The Campaign Spot

Obi-Wan’s Friday Afternoon Assessment

Jim: So what are you seeing right now?

Obi-Wan: This wasn’t the week the Democrats needed. Not a whole lot more could have gone wrong.

No sooner did you and I start talking about how Obama was helping the Republicans by campaigning in his shirtsleeves and tossing away his best campaign asset — the imagery of the presidency — than he further demeans the office by talking about “punishing enemies,” and the next day provides us with the ultimate counter-image, that of the president with the comedian who calls him “dude.” That will bother Americans. Big-time.

And then the week finishes up with bad economic numbers and a wonderful exhibit of something else we talked about, that the GOP message should be Obama as a symptom of the real problem, the problem of the elite that has been running the Democratic party since 1972. Cometh now the rich imagery of Bill Clinton — McGovern’s Texas ’72 campaign operative — working with the Obamaites to do a smarmy deal in Florida to save the Democratic Senate that brought back the memories of the smarmy deal he tried to pull off in the Pennsylvania Senate race, not to mention all the smarmy deals the administration did for the health-care bill. This will play through the weekend. And the GOP should talk about all the Obama-Clinton imagery has done to help them this week, because this could affect other Senate races beyond Florida.

Jim: So what’s your sense of the Senate races at this point?

Obi-Wan: Well, the impossible is at least within view. In a year when Republicans had to defend 18 of the 33 seats that were up and at the same time gain 11 Democrat-held seats — 10 after Scott Brown — the thing is actually conceivable, if hardly predictable. Arkansas, North Dakota, Indiana seem won, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania look good, so do Illinois and Nevada, meanwhile GOP candidates are tied or slightly ahead in Colorado and Washington and close in West Virginia — a wave could help them enough.

That is ten, but some of them are a little shaky. I know smart people who think California is this year’s lagging indicator and that Carly Fiorina will pull it off, because Boxer still can’t break 50. And, just for fun, has anyone noticed that a poll or two in Connecticut and Delaware show a slackening in the Dems’ lead there?

Jim: See, now you’re going to drive people crazy. When you say that, people start jumping to the idea that either Connecticut or (COUGH) Delaware is in play.

Obi-Wan: Okay, whoa, now, Geraghty-ites. I will give you something nice to chew on this weekend, but only if you promise to keep this caveat in mind. You have to understand that Jimmy boy and I remember how proud we were of ourselves when, as people laughed uproariously, we said McCain had a good last debate and he would tie up the race and four days later or so, the AP poll had McCain storming back, credited to the debate performance. But, see, the problem with this election analysis stuff (as illustrated by that poor soul who wrote in recently saying we predicted a McCain win in ‘08) is that some people remember not what they read but only their emotions when they read it.

So, if everyone will be very adult about all this, and everyone will understand that on Monday the size of the Gallup generic lead will matter and the Senate polls and that even if the GOP runs the table on the contested races they still can’t afford an unexpected loss somewhere else, here is the something nice to munch on . . .

This thought comes from my memories of other wave years. One came while working on the 1964 campaign — the immensely popular candidates Chuck Percy in Illinois and Bud Wilkinson in Oklahoma going down to defeat. And 1980 and the awe on Howard Baker’s face when he found out he was Senate majority leader as the GOP picked up 12 Senate seats. And in 1994, one of the network guys was giving me the early exit polls about 11:30 a.m. One indicator was going to be Fred Thompson in Tennessee, who had a rocky start to his campaign. I remember Thompson was up by something astonishing, like 12 or 18 points. That night Pataki easily took the New York governorship and the speaker of the House, Tom Foley, lost in Washington.

The point here? Crazy stuff happens in wave elections. And right now the “happy times” wave seems close. But if the Superwave shows up — and the Gallup low turnout number is probably indicative (at 14 this week, which is unheard of) — anything could happen. Here is the fun thought for the weekend. (Though, remember now, this is all but pure recreation.) Will certain Senate islands get washed over? Oregon and Wyden? One of the New York seats? Maryland and Mikulski? Though, as I say, if Leahy loses in Vermont you can get me at one of the local homes. Old guys can handle just so much cognitive dissonance.

Jim: . . . “Jimmy Boy”?


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