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Some Democrats see reason for optimism. But is it just false hope?

For comparison purposes, I looked at notes from interviews with Republican and Democratic strategists in late September 2006, when Democrats were thought to be marching toward their takeover of the House and the Senate.

The interviews came after then-President George W. Bush had begun the GOP's fall offensive, built around the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and an effort to make national security a more significant issue in the campaign. What's eerie is that Republicans then were saying some of the same things Democrats are saying now.

"I'm feeling better about some of the races," one Republican pollster said at the time. "The campaigns are making a difference."

"There's a real sigh of relief for Republican operatives," said another. "Unlike 1994, when Democrats were caught off guard, Republican strategists are pretty focused on the environment we're in and being tactically competent and aggressive. . . . We all know this is going to be a game of inches."

A Democrat said: "A lot of the polls we've done this year [showed that] Democrats were more energized behind Democrats than Republicans were. Republicans [now] seem to be awakening and coming back to their partisan senses."

A few weeks later, they were despairing once again.

What happened for a time in 2006 may be happening now. At this point in every election, partisan lines harden and people who haven't been engaged begin to get interested.

Democrats believe that, in recent weeks, more of their partisans have awakened to the prospect of a Republican Congress influenced by tea party sentiments and don't like it. The stakes have become clearer.

There are limits to all this, however. For every sign of movement toward the Democrats, there is a race where Republicans are doing better.

The most surprising of the past week is Connecticut's Senate contest , where Republican Linda McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive, has narrowed the lead of state Attorney General Dick Blumenthal to single digits.

In Ohio's other big race, former Republican representative and Bush administration official Rob Portman has opened up a big lead for a Senate seat over Democratic Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher. In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet is struggling against Republican Ken Buck. House Democrats are on the defensive in district after district.

For Democrats, the signs of life among their partisans will help, but mostly in Democratic strongholds - those blue states where there are competitive races, such as California, Washington and Maryland.

But in swing states and swing districts, where Democrats made significant gains in 2006 and 2008, the mini-revival won't be enough. Democrats must find a way to appeal more successfully to independents if they hope to blunt the Republicans' march toward a majority.

The reality is that changing the fundamentals of any election is difficult. Democrats can do little between now and Nov. 2 to alter negative impressions about the economy. Obama's approval ratings have shown no real sign of improvement. Republicans continue to be more energized than Democrats.

Pessimistic Democrats still fear they will lose the House. Fighting at the margins, they see some encouraging signs. But will that be enough to prevent a wipeout in November?

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