My purpose for blogging is to write about politics, culture and society, with an emphasis on international affairs. However, lately I’ve drifted into the realm of American electoral politics, and for the next week I’m just going to go with it. I’m addicted to reading polls, playing with scenarios, and following fervently the horserace side of this campaign.
I can’t work, I find myself heading over to politico.com (Ben Smith and Jonathan Martin have must-read blogs) or realclearpolitics.com (especially their poll page) to get the latest. I’ll look at the left side from the Huffington Post and Rawstory, while the right is represented by Drudge and Q&O. And if I want a “crazy anarchist” take, I’ll go to 2-4. And, of course, there’s the mainstream media reports…the latest gaffe, rumor or prediction, I’m there! This is truly addictive behavior, and my solace is after November 4th I will no longer be able to feed my addiction, and thus will have to return to a more balanced focus on the world and its situation.
I’m also not at all into the issues. I’m about the horserace now. After the election I’ll look at the issues and grapple again with problems like, oh, how do we avoid a world wide depression that could ignite wars and cause misery. But being a true addict, those big issues seem trivial compared to the latest poll from Missouri.
Lest this sound like I’m treating this like a sporting event, this addiction is driven by how much the horse race says about our culture, and about the nature of American politics in an era of “crisis and transformation.” From a political science stand point, it’s full of new variables and uncertainties, meaning that regardless who wins, there is going to be a lot to observe and interpret after the election. All of this combines to make me an addict.
First, the political science: never before has a candidate for President so outspent another major candidate. The amount of money being spent by Obama is mind boggling. That means he should be a shoo-in if the hypothesis that money works in politics is true. On the other hand, never before has a black male with a name like ‘Barack Hussein Obama’ run for President. That, along with the fear mongering of the GOP (Ayres, Wright, socialist labels, etc.) should make McCain a shoo-in. And if Obama wins, how much of it is the money, how much is the message, or the possibility that in 21st century America people are getting beyond the kind of Atwater style attacks that have served the GOP well in past.
I have always been a believer that the ground game is where elections are won. While Kerry was attacked in 2004 by motley groups like the “swiftboaters,” he could have still won if not for the way that Karl Rove built the strongest ground game ever seen in terms of getting out the vote, and targetting where to put resources to get out the vote. Now Obama has a ground game that looks even more formidble, and could bring to the polls demographics that usually vote Democratic, but often don’t vote — the youth, minorities, etc. Will it work? If so, the Democrats could ride a Tsunami of greater electoral gains down the ballot than anyone could have dreamed of even a few months ago. If not, it will join John Kerry’s much vaunted GOTV effort as more proof that the youth and minorities won’t show up, no matter how hard one tries.
I’ll be right back. I need to get my “fix.”…OK, I’m back…no new polls, but I did go read that Obama is within five of McCain in Arizona, though his favorability rating there is 49 and unfavorable rating is 50. That is an example of how odd this race is. McCain has a 59% favorability rating, and in his home state should be much farther ahead. And, since the same people answered each question that means that a lot of people who like McCain are still voting Obama…or perhaps it means Obama has softer support and McCain has more of possibility to move up…see this race is full of little tidbits like that!
Societally, this race could potentially be more of the same — a narrow GOP victory disappointing Democrats who thought they’d win this time — or it could be a major realignment, much like Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory. When Jimmy Carter won in 1976 it was cool to be liberal, being conservative was looked down on, and in general the Republicans were seen as out of touch. Then after 1980 conservatism took hold, liberal became ‘the L word,’ talk radio took off, and by the 90s some Republicans were talking about a permanent majority in Congress. If Obama pulls off a huge victory, the pendulum could swing back, and conservatism and ‘free markets’ will be seen as dangerous, having brought us a decade of war and financial turmoil. Given that even President Bush has embraced nationalizing parts of the financial market in at least the short term, people may be more ready than ever for an activist government. If that’s the case, McCain’s message is way out of touch for this election.
Of course, if the re-alignment talk is wrong, McCain has the best strategy available. How big the margin is on Tuesday, should Obama win, will give a huge indication of where the country is at. If the Democrats pull massive gains in the Senate and House, the world will be turned up side down in Washington. It’ll be a completely different ball game in 2009 (and a lot of staffers and personnel with political jobs will move in or out of the city). If, however, people still stick to opposing taxes, fearing ‘big government,’ and worry about the Pelosi-Reid-Obama combination that defines McCain’s late campaign warning, then the race will tighten considerably. If McCain wins, that’s a sign that the world isn’t so different after all. If Obama wins, but the Republicans do better than currently expected in the Senate and House races, that’s a sign that McCain’s message still resonates, people aren’t ready to embrace change across the board.
As the election nears I’ll be posting some ‘election tools’: Senate races to watch, a state by state guide (with poll closing times), and a list of ‘early signs’ of whether it’ll be a late night, or if we’ll know early who will win. Of course for those of us interested in the bigger questions about what the election means, it’ll be a late night anyway — I need to have a sense of where the House and Senate will be before I’ll be able to fall asleep without getting up and running back to the TV or the computer.
So this election horse race is a focal point for a lot of interesting questions about American politics and American society. I don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy and be fascinated by it. But any addict would say that, wouldn’t they?