A new batch of polls released over the weekend confirm that a GOP takeover of the Senate is now very likely. The major forecasts are putting the odds of that happening at 70 percent and higher.

Yet even though it has not happened yet, the argument among Republicans over the meaning of their Senate takeover is underway. The differing interpretations capture the fault lines that will complicate the GOP quest to use their majority to prove they can govern in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Naturally, Ted Cruz, the leader of the Ted Cruz Wing of the GOP, is already claiming the results should embolden the GOP to keep up the crusade to repeal Obamacare, and that nominating a moderate standard bearer in 2016 would be suicidal. In an interview with the Post, Cruz explains what that continuing crusade should look like:

Cruz also would like the Senate to be as aggressive in trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act as the House, which has voted more than 50 times to get rid of the law.
Republicans should “pursue every means possible to repeal Obamacare,” Cruz said, including forcing a vote through parliamentary procedures that would get around a possible filibuster by Democrats. If that leads to a veto by Obama, Cruz said, Republicans should then vote on provisions of the health law “one at a time.”

Cruz will seize on a GOP takeover of the Senate to argue that the public has risen up en masse against the health law and that anything short of a fully committed eliminationist stance will not draw the sharp contrast between liberal and conservative governance that (he will say) is the only way to guarantee a Glorious Victory in 2016.

Republican leaders are preparing to argue that broad GOP gains in the House and Senate would represent a top-to-bottom validation of their party’s mainline wing. Having taken a newly heavy-handed approach to the primary season this year, the top strategists of the Republican coalition say capturing the majority would set a powerful precedent for similar actions in the future — not just in Senate and congressional races, but in the presidential primary season as well.
National Republicans managed this year to snuff out every bomb-throwing insurgent who tried to wrest a Senate nod away from one of their favored candidates….A few years removed from the post-2008 economic panic and the red-hot tea party anger over the passage of the Affordable Care Act, there’s been more maneuvering room in 2014 for candidates with calmer dispositions and more traditional political résumés.

When it comes to the proper level of confrontation the new GOP Senate majority should maintain against Obamacare, we’ve already seen what happened when Mitch McConnell tentatively floated a reality check more suited to a moment when “red hot Tea Party anger” over Obamacare is not the single dominant political fact of life. He argued last week that repeal would require 60 votes, seemingly suggesting he would not use the tactic known as “reconciliation” to go after it with simple majority votes. After the predictable conservative backlash ensued, McConnell abruptly reversed course.

Now Cruz is telegraphing that he will demand the new GOP majority remain committed to using that tactic — and a whole lot more. It isn’t going to result in repeal, but for Cruz, that’s obviously beside the point. As one Republican strategist puts it: “If Obamacare remains the focus, he will certainly get the base jazzed up about what he’s doing, but he won’t get rid of the law.”

To put that less politely, Cruz is going to do everything he can to keep the GOP base in the grip of the delusion that, at best, Obamacare will be repealed legislatively during the Obama era once the President is finally forced to surrender (in reality, the courts are the more realistic remaining way to do serious damage to the law), and at worst, forcing Obama to veto one rearguard action against the ACA after another is the way to win over swing voters in national elections (culminating, of course, in a GOP victory in 2016 that will end with the law’s demise). As always, only insufficient anti-Obamacare zeal among GOP leaders can prevent the law from facing its ultimate reckoning.

This is going to be a fun two years.

* PATH TO HOLDING DEM MAJORITY IS VERY NARROW: The HuffPollster crew has a nice overview of what the polling averages tell us about the state of play in the Senate, concluding that Democrats are probably doomed in the six red states. That leaves this remaining path for Dems to hold on:

Democrats would need their incumbents to hold on in New Hampshire and North Carolina and to overcome relatively narrow polling deficits in Iowa and Colorado. Yet even in that circumstance, Democrats would still need one more seat to retain a majority. They could achieve this by picking off Georgia (or perhaps having one of their their incumbents overcome far longer odds in Alaska or Arkansas). Absent that, they would just have to hope that independent Greg Orman wins in Kansas and opts to caucus with the Democrats in January.

Alternatively, if Dems hold NC and NH but win only one of CO and IA, they’d then need two of the following: GA, KS, or a surprise hold in AK or AR.

* FINAL POLLS SHOW GOP IN STRONG POSITION: The last batch of NBC/Marist polls finds Republicans ahead in Kentucky by 50-41, Georgia by 48-44, and in the expected Louisiana runoff by 50-45. The polling averages don’t show quite as large leads. But the bottom line is that Democrats’ hopes of offsetting major losses of their seats with a surprise pickup in Kentucky or Georgia, or with a surprise hold of Louisiana in a runoff, are looking grim.

One caveat: The final Public Policy Polling survey of Louisiana shows Republican Bill Cassidy with only a 48-47 lead in a runoff against Senator Mary Landrieu, and it’s hard to predict what that electorate would look like in early December.

* SHAHEEN HOLDS SLIM LEAD IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: The final WMUR Granite State poll finds Senator Jeanne Shaheen leading Scott Brown among likely New Hampshire voters by 47-45. That’s within the margin of error, and when undecided voters are pushed, Shaheen’s lead shrinks to 48-47.

This is consistent with the polling average, which has Shaheen up by 2.6 points, suggesting she still holds a small lead. Obviously, if Democrats can’t hold on here, the GOP is headed for a very big night, but it looks like they might.

* MIXED POLLING IN IOWA: A new Quinnipiac poll finds that Bruce Braley has “closed the gap” with Joni Ernst, with the two now tied at 47-47 among Iowa likely voters. This comes after a previous Q-poll had Ernst leading by four. In the new one, Braley leads by 56-36 among people who have already voted.

Meanwhile, the Des Moines Register poll over the weekend found Ernst up by seven points. The average has Ernst up by 2.7 points, so she still likely has a small but clear edge.

* ALASKA, COLORADO COULD STILL BE TIGHT: Public Policy Polling’s final polls show Senator Mark Begich trailing Dan Sullivan by only one in Alaska, 45-46, while Cory Gardner leads Senator Mark Udall by 48-45. Both of those are within the margin of error. In Colorado the average has Gardner up 2.4, but all-mail balloting could change the composition of the electorate. The polling average in Alaska has Begich down by 3.7 points, but polling is notoriously unreliable there and Democrats have built a formidable ground operation.

Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac poll finds Gardner ahead by two points, 47-45, down from a seven point lead last week. A Dem win in one of these states remains possible, though unlikely.

* COLORADO EARLY VOTE SHIFTS TOWARDS DEMS: Meanwhile, Nate Cohn looks at the early voting numbers in Colorado and finds the trends may be shifting in the direction of Democrats. As Cohn notes, the latest tallies are showing a rise in early voting among young voters, Democrats, and, crucially, people who didn’t vote in 2010.

That last one goes to whether Dems can expand the electorate beyond what is showing up in polls. Dems in the state are cautiously optimistic about these trends, too. But even if these trends do continue, they still may well not be enough to overcome Udall’s poll deficit.

* AND A DEEP DIVE INTO THE EARLY VOTING: Michael McDonald, a political scientist who studies voting patterns, has the most comprehensive look at the early voting that has yet been attempted. Short version:

My take on the early vote data — where there are enough statistics to be informative — is that the Republican sweep screaming in the headlines is overblown. Senate control is up for grabs and Democrats have a decent chance to defy the polls. I expect that the election will be so close that we won’t know who won until all ballots are counted and the vote is certified several days following the election, not to mention highly probable run-off elections in Georgia and Louisiana.

Notably, McDonald says the latest data suggests Iowa will be so close that we won’t know the winner on election night, and that in Colorado, Democrats still retain a realistic path to victory.