by Frank Schnittger
Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 06:05:59 AM EST
[Update 2] Chambliss has secured a resounding victory in the run-off election to the US Senate in Georgia in a campaign dominated by Republican calls to avoid giving Democrats a "super majority" in the White house, Senate and Congress. [End update]
As I write this the polls are closing in the Georgia Senate runoff election between Saxby Chambliss (R) and Jim Martin (D). The Runoff has been necessary because although Chambliss won the original election 50-47%, he just barely missed out on a 50% overall majority and so a runoff is required under Georgia electoral law.
Chambliss has been ahead in the opinion polls by 2-8% margins and all the Repuplican "heavyweigthts" including Sarah Palin and John McCain have been campaigning on his behalf. Meanwhile Obama has stayed in Chicago - a decision the pundits have interpreted as a concession of likely defeat - and an unwillingness to risk his political capital on a lost cause so early in his accession towards power.
The conventional wisdom emanating from Georgia itself doesn't give Martin a prayer because:
- He is a lacklustre candidate
- African Americans won't come out to vote without Obama on the ticket
- Early voting has heavily favoured Chambliss, according to exit polls, and
- The republicans are making a big play on the necessity of preventing Obama obtaining "absolute power" by achieving a 60 seat filibuster proof Senate representation.
However, somehow, from a distance of 5,000 miles, I am not so sure...
My first reason is that the Republican scare tactics about Obama may not work as well now as they did during the General Election. Consider the following numbers from a recent Gallup poll.
"Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his presidential transition?"
"Do you approve or disapprove of Barack Obama's choice of Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state?"
"As you may know, Barack Obama has asked Robert Gates, the secretary of defense for President Bush, to stay on the job for at least a year to continue dealing with the Iraq war and other matters of national defense. Do you approve or disapprove of having Robert Gates stay on as secretary of defense?"
"Barack Obama says that once he takes office he will push Congress to pass a large spending package, estimated by others at $500 billion to $700 billion, to spur economic growth. Would you favor or oppose such a measure?"
Hardly scary numbers are they? In fact Obama's 78% approval rating during his transition is far higher than Bush (63%) and Clinton (66%) during their transitions.
Then there is the fact that large numbers of Obama Volunteers from all around the USA have volunteered for the Georgia campaign - many travelling down there, and others phonebanking from their home states. The GOTV effort seems to be up to the usual Obama standard.
Then there is the fact that Obama has not come down to Georgia to campaign, but instead has busied himself about the Nation's business. Precisely what has he done to agitate and mobilise the Republican base and justify all those fear stereotypes the McCain/Palin campaign put out about him? Re-appointed Gates as Defense secretary? Appointed (McCain adviser) General Jones as National security adviser? Hillary Clinton as Secretary of state? Ex-Republican Geithner as Treasury Secretary?
Could it just be that, even in deepest South Georgia, the penny is dropping that a vote for moderate Jim Martin is not a vote for a Muslum, Communist, Terrorist loving liberal? However the turnout in a runoff election is often only half that in a General election so the side with the better organisation and more committed party base generally wins. The GOP has hugely outspent the Martin Campaign in TV advertising and so this may end up being the decisive factor.
Meanwhile up in Minnesota the buzz is that Franken (D) might just pull an upset victory in the recount of the Minnesota senate election for a lot of very arcane reasons you would want to be seriously nerdy to want to follow. Suffice to say that that election could go down to less than 50 votes out of 3 million cast. Interestingly, it is the Senate itself which in January will have the final say as to who was the victor in Minnesota. Expect to see skin and hair flying (a la Florida 2000) if Franken is ultimately declared the winner. The issue once again turns on whether a few disputed votes were validly cast and with discernible voter intent...
Whether the Democrats ultimately get 58, 59 or 60 seats may ultimately not matter all that much because the Senate rarely votes on purely party political lines, and those figures in any case include a certain Joe Lieberman who is not renowned for his loyalty to the Democratic cause.
[Update] The The early counts are starting to come in and so far Chambliss seems to be doing far better than he did on Nov. 4th. So Much for my long distance punditry! The Republican narrative that voters must deny Obama an absolute majority appears to have won the day. Either that or Georgians really do believe Obama is a Muslim, Communist, terrorist loving liberal... The more charitable interpretation is that weaker candidates have difficulty being elected even in a Democratic year, and especially in a conservative GOP leaning state like Georgia.