The Democrats and their media allies are getting a bit giddy as the congressional elections loom, all but declaring victory before the opening whistle.
You can almost taste the anticipation in the headline to Sunday's front-page story by Adam Nagourney and Robin Toner, "With Guarded Cheer, Democrats Dare to Believe This Is Their Time," just one of several pro-Democratic stories to appear over the weekend and Monday.
"There is something unusual bubbling in Democratic political waters these days: optimism.
"With each new delivery of bad news for Republicans - another Republican congressman under investigation, another Republican district conceded, another poll showing support for the Republican-controlled Congress collapsing - a party that has become so used to losing is considering, disbelievingly and with the requisite worry, the possibility that it could actually win in November.
Democrats seem free to speak freely among sympathetic media types: "'I've moved from optimistic to giddy,' said Gordon R. Fischer, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. 'I really have.'
"Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is in line to become chairman of the Financial Services Committee in a Democratic House, offered wry evidence of the changing perception of the race. His office, Mr. Frank said, has been contacted by a portrait-painting firm offering to talk about possibilities for the traditional committee chairman's painting, one of those perks of power long absent from the lives of House Democrats.
"'I've acquired a lot of new friends this year,' Mr. Frank said. 'And I haven't gotten any nicer.'
"For Democrats these days, life is one measure glee, one measure dread and one measure hubris. If they are as confident as they have been in a decade about regaining at least one house of Congress - and they are - it is a confidence tempered by the searing memories of being outmaneuvered, for three elections straight, by superior Republican organizing and financial strength, and by continued wariness about the political skills of President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove."
They conclude: "All this has put Democrats in an unfamiliar place, but one they seem to be enjoying. 'I'm a congenital pessimist,' said Howard Wolfson, a consultant advising Democrats in several competitive contests in upstate New York. 'But I'm as bullish on our chances as I have been at any time over the last 12 years.'"
There are more hoorays for the Democrats in Saturday's A1 story by congressional correspondent Carl Hulse, "Open Seats Lift Democratic Hopes in the House." That echoes a September 28 story by Robin Toner, "New Hope for Democrats in Bid for Senate."
Surveying a House race in Colorado, Hulse opines: "This year, there are 33 open House seats, including three that are vacant at the moment but had been held steadily by one party, and polls suggest that Democrats have a good chance to capture enough Republican-held districts to put them well on their way to tilting the balance of power in Washington."
Hulse implies that Republican issues are stern fear-mongering, while painting Democratic positions in more flattering terms: "In their closely watched race, Mr. O'Donnell has sought to emphasize a hard line on immigration and raise the specter of Democratic tax increases while Mr. Perlmutter has pressed the need for change in Republican-controlled Washington and emphasized stem-cell research, an issue he has personalized, saying it represents the potential for treatment of his daughter's epilepsy."
Another story on Saturday from Joyce Purnick sees Democratic gains in the Republican state of Indiana ("In a G.O.P. Stronghold, 3 Districts in Indiana Are Now Battlegrounds").
Then there's Sunday's story by correspondent Lizette Alvarez, "In Two New Mexico Towns, Voices of Concern About the Party in Power."
Alvarez leads off with several paragraphs profiling the paper's favorite kind of Republican - an ex-Republican: "Jerry Eller, a Republican engineer who built his own house in this small town with big mountain views, voted twice for President Bush.
"But his disenchantment with the Republican Party cuts so deeply that if the 2004 presidential election were being held this year, Mr. Bush would not get his vote. 'If Kerry was running this time,' said Mr. Eller, 53, referring to Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in 2004, 'I would vote for him.'''
Abby Goodnough reports from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in Monday's "Running on Experience, a Longtime Incumbent Finds Himself on the Defensive," on Republican Rep. Clay Shaw Jr.'s race with Democrat Ron Klein: "But whether Mr. Shaw's strategy will save him or sink him on Election Day is anyone's guess.
"Mr. Klein has called Mr. Shaw a lackey of President Bush, prompting Mr. Shaw to emphasize his differences with the president, whose popularity four years ago helped Mr. Shaw beat back another tough challenger."
The tone is more negative and foreboding when it comes to a story on Republicans trying to take over a Democratic stronghold, West Virginia. Ian Urbina writes from Charleston, in Sunday's "Wealthy Coal Executive Hopes To Turn Democratic West Virginia Republican." (As opposed to those impoverished coal executives, we guess.)
"Don L. Blankenship is not the governor of West Virginia. But here in coal country some say he may as well be, considering the power he wields.
"Mr. Blankenship, the chief executive of the state's largest coal producer, Massey Energy, has promised to spend 'whatever it takes' to help win a majority in the State Legislature for the long-beleaguered Republican Party in a state that is a Democratic and labor stronghold.
"In a state where candidates who win typically spend less than $20,000, Mr. Blankenship has poured more than $6 million into political initiatives and local races over the past three years. Mr. Blankenship has spent at least $700,000 in his current effort to oust Democrats, and the state is awash with lawn signs, highway billboards, radio advertisements and field organizers paid for by him."
Urbina brings up unrelated personal issues: "Mr. Blankenship, who received about $34 million in compensation last year (roughly four times the industry standard) runs the company from a double-wide trailer just across the state line in Belfry, Ky. In April, Mr. Blankenship's personal housekeeper filed a lawsuit seeking unemployment benefits in which she accused him of responding with angry fits to infractions like getting the wrong McDonald's order or stocking the freezer with the wrong ice cream."
Urbina lets Democrats paint Blankenship in unflattering terms as a union-buster and despoiler of the environment, while letting Republicans praise him as a combination of Karl Rove and political donor Richard Mellon Scaife, making the GOP come off rather cynical.