We haven't had much positive to say for Democrats lately but here's a little glimmer of hope: in the New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Virginia elections so far this cycle the enthusiasm gap has lessened as the election got closer. It wasn't enough to save Jon Corzine, Martha Coakley, or Creigh Deeds but it could be a difference maker in a close race.
A Virginia poll we conducted in late July and early August last year found a likely electorate that supported John McCain by 11 points. Our second to last poll there, which predicted Bob McDonnell's final margin of victory almost right on the dot, found that improved to McCain +4.
Our mid September New Jersey poll last year found an electorate that was Obama +2. Our final poll there found that improved all the way to Obama +11 and that's a big reason why Corzine ended up losing only by 4 points instead of the 9 point deficit he had a month and a half before the election.
And in Massachusetts two weekends before the election we were looking at an Obama +16 electorate, which improved to an Obama +19 one the weekend before the election. That didn't save Coakley though after her gaffe filled final week.
Similar upticks in enthusiasm this year won't keep the election from being a bloodbath for Democrats but it could make the difference for some candidates, particularly those in close races in states with particularly large enthusiasm gaps. Three specifics names come to mind. Our last Illinois poll found Alexi Giannoulias ahead by 2 points with an Obama +9 electorate in a state he actually won by 25 points. Our last Wisconsin poll found Russ Feingold up 2 points with an Obama +1 electorate in a state that he won by 14 points. And our last Nevada poll found Harry Reid ahead by 2 points with an Obama +4 electorate in a state that he won by 12. A small increase in Democratic interest in those states could ensure those guys pull out narrow victories.