Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A perfect 68

Fourth (and last) in a series of reflections on the 2008 election
Al Franken was sworn in today as Minnesota's junior Senator. Finally, the book is closed on the 2008 election.

There's a lot of reasons why I'm happy about this. I've been a Franken fan for a long time. I'm also glad that we've finally beaten Norm Coleman, who was elected only because of the death of Paul Wellstone, the greatest progressive of his era.

But let me jump back to election night '08 for a minute. At close to four in the morning, I was watching the late returns from Minnesota. When the last votes from Duluth finally came in, it looked like Coleman had won by a few votes. I was stunned, because Franken had been leading all night. I was further stunned because it looked like the Repbulican incumbent Senators in Alaska and Oregon had won reelection, despite widespread predictions that they would lose.

Sure, I didn't have a lot to complain about. Obama had won big. Governor Christine Gregoire had defeated challenger Dino Rossi. (The Seattle Post-Intelligencier had all but declared Gregoire doomed the day before. Of course it turned out that it was the P-I itself that was doomed, but that's another story).

Late returns counted after election night would eventually give victory to the Democratic challengers in Alaska and Oregon and to Al Franken as well after a long recount process.

This means that in the last two elections I have correctly predicted the outcomes of all 68 Senate elections. People ask me, "Joe, how do you do it?" Actually, no one's ever asked me that, but if they did, here's what I'd say:

These days, there are so many polls and so much analysis you can read online that it's fairly easily to predict the outcome of most races. On top of that, I look at which party has momentum. Most of the very close races break the same way in any given election. Lastly, I look for small things that tell me how a campaign is going.

For example, I knew that respected incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole was going to lose her Senate reelection race to second-tier challenger Democrat Kay Hagan after I read this. If you want to win a close race, you need college-age people who will work 80-plus hours a week. Apparently the Dole campaign was run principally by old folks that she and Bob Dole had known for decades.

Similarly, I'm not yet ready to predict that Louisiana Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon (Me-LAW-saw) will defeat incumbent Republican Senator David Vitter next year, but I am intrigued by this article. It suggests that in any close congressional race in Louisiana, if one candidate is Cajun and the other is not, the Cajun will win.

In conclusion, we now have 60 Democrats in the Senate, but we haven't really won anything unless our ballot box victories translate into the legislative victories we want. Let's start with public option.

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