of the Daily Kos Elections Power Rankings. Beginning in April, the monthly top ten was designed to assess which races were getting the most ink (using our own daily digests), the most polls, and were viewed as the most competitive. Using a simple rubric (which you can peruse at the end of the piece), we assigned a point value for each of these criteria. Add them up, and ... lo and behold! ... the Top 10 appears.

For fun, in this final edition, we will compare our current Power Rankings for the Senate and gubernatorial categories, not from where they were during the last edition of the Power Rankings (published in late September), but where they were ranked all the way back in the spring, when the inaugural rankings were pulled together.

Follow me past the fold to see where your favorite race wound up, as we close down the 2014 midterm cycle with the final round of the Daily Kos Election Power Rankings.

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Kay Hagan meeting with constituents
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) has seen her prospects for re-election take a slight, but potentially pivotal, dip.
For anyone with kids, that has done hard time in a Chuck E. Cheese or some similarly kid-themed restaurant burdened with a money-sinking arcade, the game "whack-a-mole" is probably quite familiar.

For Democrats, that has to feel like these last few days (and perhaps even weeks) on the polling front. Struggling with all their might to cling to 50 Senate seats (and with it, continued control of the chamber), it seems as if every time a poll drops brightening their hopes in a particular race, another one drops almost immediately thereafter which brings alarm elsewhere.

Such has been the most consistent theme in this, an election cycle of seemingly endless tossups and near-misses.

Over the past three days since our last Polling Wrap launched at Daily Kos/Daily Kos Elections, we have seen in excess of one hundred polls (111, to be exact) cross our desks. A cherry-picker can have a field day, without a doubt, given this pool of data. But there is a consistent theme, which is one which must give both parties pause.

Typically, at least some of the close races get locked down once and for all in the final mile of the campaign. Based on the polling that has come out this week, that most certainly does not appear to be the case. Follow me past the jump to see all the data, and exactly what I mean by this game of "whack-a-mole" and how it complicates the picture for Tuesday.

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Mark Begich greeting voters in Voter Registration Weekend of Action, 2014.
Recent polls say Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) is either up ten points, or down four. Glad I could clear that up.

Heeeere we go.

The past four days, perhaps predictably (given that we are now one week removed from Election Day in America), has brought the long-awaited avalanche of polling data. For the first time in the 2014 edition of the DKE Polling Wrap, we have over a hundred polls to peruse on the other side of the jump.

And not just "over a hundred." Try a grand total of 152 polls, in total, that have been released since the last edition of the Wrap crossed your eyes in the early morning hours on Friday. The plurality of these were courtesy, of course, of the fourth wave of the CBS/New York Times polling effort conducted by the all-internet unit at YouGov. But there were plenty of others into the hopper, as well.

And what can we divine from these polls? Well, if you were forced to adopt a general trend from them, it would be a somewhat pessimistic one for Democrats. But there remains enough uncertainty that making definitive conclusions with seven days to go could be an invitation to ridicule come next week. To steal a sports cliché, you'd probably "rather be" suiting up for the red team, based on what the scoreboard says with seven days to go. But the margins are close, and surprisingly uncertain, in several races.

A comprehensive update of all the key races, plus that massive deluge of data, awaits you just past the jump.

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Rep. Gary Peters (D)
Recent polling confirms Gary Peters (D-MI) is pulling away in his once-tight Senate race.
Memo to my pals in the U.S. political news media: look closely at the above caption. Now, I don't want to tell you how to do your jobs—but that caption has two things going for it.

For one thing, it is accurate. In the last six polls of the Michigan Senate race (released since October 10th), Democrat Gary Peters is leading Republican Terri Lynn Land by an average margin of 11.5 percentage points. In the October polls taken before that, Peter's average lead was 7.8 percentage points. September polls? 5.5 percentage points. The trend line is clear.

For another thing, these are actual polls asking the entire potential electorate who they are voting for. Not some subset, based on their particular view on an issue, or ... say ... whether or not they are following some "scandal" closely.

I bring this up because, quite frankly, some of our colleagues aren't quite "getting it." We are now rapidly approaching the finish line, and it's time to be on top of our game. And Thursday brought three glaring examples of total airballs thrown in the name of political analysis.

They were bad, they were avoidable, and we'll discuss them after the jump (along with the customary compendium of all the recent polling goodness, which numbers a fairly "holy crap" 88 polls today!).

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Marilinda Garcia
Marilinda Garcia (R-NH) has led in two of 13 polls. Which makes her the favorite, according to one pollster.

On Friday evening, I was in line at Costco purchasing a pizza for a little family dinner (because, when you're married with two kids, that qualifies as a wild Friday night). I was scanning my phone for new polling after a fairly soft day of volume (which, regrettably, continued into the weekend) when I saw a series of tweets from northeastern-based folks live-tweeting an event sponsored by the New England chapter of the AAPOR (American Association of Public Opinion Research). One caught my attention and slightly amused me:

Democratic Party not a great brand name right now, per Andy Smith, which colors the entire race. #neaapor
@skoczela
Of course, this statement had the unspoken implication that the Republican Party brand name was somehow better than the Democratic one, which has been disproven by virtually every poll taken in this cycle to date (including the most recent national poll: one released Monday morning by Politico.) However, perhaps what Smith (who runs the polling shop for the University of New Hampshire) meant was that the gap between the favorabilities of the two parties has narrowed since 2012 (which it has), or perhaps he was referring specifically to New Hampshire.

This statement, on the other hand, seems tougher to defend, and shows that Smith has learned very little from his colleagues:

Both NH CDs likely GOP pickups, says Andy Smith #neaapor
@NEAAPOR
Why that statement is particularly outrageous, and why Smith should have known better, awaits you past the jump, along with the surprisingly sparse 46 polls conducted since last Friday (Oct 17-20).
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Polling this week confirmed that David Perdue (R-GA) has seen his slight lead disappear.

Today, we turn the focus of the Polling Wrap to a simple guide to saving the sanity of our readers (no matter your political persuasion). We are now in the final weeks of the nearly interminable campaign cycle. For poll junkies, the next three weeks are the greatest thrills and most agonizing spills of the year. And that, my friends, is owed simply to one word: volume.

This week, we are seeing an average of about 20 polls a day (the total number of polls you will find beneath the fold, this time around, is 59 polls over the past three days, and that's without a big data dump via YouGov or some other source).

That number will only escalate as we get closer to November 4th.

Which means, just by virtue of that sheer tonnage of polling, there will be individual polls that will bring you great joy, and polls that will make you want to dive under the bed. So, today, consider this "close of the workweek" edition of the Wrap a friendly reminder from your intrepid little curator of the polls here at Daily Kos Elections: be smart enough to not exult or despair over every single poll.

What to do, instead? Glad you asked (even if you didn't). We'll refresh some rules of being a good poll consumer on the other side of the jump, after the customary listing of all of the polls that have dropped out of the sky since the last time we gathered on Tuesday.

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Mike Honda speaking with constituents in Cupertino, California.
Veteran Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) is locked in a tough Dem v. Dem election in California.
Goal Thermometer

The marathon that is the election cycle is now drawing fairly close to the finishing kick, as we are now just three weeks away from Election Day 2014.

And one thing that many of us have long suspected is now becoming obvious: this is going to be a fairly thin cycle for polling, at least in terms of volume.

With just 21 polling days until Election Nerd Christmas, we are still only at roughly 1475 polls for the entire cycle to date. The dearth is most apparent in House polling, where there have been fewer than 200 polls released to date, more than half either by campaigns or by partisan sources electing to poll to satisfy their own curiosity. What this has meant, as a result, is that there are a number of races that are considered either tossups or bare leans to one party or another that have somehow, for the entirety of the cycle, gone completely unpolled.

Therefore, the lack of volume and the relatively partisan nature in House polling this cycle has left us with few tea leaves with which to assess the state of play in the lower chamber of Congress. Following the money has probably become the best way to know the lay of the land, but another little hint is watching for what I like to call "retaliatory strike" polls.

It has long been a "tell", in the eyes of most of us here in the fraternity of elections nerds, that an unanswered partisan poll is a half-hearted admission that said poll is close to the fairway. But there is a bit of an art to the counter-poll, a skill which we will explore after the jump, along with (gasp!) 82 polls which have dropped out of the sky since last Friday (Oct 10-13).

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