If you happen to be a person prone to picking the ponies, yanking on the handle of a slot machine, or playing Texas Hold ‘em ‘til the wee hours of the morning, you’d be better off staying with these relatively sure things rather than betting on national elections.

Polls change almost daily — sometimes with the news cycle, sometimes with a new set of campaign ads — justifying the opinion of election observers that the presidential race remains a “toss up,” and “too close to call.”

Two of these observers, David Wasserman, with the Cook Political Report, and Jim Wiesemeyer, with Informa Economics, discussed the upcoming election at the recent Southwest Ag Issues Summit in Austin.

They were a bit more definitive about Senate and House races, both suggesting that Democrats will pick up a few seats in the House but not enough to gain control, and that the Senate could tilt either way but not enough for either party to enjoy a commanding majority. Fifty/fifty, they said, seems a good bet.

Wasserman predicts Democrats will gain 10 to 15 seats in the House; Wiesemeyer thinks they could pick up a few more.

The Virginia race could be a key for the Presidential election, Wasserman said, and Virgil Goode could be a deciding factor. Goode, a former Republican, served in the U.S. House from 1997 to 2009, representing the 5th congressional district of Virginia.

He lost his seat in 2008 to DemocratTom Perriello. He joined the Constitution Party and is that party's 2012 presidential nominee.

Wasserman said Goode may be a spoiler in the 2012 race, much like Ralph Nader in Florida in 2000.

He also said recent trends indicate that Romney has dipped a bit in the last two months. “Two months ago, Romney had an even chance. That turned over the summer quite a bit.

“If Obama wins the election, he will win despite the economy and because of his campaign. If Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign.”

He said the economy, especially unemployment, remains Obama’s biggest challenge. “The current unemployment rate is not where a president typically wants it to be for re-election. Also, the gross domestic product is below 2. By all measures, Obama should be losing.

“So why not?”

Likeability is a factor

Likeability is a factor, he said. Obama has a favorable/unfavorable approval rating of 47 percent and 47 percent, respectively. “Romney has an image problem,” he said, “with a 45 percent unfavorable rating versus 40 percent favorable.

 “And Romney has had a hard time getting people to blame Obama (for the poor economy) rather than Bush.”

Wasserman said both campaigns have featured negative ads but that both have targeted audiences effectively and have gotten their “messages to the right people. But Obama has been more tightly focused.”

He said Obama got an advantage over Romney with the conventions. “It was important for Romney to have a good convention. Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair was a waste of time.”

Obama has his problems, however, including voter enthusiasm versus 2008. He needs to “juice up the base.” Wasserman said the Obama camp needs to shore up support from Hispanics, African Americans, and young people.

He said voters are not happy. “Independents don’t know what to do.” And that’s one reason Wasserman believes this will not be a “third wave election in a row,” where one party is swept into power, but more of a “whirlpool with cross currents that allow Democrats to win back some seats.” But not enough to take over.

Wasserman said Democrats will benefit from some “new minority districts,” and possibly from “the decline of the Tea Party. The Tea Party is not as enthusiastic and somewhat disillusioned after the debt ceiling was raised and the health care law was upheld by the Supreme Court. Also, only 19 of the 87 GOP freshmen joined the Tea Party Caucus.”

He said Democrats have lost ground with “the decline of Blue Dog Democrats. They lost seats and lost influence.” An ideological minority and Gerrymandered seats also create challenges for Democrats in congressional races and could push needed gains to 35 or 40 seats to take control of the House.

“Republicans have a redistricting edge, especially in Virginia and North Carolina, where they may have saved 12 seats,” Wasserman said.

He said Democrats could have lost more Senate seats in 2008 except only one-third were up for re-election. Republicans may lose Missouri, he said, where Todd Akin tries to overcome a critical misstep during the summer with comments concerning rape and abortion. He currently trails Claire McCaskill by a significant margin. “McCaskill is about a 60 percent favorite now,” Wasserman said.

He said Republicans need to take 4 seats from “red states,” to gain control of the Senate.

“But the Democrats could pick up a couple of seats, too, so I think it could be 50/50.”

Fifty/fifty might be welcome odds for a farmer hoping for rain, but he’s likely not going to shut off the irrigation pump until clouds begin rolling in. At equal odds some folks may go all in but with something as unpredictable as an angry electorate, the best bet might be to keep your money in your pocket.

rsmith@farmpress.com