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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Obi Wan: ‘Maybe We Need to Look at Waves From Presidential Years. Maybe This is 1964.’



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Because you demanded it… an update from my mentor, nicknamed Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Jim: So I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails lately, all asking, ‘What does Obi-Wan Kenobi think?’

Obi-Wan: Why wouldn’t they want to know what somebody from a galaxy far, far away thinks?  With each passing day, this election looks more and more like it’s not of this earth.

I thought things were finally starting to make sense when I saw the bad news in the Boxer and Rand Paul polls, Boxer going up 8 and Rand Paul’s lead shrinking to 2.

Jim: That made sense to you?

Obi-Wan: I was waiting for the oscillation. Polling trajectories are like the Dow  – nothing linear. We go up. We go down. The oscillations have to happen. So some downside, some voter pullback, some temporary buyer remorse makes you feel at home, you think you know what’s  happening.

I mean, the Senate numbers aren’t supposed to keep breaking towards  the GOP.  We’re not even out of September.  And Ohio, Pennsylvania and even Wisconsin look like they are gone for the Democrats?  And Washington, West Virginia and Connecticut are already toss-ups?  In a normal wave year, that could happen, but you wouldn’t see it for a while. Not till mid or late October. 

So I was thinking all the trajectories are just advanced this year and so those polls were possible – it would make sense to see some of the general pullback that in an ordinary year would happen closer to the election.

Jim: So what changed?

Obi-Wan: Well, people like you blew both the polls apart. By the afternoon of the day they were released the voting samples got dynamited as overweighed towards the Democrats. Why the L.A. Times would make itself so vulnerable is beyond reasoning. The Boxer poll reminded me of the headline somebody invented about the Times coverage in the Grey Davis- Arnold Schwarzenegger race:  “Schwarzenegger Wins In Landslide, Davis Aides Increasingly Optimistic.”

Then yesterday none of this was  happening elsewhere  as your summary showed. The polling data continues to look positive.

Jim: You’ve been around Republican politics longer than I’ve been alive. Have you ever seen anything like this before?

Obi-Wan: Everybody is looking for parallels from  past off-year elections. Maybe we need to look at “waves” from past presidential races. Maybe this is 64 when Bud Wilkinson – I mean he was the Sooners coach and a demigod in Oklahoma  – actually lost a Senate race in the Johnson landslide.  And Chuck Percy who was hugely popular in Illinois got creamed.

In 1972, I remember asking  one of the GOP old pros whether the McGovern campaign was really as bad as it seemed. This guy was known for his realism but instead of his usual lecture about the danger of underestimating the opponent he surprised everybody by shaking his head and saying he had never seen a campaign invent so many ways to self destruct.

Jim: Can the Democrats recover?

Obi-Wan: Well, not with what we’re seen so far they can’t.  From Congress to Obama, everything they do reinforces their own implosion – it looks like McGovern, or the  Dukakis campaigns.

Take their strategy to go negative with personal attacks.  (Never mind that they have so lost their moral sense they don’t even know they are now proud of institutionalizing the smear.)  Anyway, if you’re going to do this, you do what [Dick] Morris did in 1996 for Clinton – run the negative ads  outside of Washington and otherwise keep quiet. Come in under the radar.  Instead they are out bragging about all this to the New York Times. Which gives the Republicans the chance to make it an issue and inoculate the public.

Jim: Generally, what should the Republicans be doing?

Obi-Wan: Avoid the saddest mistake that’s made in conflict –  McClellan at Antietam, Mead at Gettysburg, or the Falaise Gap in WWII,  or not letting Patton go for the Siegfried Line before that terrible winter and most of our casualties in Europe. Experts lack imagination and can’t seize the chance for Cannae-like victory.  

Can you imagine with all the ethical vulnerabilities you have been showing about Schumer  –  not to mention that he’s more a symbol of this Congress than anyone and he’s got pretty unimpressive numbers – the GOP  is not even mounting a campaign against him?

I saw the Conservative Party candidate (Jay Townsend) running against Schumer on Sean Hannity’s TV show last summer. So here is a nice-looking guy who speaks well and he’s funny. And he turns out be a political strategist, so he doesn’t make dumb mistakes.

So why aren’t we behind him I’m asking?  The experts answer that he’s just the Conservative and won’t even win the GOP primary. Two weeks ago he wins by 12 points. Sean Hannity knows more than the D.C. pros. And it wouldn’t take much — some attack ads on Schumer and some name ID ads for Townsend and you might have a race. Or maybe Jim Demint does one of his money bombs. Schumer is disliked. Just get started and the money will pour in.

My point is, somebody better tell the consultants to quit worrying about their win-loss ratio and take some chances and go for it. Nobody is omniscient about what races are certain investments least of all them. Dick Morris has been saying the same thing.

Jim: Is all of this conservative momentum going to continue?

Obi-Wan: Portraying the Democrats as the liberals that they really are makes this happen. Look at 1972 and 1988. Obama, Pelosi and Reid now have done it for us. ( They had to. As usual, our genius brigade of pros think their clever maneuvers and agency fees are more important than the “conservative vs liberal” theme.)

I’ll keep looking for the bad news. Maybe the October Surprise.  (Hugh Hewitt actually had a contest going to guess it.) I mean the missile crisis saved the Dems in 1962. And then there’s the oscillation and whether it will show. And one thing worries me about the GOP but it isn’t happening yet.  Let you know if it shows up.

Meanwhile I’m just trying to cope. These numbers this early are hard to handle. Nothing fits the old patterns and it’s disorienting. So when the “Leahy Is Slipping in Vermont” poll  comes out and you have trouble finding me for comment, just try the local rest homes. I’ll probably have phone privileges.


Tags: 2010 , Obi Wan Kenobi


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