If Democrats do as well or better than expected on Election Day, the reasons will be clear: the botched war in Iraq, the second-term president’s resulting unpopularity, corruption in a Republican-led Congress. But if Republicans manage to defy the polls and pundits, the rush will be on to explain why — beyond the obvious reason that Republicans still are richer and better organized.
So why not explain in advance? In the amped-up world of politics, there already are “pre-buttals” “and “pre-crimations.” Here is my “pre-nalysis” of a GOP “BTE” showing:
TIMING: The Democrats would have been better off if Election Day had been a week ago. Their gaudy lead in the polls, and the consequent talk of a rising a Democratic tide finally grabbed the attention of the distracted and divided GOP conservative base. Once the idea of “Speaker Pelosi” seemed a genuine reality, the Devil talk had bite in the phone banks. The sometimes leering TV coverage of the Rev. Ted Haggard's travails reinforced that view among the faithful.
BIG BAD MEDIA: In the latest NEWSWEEK poll, evangelical Christians put the “mainstream media” at the top of the list of pernicious influences, right up there with Hollywood. The MSM’s conventional wisdom became a goad for Republican stalwarts: a chance to prove once again that Big Media doesn’t understand “real” America and its outlook.
SCRAPS OF GOOD NEWS: In politics, timing is everything and so is context. It’s a game of comparison. So a week with the relative absence of evident disaster helped George Bush and his party. And they had some sales items at the end: good unemployment numbers, North Koreans coming back to the negotiating table and the guilty verdict for Saddam.
UP-CLOSE-AND-PERSONAL: Republican Senators Conrad Burns and Lincoln Chafee managed to turn losing campaigns into competitive ones because they were lucky enough to be running for their lives in small states (population wise). They could buck the anti-GOP trend by relying on voters’ personal knowledge of them. They were not only genuine local characters; they could sell that connection on a handshake-to-handshake basis.
I AINT NO INCUMBENT: In Tennessee, Senate GOP candidate Bob Corker had one advantage that the man he replaced, Sen. Bill Frist, did not: Corker wasn’t an incumbent. Rep. Harold Ford, a shrewd and dogged campaigner, did his best to tie Corker to Bush’s Washington. But in a contest that boiled down to who was more “Tennessee,” Corker had an out that most other Republican candidates this year did not.
RACE: It giveth and taketh away — mostly taketh away from the Democrats. In Tennessee, the Republican’s cheap, race-baiting TV ad (“Harold, call me”) worked, sadly, but not in the obvious way. The controversy it generated actually was the first time many voters in East Tennessee learned that Ford was an African-American — a fact that can still cost votes in that region. In Maryland, GOP Senate candidate Michael Steele benefited from a rift in the black community over the candidacy of Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Key word: “botched.”