Reading the Iced-Tea LeavesBy Bernadette Budde, BIPAC Senior Vice President
Article Date: 09-01-2008
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With so much still unkonwn about the elections, we ought to be cautious about predictions.
Editor’s Note: Every other month, AED invites members of Congress and other important players in the policy process to speak directly to CED readers through this column. This month’s columnist is one of Washington’s most respected political pundits and a regular top-rated speaker at AED’s Spring Government Affairs Conference. Budde’s organization, the Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), works to elect pro-business candidates from both parties to Congress. BIPAC receives financial support from AED’s Washington Education Fund. While walking to work recently, this headline from the local free paper struck my eye: “Psychics face dim future.” That got me thinking about all the political pundits, including me. Since the presidential nominees have been picked, there’s been no new news about this election cycle, but we’ve been forced to fill time and space with prophecy. Who will the veeps be? What will happen at the conventions? Will there be a filibuster-proof Senate? How will Republicans fare in the House? Will young people vote? How many states switch? Here’s what we don’t know, and until we do know, we ought to be cautious about predictions:We don’t know who all the voters are. Nearly every state continues to allow voter registration through mid-October and a few key “in-play” states allow eligible voters to show up on Election Day, register, and cast a ballot with proper identification. Current polls of registered voters fail to measure the impact of the ground-game conducted by political parties, candidates, interest groups, and civic do-gooders.
We still don’t know who all the congressional candidates are. As of late July, there are 24 states that still need to hold primaries/runoffs. In particular, Democrats need to watch the primaries in Louisiana, Michigan and Tennessee. Republican challengers are not yet identified against Democratic freshmen House members in Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New York. We don’t know when the voters will cast ballots. Pollsters may be wise to add a segment to all October polls which asks “have you already voted?” in order to accurately predict the electorate still up for grabs. Forget about Election Day strategies. Early and absentee ballot opportunities exist in nearly every state, with requests accepted as early as Sept. 19 in Virginia. With that in mind, here’s what I’m willing to guess based on my reading of the current situation:Some major candidate will misjudge the profile of the likely voters, and will be surprised to find groups behaving outside traditional expectations. Young people will vote in a higher proportion than before, thus changing a state or at least a congressional district. Watch college campus activities in Senate races in Oregon and Minnesota to measure vulnerability of Republican incumbents who right now appear ahead.Likely voters won’t decide the outcome of the presidential election. Keep in mind by the time we reach October, there really are three kinds of subsets who matter: registered voters, unlikely voters, already voted. Motivate the first two, you win; deliver the third category and you probably can count on victory.It’s the Year of the Continental Divide. The presidential election will be decided in the Rockies. Whoever wins Colorado wins the White House. Republican number counts in the Senate are dependent on winning one of two open seats in the Rockies (in other words, beating a Udall). Democrats will win close to 30 House seats if they take more than three seats in this region. Presidential candidates will get pushed from the ground up just as often as they provide coattails. If, for example, Sen. Barack Obama wins Iowa, he can be grateful Sen. Tom Harkin (D) is on the ballot. If he has a chance in Montana, one of the mountain states, it would be related to the strong Democratic ticket for Senate and governor.And here’s a final prediction: Someone who loses a congressional election this year will be a presidential candidate in the next two decades. Think about the last two presidents, the current president, and Obama. They all lost in their first race for Congress. What a country!
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