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Quick shots: Voters slam on the brakes?

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala: Latest polls show the Democrats' position stabilizing
  • Voters prefer Democrats on a wide range of issues, he says
  • Alex Castellanos: There's a strong wave of voters seeking change
  • He says he thinks voters want to slam on the brakes on big government

Editor's note: There are 29 days to go before voters cast ballots in the hotly contested midterm elections. In this special feature, CNN's political contributors share their quick thoughts on what's making news.

Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, was a campaign consultant for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential campaign.

PAUL BEGALA: Signs of a closer election

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If the old saw is true that in politics a week is a lifetime, we have four lifetimes before Americans go to the polls. Nearly all the indicators point to major GOP gains this fall, and for all of 2010 I've been telling Democrats to build an ark. But as we enter the final month of the campaign, there are signs that perhaps the Democrats' position has stabilized.

The latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll shows that Americans are evenly split as to whether they want Democrats or Republicans to control Congress. In fact, 15 percent of Americans give the Dems a "very positive" rating, while Republicans garner a "very positive" rating from just 8 percent of Americans. Meanwhile, the latest Newsweek survey shows Dems leading Repubs on nearly all major issues, from unemployment (where they lead by 12 points) to federal spending (where Dems lead by 4 points), to Social Security (where Dems lead by 14).

None of this is to say Democrats are surging -- that would overstate it. But Tea Party conservatives like Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado have not been able to close the deal. It may just be that voters are getting a bit of buyer's remorse.

If Democrats can stop playing defense and start attacking Republicans, this may be a closer election than anyone thought.

ALEX CASTELLANOS: Huge wave of voters seek change

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Two years ago, President Obama was elected on the promise of hope and change. All we knew then was what change wasn't: George Bush.

Two years later, Americans are finally telling Washington what "change" is. Democratic leaders say they are getting the message: Change is "more" -- more spending, government growth and economic intervention. Republicans say change should be "less," not more, of what Washington's been doing the past two years. Is change an accelerator or a brake pedal? I think voters are slamming on the brakes but, hey, you are driving. What is "change"? (Tell us what you think.)

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So how big is the anti-Washington wave this year? Big enough to wipe out nearly two handfuls of establishment Republicans, from Arlen Specter to Mike Castle. Big enough that 38 percent more Republicans than Democrats turned out for the U.S. Senate primaries in Florida. Big enough that Republican pollsters are weighting survey results closer to less optimistic historical models -- because they'd rather be surprised than disappointed.

It is a wave of scared and determined voters who moved beyond anger long ago. Like good parents who figure out that yelling at misbehaving kids doesn't help, voters think November is time for serious consequences.

The opinions expressed in these commentaries are those of the authors.