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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Last-Minute Jitters

It’s t’wo days til Election Day 2006, and there’s a lot of nervousness out there about how things will break at the very last minute. Yes, it’s hard to find much of anybody, even in GOP circles, who doesn’t think Democrats will retake the House. But today, a new Washington Post/ABC poll has the Democratic generic ballot advantage dropping to 6 points. And Mason-Dixon has dropped a batch of new Senate polls showing Chafee up in RI, Corker romping in TN, Burns drawing even with Tester in MT, and Steele within 3 of Cardin in MD. Tomorrow, of course, may bring other polls that contradict this latest burst of semi-cheer for the GOP (I know Markos is a big fan of Mason-Dixon’s accuracy, but I’ve always suspected them of a fairly heavy thumb on the scales for Republicans), but today’s buzz is illustrative of a general uncertainty about what will really matter at the very end. I suspect a lot of this is derived from (a) the unexpected tilt of last-minute trends in the last two midterm elections, (b) the confounding two years ago of the common assumption that undecided voters break against incumbents in stormy weather, and (c) the mythology that has developed around the GOP’s 72 Hours get-out-the-vote system. Add in to these factors the remote possibility, being trumpted by hopeful Republicans, that the Saddam verdict and sentence–or even less credibly, the Kerry furor of last week–has had a significantly positive effect on conservative base turnout.The final factor, of course, is the infamous “horse-race” psychology of the political chattering classes, who love close elections and thus tend to promote them. I don’t know if Democrats will take the House narrowly or massively, or take the Senate at all, but I do know you will have to get pretty deep into the expectations game to view any likely result on Tuesday as anything less than a Democratic triumph. Not that long ago, the CW was that gerrymandering made any Democratic takeover of the House almost impossible until 2012, and that the red-state/blue-state divide guaranteed virtually perpetual Republican control of the Senate and of most state governments. No matter what happens, Democrats will defy those expectations on Tuesday.

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