Presidential Election Week 2008 Weblog – Day 3

Day 3, Tuesday November 4, 2008: ELECTION DAY!

It’s the economy, stupid!

The big day has finally arrived. Hopefully, before we all go to bed, we will know who the next President of the United States will be. Our first speaker today, Dan Lucas of the 21st Century Democrats (a progressive Democratic group), believes we will know by 22:00 hours. We have been warned earlier this week, however, that we may not know until tomorrow or even Thursday. We will see. One of the things 21st Century Democrats do, or at least their ‘field guys’, is identify voters and get them to go to the polls. They currently have people in Montana trying to get Indians especially, to vote (around 95% of whom tend to vote democratic). Montana is a state with many Indian reservations and has the system where you can register and vote on the same day. The Democrats have not won there in over 40 years, now they are up by 1 point in the polls.

Dan Lucas
   Dan Lucas
Again, the economy is mentioned as the foremost issue on people’s minds. In September, the Democrats were losing ground, and then when Wall Street melted, the numbers started moving again. On October 1 and 7, Americans received their pension statements and discovered they had lost about 30%. Come October 10th, the lines were going up again for the Democrats. Also the power of the Internet is mentioned again as a great boon for Obama: it kept him alive during the primaries and has been a great source of income for him during the Presidential race. He was able to attract 3 million donors. Many of whom only donated small amounts like $20 or $50, but he was able to go back to them since they were well under the limit of $2335. Lucas expects Obama has raised over $600 million in total. McCain was unable to copy this success as he did not have the same appeal. He does well with people over 45 whereas Obama does well with people between 18 and 30 years. The House and Senate races today are also looking very good for the Democrats. They could add 20 to 30 seats in the House and around 8 in the Senate which would bring them close to a veto proof Senate. Lucas warns us that the last time the Democrats had control of the White House, Senate and House (in 1992) it did not go well. They tried to pass the health care plan which went ‘up in flames’, two years later they lost big in the House elections. They will not make the same mistake again!

Our next speaker Frank Fahrenkopf is introduced by our host for the morning Bill Sweeney, Vice President for Government Affairs at EDS, as one if the most successful election strategists. He is also Co-Chairman of the Presidential Debate Commission and former Chairman of the Republican National Committee. He introduces us to the inside strategy of Presidential elections which he used since the first elections with Ronald Reagan in 1980 and which was abandoned by George Bush Sr. and taken up by Bill Clinton in 1992, we all know how that ended. Since then, both parties have used it. What they did was look at voting patterns: they noticed that 34 states voted the same in the last 4 elections. It was then decided that it was no longer needed to campaign in every state, it was considered a waste of time and effort. In the new system, they would do intense polling and identify three types of states:

1) Safe states, where the candidate is ahead by 11 points. The candidate would not appear in this state and spend no money on advertisements. In all, only about 10% of time and money would be invested in such states.

2) Lean states, where the candidate is ahead by 4 – 10 points (6 – 10 points for Obama to compensate for the Bradley affect, more on that later). 25% of time and money would be invested here.

3) Toss-up states, where the candidate is ahead by 3 points or behind by 3 points. 65% of time and money would be invested here.

Frank Fahrenkopf
   Frank Fahrenkopf
Prior to 2000, both the Republicans and the Democrats had a solid base of voters of about 40%. They were left to fight over the remaining 20%. This changed in 2000 to 33% each way. This changed again in 2006 when 2/3 of the independents went over to the Democrats. Why? Because of the Iraq war.

Fahrenkopf believes the main reason Obama chose Biden to be his running mate was the Russian invasion of Georgia. He feels that Obama’s biggest problem is not that he is black, but green. His lack of experience in foreign affairs prompted him to choose Biden, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. He believes that ultimately the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate was a mistake. As a result of chosing her he could not play the ‘inexperienced card’ anymore.

He feels there are two unknowns in these elections. The first one is the aforementioned Bradley effect where polling turned out to have been way off. African American candidate Bradley was seen leading by large numbers in the polls only to lose big in the end. It turned out that many people had said they were voting for him only not to appear racist even though they had already decided to vote for the white candidate based on merits. The other unknown is the effect of new and young voters between the ages of 18 and 25. Obama has been able to energize these young voters to the extent that the Obama campaign did not appear a campaign any more but a movement. As they say: “long speeches move chairs, short speeches move hearts” and Obama has been able to move the hearts of young Americans. Fahrenkopf feels the Bradley effect will be compensated by the larger turn-out of young voters.

He concludes by giving us his prediction for the outcome of the election by Electoral College votes (270 are needed to win):

Obama: 353
McCain: 185

It’s going to be another 1980, but for the Democrats this time.

We finish our day program with a meeting with Congressman Van Hollen (D-Md) who took time out of his hectic schedule today to briefly meet with us. His day is extra hectic as his House seat is up for re-election in his home state of Maryland. He has high hopes for today and has already spotted a very high turn-out, in many places there are long lines at the polling stations. He predicts historic House elections. After the enormous gains made by the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives in 2006, they are expected to increase their majority this year. This has not happened since 1934. Normally, big gains in one election are followed by losses in the next. His expectations for an Obama administration are that certain bills will be passed very quickly: firstly, an economic recovery plan; secondly, a children’s health care plan (for working, low-income families) that has been vetoed by President Bush several times; thirdly, a bill on stem cell research (also vetoed by Bush); and, finally a bill on renewable (energy) portfolio standards. On Iraq, he feels that Obama’s standpoint converges with that of the Iraqi government. They would like to see American troops withdraw by December 2011; Obama has a 16 months period in mind.

Congressman Van Hollen
   Congressman Van Hollen (left) and Wim Kok
Congressman Van Hollen is also Co-Chair of the Dutch Caucus and leaves us with the hope that these elections bring many new members for this Caucus.

As I write this (November 4, 19:00 hours), the first polling stations have closed and results start to come in. We have an exciting night ahead of us!

(To read previous entries, please go to the News page)

Rick Bezemer
Program Manager
Atlantic & Pacific Exchange Program