Sunday, October 19, 2014

Good Morning Justin

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 19 October

Running against Obama

Good Morning Justin…

Early voting begins this Thursday in North Carolina just as the birds are flocking, about to migrate out of the state.  The latest polls here show the race for Senate essentially dead even.  Democrats are placing their hopes of a win on the time and money they’ve put into their grass roots organization.  Its primary purpose is to get Democrats to the polls that don’t normally vote in midterm elections.    This is a sixty million dollar bet laid down by the DSCC, Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.  A good deal of the resources has come here to North Carolina.  The Democrat incumbent is Kay Hagan but Republicans see the name Barack Obama on the ballot.  They aren’t alone.  The President is very unpopular in this state as he is elsewhere, particularly in the South.  This is why Republicans want to make this election a referendum on President Obama.  Democrats, on the other hand, want the election localized and avoid talking about the President as much as possible. 

Kentucky’s Democrat Senate candidate, Alison Grimes, refused to say who she voted for president in the 2008 and 2012 elections.  She said it had to do with the sanctity of the voting booth – votes are cast in anonymity.  Until this point the race was close in her contest with Republican Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.  Her disingenuous siting of principle has made Senator McConnell’s reelection almost inevitable, leading the DSCC to divert further funding of her campaign to more likely winners.  Kay Hagan is one of those benefactors.  Republicans last week made an additional six million dollar ad buy supporting Hagan’s opponent Thom Tillis.  Tillis has recently overtaken Hagan in campaign funding but late money isn’t as effective at purchasing television time.  Early in the contest Hagan’s campaign reserved broadcast ads for the closing weeks – paying half the money Tillis is now forced to pay when television ad availability is at a premium.

The factor most critical to a candidate’s success is the makeup of the voters turning out at the polls.  Democrats generally enjoy an electoral advantage in presidential years but their numbers fall off considerably in midterm elections.  The difference nationally in their voting numbers fell by more than twenty-one million between 2008 and 2010.  The result was a loss of more than sixty seats in the House wing of Congress and the takeover by Republicans of several state legislatures and governorships across the nation.  The reason for this difference in participation has to do with demographics.  Older citizens are more likely to be Republican.  They are also the most reliable group of voters when it comes to showing up at the polls.  Republicans are mainly conservative and these people have an enthusiasm for voting second to none. 

In contrast, Democrats rely on a more youthful and diverse demographic.  Their success often requires sizeable participation from students, young single women and minorities.  Voter enthusiasm is largely absent among these groups without the drama of a presidential candidate at the top of the ticket.  This year is no exception.  Democrats have put enormous money, time and manpower into changing the historic turnout of midterm elections.  Whether this effort has been effective is still in doubt.  The Party hired four thousand workers to run regional and county campaign offices.  But this is only the beginning.  The program can’t work without attracting a good number of dedicated, reliable volunteers to man the phone banks and do the tough job of canvassing for votes by going door to door.  The challenge of contacting millions of voters in this manner is nearly overwhelming.  Burnout is a constant problem.

The results of many Senatorial contests this first Tuesday in November are too close to call.  An additional one or two percent turnout of Democrat voters could make the difference between victory and defeat, between a Republican or Democrat Senate majority.  No matter the outcome, though, the emphasis on sophisticated grassroots organization will undoubtedly continue.  Relying on saturating the airwaves with your political message has its limitations in changing minds and prompting people to vote.  At some point people may either tune you out or become annoyed enough to wash their hands of the entire political process.  Reaching the voter with the candidate’s message sometimes takes a neighbor showing up at your door to talk about their candidate.  That’s if you bother to answer the door and don’t run them off with a growling, “Get lost!” 


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