WASHINGTON -- After more than $2 billion spent on congressionalcampaigns, an onslaught of negative ads, and historically low approvalratings, voters are still on the verge Tuesday of rehiring members ofCongress by the same partisan margins that currently divide the Houseand Senate.
"We're seeing in 2012 an election that seems to bedemonstrating that the country is fairly equally divided in itsviewpoints," said former representative Tom Reynolds, a New YorkRepublican and the party's former campaign chief.
Wednesday couldbring about a frustrating reality to the 69% of Americans whodisapprove of Congress, which ranks among the lowest pre-electionmeasurements recorded by Gallup, and the gridlock that has defined theinstitution for the past two years.
There will be new faces in Congress next year, but the number of Republicans and Democrats isn't going to change much.
According to data compiled by the non-partisan Cook Political Report,there are 62 U.S. House seats with no incumbent on the ballot - arecord since 1992 - but not enough seats are forecast to change partisanhands to upset the current balance of power. House Republicans areheading in to Election Day with a 242-seat majority, and Cook projectsthe likeliest outcome for a zero- to five-seat gain for Democrats.
MORE: Election Forecast
TheU.S. Senate could be an even more dramatic reinforcement of the statusquo. Democrats control the chamber 53-47, and Democrats are not onlyfavored to maintain control of the chamber, but it is a "strong"possibility that the margin will not change at all, according to ReidWilson, an election analyst for National Journal's Hotline.
Forexample, Republican wins in Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana would beoffset by Democratic wins in Maine, Massachusetts and Indiana. If noother seats change hands, it's "game over," Wilson said, for lingeringGOP hopes of a takeover.
The outcome means the next president isall but certain to face a similar, divided Congress. "There will be acheck on the president, whoever it is," said Don Stewart, a top aide forSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
President Obamawill once again face Republicans in the House led by Speaker JohnBoehner, R-Ohio, while a President-elect Mitt Romney will be greeted by acombative Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
In astatement last week, Reid characterized it "laughable" that a DemocraticSenate would help Romney move his agenda through the chamber.
"Whetherwe get different results in 2013 and 2014 depends entirely on whethernegotiations go forward on a different basis and in a different spirit,"said William Galston, a former aide in the Clinton administration andpolitical analyst at the Brookings Institution. "I think we've learnedthere are only two alternatives: gridlock or compromise. There is nothird alternative."
The potential for gridlock is greater thanthe potential for compromise, because neither party will be able toclaim a mandate for their policies if the divided Congress is reinforcedon Election Day, Reynolds said.
"There is no mandate, and itmeans that people have got to come and sit in a room and figure out whatsolutions there can be and will be to govern," Reynolds said. "I don'tthink the country has the luxury for the government to be at an endlessimpasse."