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A Race To Watch Amid The Huge House Wave

Electoral guru Stu Rothenberg has offered up his final House prediction: Democrats could capture Republican seats numbering "quite possibly well into the 30s." The drama here has been overshadowed by the presidential race, but that's just as big a Democratic congressional wave as we saw in 2006, when 31 seats switched.

Anti-Bush fervor and excitement over Obama helped fuel this -- knock on wood -- tremendous wave, but so did adaptibility. Democrats feverishly recruited candidates who were well-molded to their districts, from Bobby Bright, the anti-abortion mayor running as a Democrat in a Bible Belt district in Alabama, to Frank Kratovil, the NRA-supported prosecutor running in the hunting-happy eastern shore of Maryland. This kind of district-by-district emphasis is a little bit different than in 2006, when the Democrats' marquee hopefuls often reflected how the national party desired to see itself: think of the obsessions with the "Fighting Dems" (the Democratic vets who were supposed to reclaim the defense mantle from the Republicans) and with party-switchers like Jim Webb.

Back in Denver in August, I met one of this year's House challengers who's had to adapt the most: Ashwin Madia, a young Indian-American lawyer vying for retiring Republican Jim Ramstad's seat in Minnesota. Madia is a mini Jim Webb -- a former Marine with a stern, no-bullshit demeanor who used to vote Republican (he even volunteered for Bob Dole and McCain in 2000!). He was inspired by Webb's party switch. "I feel like I haven't changed, but the Republican party has shifted rightward," he told me. If he was running in 2006, Madia's tour in Baghdad and the moral authority it afforded him would have been the  organizing theme of his campaign -- especially since, like fellow vet Patrick Murphy, he's a political neophyte.

But this time around, even before the bailout, he found that the voters in his district -- who've eagerly supported Ramstad, a social moderate and fiscal conservative -- were nearly singlemindedly obsessed with the economy. So the emphasis got tweaked. Madia's bio on his website begins with a description of his cash-strapped immigrant parents' pursuit of the American dream; he concentrates on the economy on the stump; and when I asked him what, if he were elected, he'd like to be remembered for, he didn't even mention Iraq. "Balancing the budget and paying down the debt," he answered immediately. "I want them [the epitaph-writers] to say I was a fiscal conservative."

That said, the goal to fill the Democratic ranks with more vets and foreign-policy types -- though it's been forgotten in the closing days of this economy-driven campaign -- is still a worthy one. We still have to leave Iraq; the rest of the world doesn't stop its agitating when the Dow plummets. Tomorrow night's going to be a crazy tangle of returns, but Minnesota's third district is a race to keep your eye on. It's neck and neck. Madia could end up a party star if he makes it over the top -- impressive and charismatic, somebody who fluently moved from Lincoln and Kennedy to energy policy when I talked with him in Denver, and, in the least, better than some of the other political types they've been minting in Minnesota lately. 

--Eve Fairbanks