Once-despondent Democrats now believe that they may be able to avert a total midterm wipeout, as a series of important states now appears to be trending in their direction or growing more competitive. The bad news: In a sign of how hostile the election environment remains for the party, the cautious optimism is largely due to the view that the impending political hurricane could be downgraded from category 5 to category 4. … – Democrats seize on signs of hope

The One Nation rally and the latest Newsweek poll, coming after the NBC/WSJ poll, offers more hope for Democrats, even as the underlying challenge stays the same.

The midterms has been all about the Tea Party up until now. We’re just beginning to head into the pay attention period of the election season. This will be the most dangerous time for the Tea Party and the far right, which is already being proven, because as people tune in the contrast between Democrats and people running on the Republican right is as real as it is frightening.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the right-wing radio crew, along with Fox News, are all going full tilt to back the extremists. Rush saying these “regular people” have simply lived “real lives.” One can only imagine what the wingnut radio crew would be squealing if Ms. O’Donnell was a Democrat claiming to have practiced witchcraft. Rush calling Mr. Paladino “Trumanesque” when he threatened to take out New York Post State Editor Fred Dicker. This election season has turned Limbaugh’s analysis into a parody parade of not to be believed propaganda that I haven’t heard from him since he speculated on air that Pres. Bill Clinton was a murderer.

The race that most defines the midterms is Sen. Harry Reid versus Sharron Angle. Reid is disliked by many Nevadans, but also gets low marks in just about every national poll. However, when you look at Sharron Angle there is real danger in being so cavalier as to think she’s a sober choice for the Senate. This race is a microcosm of what’s happening in other places across the country, with the Tea Party candidates that are succeeding revealing their inner adult, which has been Marco Rubio’s strength, no matter his far right reach. Still, the bottom line is that for many likely voters the choice remains none of the above or the lesser of two evils, which actually is the only thing standing between the Democrats and oblivion.

Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman made the case Sunday for an independent candidacy for 2012, which spun Steve Benen and others into a hissy fit over it. Granted, Mr. Friedman doesn’t get much right (see Iraq), with Benen saying Friedman is simply part of a “long list of centrist media figures to call for a third party to offer a sensible alternative to Democrats and Republicans.” Benen finds Friedman’s argument “unpersuasive.” But if Benen is going to grumble about “unpersuasive” he should check his own argument, though he’s got a lot of company on this one.

There’s a reason people aren’t crazy about both parties, even if they like Democrats more, including what they say they stand for, with Republicans coming in second to Democrats. Campaigning on the public option then killing it without a fight isn’t inspiring. Republicans killing everything is even worse. Speaker Pelosi inviting the Catholic Church to help write health care was an outrage. Republicans killing any hope of expanding health care even worse. It’s the type of leaders that rise in both big parties, which many believe has gotten us in the mess we’re in, but is also keeping us stuck. Likely voters are turning to outsiders, while longing for a choice beyond the big two, for a reason.

It’s a problem when Rand Paul and Jack Conway, clearly the better choice for Kentuckians, both say they think the Bush tax cuts should be extended. Both afraid to upset the tax cart, because someone might run a negative ad saying they’re raising taxes. Bill Clinton raised taxes in the 1990s, but that didn’t work out too badly, now did it? But of course, Bubba could sell it.

Now, it wouldn’t be a shocker, since Friedman is a New Yorker, that he’s secretly hoping for a Michael Bloomberg run in 2012. That’s not the issue and neither is the Donald Trump fantasy candidacy. The issue is that people are sick of the same old political formula with the same types of creatures the big two parties churn out, which now includes Barack Obama for many likely voters, because people feel the campaign marketing hasn’t lived up to the man’s actions. It’s why the number one issue in the midterms is outsider status.

Take Linda McMahon in Connecticut. She’s left her wrestling wildness in the dust and is coming off as a serious businesswoman who wants to go to Washington to change what’s been happening. She’s also got the outsider, independent quotient, which is the number one identifying element for all candidates who are rising to the top, including being a woman, something that makes her the ultimate political outsider. As an aside, Charlie Crist going conveniently Independent has been clearly seen as perfunctory, with Florida voters knowing an insider pol when they see one, rejecting Crist for Rubio. McMahon’s opponent, Mr. Blumenthal, is as insider as you get in Connecticut, so with McMahon’s sober campaign countering the crazy of other right-wing candidates, she’s moved into striking distance. Whether she can win is another matter, which is still the question haunting all the outsider types who have come a long way, but still have to get elected.

As for Democrats, they’ve got real problems, which are making people restless and looking elsewhere. With Pres. Obama the instigator of the “Debt Commission” that is targeting fundamental changes to Social Security, with Democrats going along so far, why shouldn’t voters be questioning the loss of their political soul? When Democrats won’t fight for middle class tax cuts and make the case before an election, why shouldn’t people look for an Independent who will?

What will put the outsiders in office is that Democrats may come out for candidates as they would in normal midterms, but Tea Party, Independents and Republican numbers will likely be much greater. What shakes out in the balance is the election, but also the House, with the Senate remaining safe for Democrats, though considering their weak leadership it hardly matters.

Looking forward, what the chaos politics of the midterms continues to unleash is a further acting out of voters showing their dissatisfaction with both Democrats and Republicans. It won’t go away after November no matter how much partisans want to ignore it and whether Tea Party candidates win or lose.

This post has been updated.