The Campaign Spot

Obi-Wan Kenobi: Every ‘GOP Senate candidate needs to have a finish.’

Several times a day, I get an e-mail: “So what does Obi-Wan think?” And then, when I don’t write an update, many suspect Obi-Wan and I are pessimistic and in hiding. Actually, as we’ve touched base every couple of days, his sense of the election hadn’t changed much since the last one.

But he finally gathered together some more thoughts, and answered a few questions . . .

Jim: Some faithful readers are worried. What do you think?

Obi-Wan: Let us be calm, people. Of course some of the Senate races are going to “tighten.” Except that they aren’t necessarily tightening. Perceptions are just heightening now among people who haven’t been paying that much attention and these folks are now getting themselves in a pollster’s likely-voter pool. In states like Pennsylvania, they are more likely to be Democrats. However, these newly engaged voters are not yet — if you will forgive the terminology — in “decision mode.” In giving a pollster an answer, they are more inclined than independents to just reflect the influence of whatever ad they saw the night before, or reply with an instinctive party affiliation. When they start actually reaching a decision, what we’re calling the “wave” — which is just a word for the preeminent concerns affecting everybody else — is likely to have more impact. And that means they either vote for the GOP or maybe stay home. (I have had a theory for a while that the points at which various groups of voters — those affiliated, for example, with the party under attack — become a factor could actually be tracked on candidates’ trajectories if some questions were added to voting surveys.)

So what I am saying here? The closer Senate races — which are more contentious and have more spots on the air and are giving voters more information than just House races, which are affected by “wave” issues — are going to show the oscillations but then eventually revert? Well, that’s what’s been happening so far. Remember, as we discussed a few weeks ago, that panic over the “Boxer pulling away” headline? Or Rand Paul losing his lead? The word here was caution, let’s see skepticism, thank you very much. And, in a matter of days, those races had reverted to form.

And remember the oscillations in the generic polling earlier this fall? The numbers now in poll after poll trend heavily Republican. Pew yesterday. Gallup.

And, as also mentioned earlier, polling data is not linear. Numbers that go up also have to go down. Oscillation. Think stock market. We watch the baseline through the ups and downs.

Jim: That sounds pretty promising. So the GOP not only takes the House but could sweep the Senate seats too?

Obi-Wan: Well, just hold on there pard. (I realize “pard” sounds more like a Western than a Jedi warrior.) That question ignores the most important thing about this election.

Nobody has never seen nothing — and I do mean to use the ungrammatical double negative here — like this. So far, this is not a “wave” election, this is a super-wave election.

Are you hearing Michael Barone on the radio or television? I don’t mean his analysis but that sound in his voice. The man is in awe. A part of him — like everybody else including your trusty extra-galactic wise man — does not know what in all tarnation (Westerns again) to make of this data and this election. The GOP generic lead is nothing like the polling run-up to 1994 or any other time. Off-the-charts stuff.

People like Barone don’t know what this means. Even as he goes digging around in the 19th-century data for something similar and readily allows the possibility of astounding GOP House gains, Barone is asking himself: Can this go on? Aren’t we likely to revert to something approaching a more normal “wave” at some point? (Incidentally, we saw a little something like that in 2006. The Dem lead got halved over the weekend before the election.)

And that’s not the only question. If this turns out to be a super-wave election, the fact is, we just don’t know what happens to Senate races in super-wave elections — is it possible the Democrats have individualized enough races and their negative ads can have enough impact to alter a super-wave? Or will enough of the electorate actually be frightened by talk of a GOP sweep and want to limit power in Washington by voting Democratic in some Senate races?

Jim: Well, that’s a little disappointing. And pretty vague. So can you say where you think the Senate races are headed, or not?

Obi-Wan: Well, not exactly. I’ve been trying to say for a while that “everything is early this year.” So the data that some people worry about could be the “noise” of newly engaged voters that I mentioned or just the oscillation or pullback that happens days before an election. That’s why it’s foolish to talk about this now. The “tightening,” if it exists, could be nothing or something, but early next week we might see some data that tells us a lot. Or maybe a little. But the little could be enough.

Jim: What can the GOP do about the Senate?

Obi-Wan: First, talk about the Senate and its importance to getting a new economic agenda going. Also raise national-security issues, like the START treaty, etc.

Secondly, remember Gingrich is right. The Democrats want to personalize Senate races. Ultimately, this campaign is about issues and ideas and the fate of the country. Not personalities. So they should remind Senate candidates that perfectly legitimate attack ads (like those Linda McMahon is running against a deeply flawed opponent) belong on the air and maybe right to the end. But also remind them — a candidate talking directly to the viewer can be very effective if it is about issues and ideas and the ultimate meaning of the campaign. Reagan did this heavily in the 80s campaigns. The camera doesn’t lie, so people can get a sense of the candidate, and that means those high production values or touchy-feely stuff about oneself are not necessary. I guess I am saying a GOP Senate candidate needs to have a finish. And that should be about the country and the issues and the great ideas. And why this is such an important election.

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