A combination of a just war, a recovering economy, the deaf ear of Democratic operatives, and a last-minute reminder that the Carter-Mondale era (ie. tax, spend, and inflate) was another Great Society failure, seems to have injected the electorate with an intensity that could deliver Congress to the GOP on Tuesday.
Over the course of a hard-fought mid-term campaign season, voters have been handed reason after reason to pull the Republican lever this time around, while nearly every political maneuver attempted by the Democrats has backfired.
The Democrats blamed a recession economy and a plunging stock market on President Bush. But Americans understood that these negatives — now corrected under Bush — were inherited from the days of Clinton-Gore. They tried to pin corporate corruption on Bush. But sophisticated shareholding voters correctly linked the business scandals to miscreant executives, and not the capitalist system.
The last-minute weaseling of Sen. Tom Daschle didn’t fool voters either. His obstructionist tactics to prevent key votes on the war, judges, energy, homeland security, and terrorist insurance hardly endeared the electorate — much to the dismay of the Democratic party.
Finally, there was the spectre of the Paul Wellstone “memorial service.” Instead of a somber reflection on the tragic loss of Minnesota’s left-wing but still beloved senator, the nation was treated to a harsh political campaign rally. The extreme partisanship of this event was symbolized by the decision of Democratic-party operatives to exclude Vice President Dick Cheney because of allegedly burdensome security arrangements. Meanwhile, the former executive-branch duo of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, who receive nearly the same security as Cheney, got front row seats to the sham event.
Pulling all these story lines together, an election-eve Gallup poll reveals an astonishing turnaround in likely voter sentiment. As of the last weekend of the race, the critical period when all recent elections have been settled, the new poll holds that voters prefer Republicans to Democrats by 51% to 45% in House races, a nine-point shift from two weeks ago when Democrats led Republicans 49% to 46%. The lead mirrors the six-point advantage held by the GOP in the final days of the 1994 election when they won control of the House and Senate.
The Gallup is the grandaddy of all polls, and most likely it was a combination of factors that delivered this startling turnaround. Surely the global war on terror, waged effectively by President Bush, is a critical factor. The serial sniper murders and the al Qaeda nightclub bombing in Bali near the end of the mid-term campaign only reminded voters of the need for strong wartime leadership.
But if the Republicans do the impossible and recapture the Senate, the economy will have loomed large in voter calculations. Although most political experts missed it, the economy is getting better. And October 2002 was Wall Street’s best monthly performance since January 1987.
Since most experts still do not understand the political power of the investor class, they fail to see the market rally as a barometer of economic improvement and voter confidence in the Bush plan. While Democrats campaigned on a so-called imploding economy, third-quarter gross domestic product — reported only a week before the election — rose 3%. This is the fourth consecutive quarterly increase following Sept. 11, and clearly disproves the dire economic warnings of the Democrats and the consensus of dismal-science economists.
As the president himself asserted on the campaign trail, “Our economy needs to be stronger.” But the public gives Bush credit for passing a personal tax cut in 2001 and a business tax cut earlier this year. Many voters seem to believe that a Republican-led Congress will generate additional pro-growth tax cuts if given the opportunity.
And as much as anything, the Wellstone political rally may have driven undecided voters into the Republican column. Why? Because the overriding figure of that faux memorial service was the old Democratic warhorse Walter Mondale — one of the key architects of the Jimmy Carter years of stagflation and the embarrassing decline of American prowess around the world. At a time of great security peril, no one — and that means no one in their right mind in this nation — wants to see a return of Carter-Mondale domestic and foreign policy.
The contrast between George Bush — the most popular U.S. politician in nearly 40 years — and Walter Mondale’s heritage of failure (and let’s throw in an increasingly visible Al Gore), may well be enough to give the Republican party an extraordinary across-the-board triumph on Nov. 5.