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Fearless forecasts for D.C. area elections

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For a predominantly Democratic region, the Washington area has a surprisingly high number of close, nail-biter races in Tuesday’s elections.Virginia, a genuinely critical national battleground, could go either way in the presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns. (Northern Virginia will go for the Democrats, but not necessarily by enough to offset GOP advantages downstate.)

In Maryland, polls are all over the place on whether voters will say “yes” to expanding casino gambling. The contest over same-sex marriage reportedly has tightened.

Even the District, which will probably vote 9-to-1 for President Obama, has a hot race for an at-large D.C. Council seat. The result will help gauge the public’s current distaste with city politicians’ ethics controversies.

Given such uncertainty, a sensible columnist would avoid making predictions that might embarrass him Wednesday morning. But that’s no fun.

Instead, here are fearless forecasts on the tightest and most interesting races, based on polls and interviews with hopefully well-informed observers.

Virginia presidential: Most recent polls are within the margin of error in the struggle for the Old Dominion’s 13 electoral votes. Obama was leading Mitt Romney until the president’s disastrous performance in the first debate, when Romney surged. Now there are signs that Obama has regained momentum.

African American turnout will be robust for the Democrat, as in 2008, when he carried the state by six percentage points. But polls show that his support has eroded among white independents disillusioned about the economy.

The GOP’s ground organization is much improved from four years ago, but the Democrats are confident that theirs is still superior.

Fearless forecast: Obama squeaks through. (Incidentally, on election night, look for Virginia’s results as an early sign of who’s winning the presidency.)

Virginia U.S. Senate: In a fascinating example of ticket-splitting, a small but highly influential slice of deep purple voters is preparing to cast ballots for Republican Romney for president and Democrat Tim Kaine for the Senate.

Kaine has been consistently polling a couple of points better than Obama statewide. He has particular strength around Richmond, where he was a popular mayor.

That’s bad news for GOP Senate candidate George Allen. Kaine has followed the classic Virginia Democratic strategy of running slightly to the right of the national ticket. He also has scored by emphasizing his willingness to bridge Congress’s partisan divide.

Forecast: Kaine.

Maryland Dream Act (Ballot Question 4): Moving to the Free State, let’s start with an easy one. Practically everybody agrees voters will endorse the measure to grant in-state tuition at state universities to undocumented immigrants whose families have been paying Maryland taxes.

Forecast: Approved.

Maryland congressional redistricting (Question 5): Little attention has been paid to the measure that would approve a new electoral map designed by Democrats to wrest away a Republican U.S. House seat.

Forecast: Approved.

Maryland same-sex marriage (Question 6): Polls showed gay nuptials were comfortably ahead in mid-October, but some say the margin has narrowed.

Supporters are worried about a last-minute ad blitz by opponents. They’re also concerned that polls could be misleading, as some people might have given pollsters the “politically correct” answer endorsing same-sex marriage only to vote the other way.

However, cultural attitudes on this issue have reached a tipping point, especially among young people. Obama’s endorsement has been a huge help in the African American community.

Forecast: Approved.

Maryland expanded casino gambling (Question 7): This one truly is anybody’s guess. Polls have varied wildly, showing trends for and against.

The Democratic Party’s organizational support, plus a desire in the Washington suburbs to create jobs in Prince George’s County by building a new casino there, could carry the day.

But I think many will vote “no” because they’re sick of the issue and the ads. Also, there’s no guarantee that the casino money will add to spending on education.

Forecast: Rejected.

D.C. Counci l: The big question is whether voters unhappy with shoddy ethics and financial missteps overall at the D.C. Council will oust Michael A. Brown (I-At Large) in favor of strong challenger David Grosso (I).

(The other at-large incumbent, Vincent Orange, will win because he’s the Democratic nominee in the heavily Democratic city.)

Brown has a record of personal financial problems, including missed tax payments, and recently got in an embarrassing dispute with a top aide over embezzled or misallocated campaign funds. Grosso has mounted a well-financed campaign and should benefit from votes of new residents looking for change in the District.

Forecast: Grosso.

So here I am, out on some limbs. At the end of Thursday’s column, I’ll crow about my successes and stoically acknowledge the bum calls. I only hope the former are well in the majority.

For previous Robert McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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