Ken Rudin

Contrary to what you read, everything politicians say and do don't necessarily always have to be only about 2016. Sometimes, really and truly, presidential calculations are not part of the conversation.

Tuesday, as those who follow politics probably know, is Election Day. The battle between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney has been contentious, expensive, personal, illuminating, ugly, frustrating, petty, enlightening and, above all, long. And it is expected to be close.

This week's Political Junkie column is an attempt to guide you to what's at stake on Tuesday, both in the contest for the White House as well as the 33 Senate and 435 House seats on the ballot.

The 2010 elections, in which Republicans had a net gain of 63 seats in the House, was one for the record books. It was the most impressive showing by the GOP since 1938, when their net House pick up was 80 seats, and the best showing by any party in the House since 1948, when the Democrats added 75 seats. The sweep of two years ago more than wiped out the gains made by the Democrats in the House of 2006 (31 seats) and 2008 (20 more).

The election is not over, we are told time and time again, and it's not. There are still some 40-plus days to go, there are still debates to be had. It's true that Mitt Romney trails President Obama in most key battleground states, but the margins are in single digits. And, lest we forget, it's not that presidential candidates down in the polls haven't come from behind to win in the past.

Two years ago, I asked Texas Sen. John Cornyn, then (and still) the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), if the GOP was going to win enough seats to take back the majority it lost in 2006.

The Democrats were no sooner out of Charlotte when the bad economic news came.

A more disappointing job report than had been forecast. Economic numbers weaker than expected. Just 96,000 jobs were created in August, far fewer than what economists were anticipating. And even a lower unemployment rate — down to 8.1 percent from 8.3 — was explained as that more people had simply stopped looking for work. The hope of four years ago is quickly becoming a fading memory, especially for those whose lives have not seen the change Barack Obama once promised.