WASHINGTON — Democratic and Republican party leaders put on their best game faces Monday, making 11th hour arguments on the eve of midterm elections that seem certain to curb if not end Democratic control of Congress.
"We're hoping now for a fresh start with the American people," said GOP chairman Michael Steele. "If we don't live up to those expectations, then we'll have a problem in two years."
His Democratic counterpart, Tim Kaine, said he believes Democrats will do better than some experts have contended, arguing that Republicans have been obstructionists who "can't see beyond the end of their no."
Kaine, Steele and other party leaders were asked once again on a slew of network morning news shows to give fresh assessments of their prospects on the eve of balloting that will culminate a volatile — and possibly transcendent — campaign season.
For his part, President Barack Obama had a relatively quiet day planned at the White House after returning Sunday from a two-day, four-state campaign swing. Aides said he planned no more campaign travel before the election.
"It's up to you to remember that this election is a choice between the policies that got us into this mess and the policies that are leading us out of this mess," Obama told a crowd at Cleveland State University.
At stake is control of Congress, where Democrats now hold sway. History has shown that the party of the president in power often fares poorly in midterm elections, and this year isn't expected to be an exception. A struggling economy and near double-digit unemployment haven't helped Democratic chances.
Republicans are poised to take over the House; they need a net gain of 40 seats to do it. They're also expected to take several Senate seats away from Democrats. The GOP would need to sweep most of the closely contested races to gain 10 Senate seats for a majority.
Democrats are hoping that a late-innings scramble in Alaska might help them head off chances of a GOP Senate takeover.
With GOP nominee Joe Miller stumbling, and incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski making a rare write-in effort after losing the primary to Miller, little-noticed Democrat Scott McAdams might find a way to sneak through to victory. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has poured more than $160,000 into the once-ignored race.
"We believe that Scott McAdams actually has a real chance of winning this race," committee chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said Sunday.
Republican leaders said they had not abandoned Miller.
Steele, along with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, conceded Monday, however, that recapturing the Senate would be a tough order, notwithstanding excitement about a comeback. Barbour said he thought it would be "a bit of a stretch."
Said Kaine: "The Democrats have been doing the heavy lifting at the toughest time in the American economy since the 1930s."
Steele said he believes the American people "are much more skeptical" of the Democrats than the Republicans, but he also said the GOP can't afford to waste an opportunity.
Kaine, who accompanied Obama back from the Cleveland outing, said he believes "he has a very good perspective about the need going forward to make some adjustments and corrections" after the election.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the Senate GOP's campaign efforts, said Republicans are "going to come back in a significant way." With respect to the Senate, where Democrats now hold a majority, he said, "I think we don't get the majority back but we come awfully close and we finish the job in 2012."
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, agreed that despite the expected close races, "the Democrats retain the majority in the Senate."
He predicted that Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, will be re-elected. The embattled Reid faces a tough race in his home state of Nevada.
On Sunday, former president Bill Clinton, still a popular and energetic campaigner, stumped for Democrats in Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
"I'm pleading with you," Clinton told an audience in Nashua, N.H., "give John Lynch a massive victory." Lynch, the three-term governor, faces a strong challenge from Republican John Stephen.
Republicans went to their own rallies and talk shows, almost giddy with the expectation of regaining the House majority, and not ruling out claiming the Senate against long odds.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, told "Fox News Sunday" that voters will say: "You blew it, President Obama. We gave you the two years to fulfill your promise of making sure that our economy starts roaring back to life again."
Kaine and Steele appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," Durbin and Cornyn were interviewed on NBC's "Today" show and Barbour was on CBS's "The Early Show."