Republicans and Democrats pushed their get-out-the-vote efforts to full throttle and political luminaries hopscotched the nation on behalf of candidates as some polls showed Tuesday’s midterm elections tightening.
President Bush jetted to Florida Monday to campaign for GOP candidates, but Charlie Crist — the Republican candidate for governor — planned to duck a rally with Bush in Pensacola to campaign at the Lox Around the Clock restaurant in Delray Beach.
The White House, which had already distributed schedules saying Crist would introduce Bush at the rally, was clearly irritated with the candidate’s decision not to appear with the president. Bush political strategist Karl Rove mockingly questioned what kind of alternate rally Crist could put together that would rival the 10,000-person crowd Bush was expected to draw.
Meanwhile, former President Clinton, the Democrats’ star campaigner, campaigned in upstate New York on behalf of Democratic House candidates before flying to Virginia for Senate challenger Jim Webb and Rhode Island to be with Senate candidate Sheldon Whitehouse.
Republicans and Democrats sent thousands of volunteers to states with the most contested races to work phone banks and canvass neighborhoods to turn out voters.
Complacency may be obstacle
The greatest obstacle for both parties is the historical tendency for voter turnout to be mediocre in off-year elections. For those who do vote, both parties have put together legal teams for possible challenges.
Polls showed a mixed picture of the electorate. A CNN poll released Monday said 58 percent of likely voters would cast their ballots for Democrats running for Congress and 38 percent for Republicans. But a Pew survey and a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed the gap narrowing to four to six percentage points.
“I think there is a lot of energy on the Democratic side. It was inevitable that the Republicans on their side would start to come back a little. But from early indications from our side, our field operation, I feel good about it,” Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic effort, told reporters in a conference call today.
Said Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman in a memo: “New polls say our party is heading into Election Day with strong momentum.”
What's at stake
Up for grabs are 435 House seats, 33 Senate seats, governorships in 36 states, and thousands of state legislative and local races. In 37 states, voters also will determine the fate of ballot initiatives, including whether to ban gay marriage, raise the minimum wage, endorse expanded embryonic stem cell research and — in South Dakota — impose the country’s most stringent abortion restrictions.
President Bush was spending Monday urging Republicans in Southern states to get out and vote, with his focus on Florida, Arkansas and Texas.
Republicans are hoping their party’s acclaimed get-out-the-vote operation can prevent a Democratic rout in a campaign marked by voter fury over the Iraq war.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who may become the first female House speaker, was cautiously optimistic about her party’s chances as she campaigned for Democratic candidates in the Northeast on Sunday. “We are thankful for where we are today, to be poised for success,” she said in Colchester, Conn. “But we have two Mount Everests we have to climb — they are called Monday and Tuesday.”
Her party appears increasingly confident it can ride a wave of public disenchantment with the Bush administration and Congress to victory in the House and, possibly, the Senate.
Taxes and Iraq
Republicans repeated their assertion that Democrats would raise taxes and prematurely pull out of Iraq if they controlled Congress. Democrats pressed their case for change, arguing that Republicans on Capitol Hill blindly have followed Bush’s “failed policy.”
Iraq has dominated the campaign season, and Republicans and Democrats sparred over the war again Sunday following Saddam Hussein’s conviction on crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to die by hanging; an appeal is planned.
“To pull out, to withdraw from this war is losing. The Democrats appear to be content with losing,” said Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, who leads the Senate GOP’s campaign efforts.
Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Democrat in charge of the party’s House campaign, shot back, “We want to win and we want a new direction to Iraq.”
The number of ballots cast historically is low in nonpresidential year elections, with only about 40 percent of U.S. citizens of voting age population going to the polls.