Jewish World Review May 18, 2004 / 27 Iyar, 5764
Think the race between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry is going to be close? Been hearing a lot about a 50-50 nation? Think the red and blue states are going to grapple and grunt and groan and give us another nail-biter on Election Night?
Nah. Not gonna happen. This race is going to be a blowout, a tsunami, a Krakatoa. At least that is the hottest new theory that has been occupying the chattering classes for weeks now.
"The most likely outcome of this race is a landslide victory for John Kerry," says Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of the nonpartisan political briefing, The Hotline. "The second most likely outcome is a landslide victory for George Bush. The least likely outcome is a close race."
Doug Sosnik, Bill Clinton's political director during his 1996 re-election campaign, says: "I don't think this race will be close." And while he is not yet "100 percent certain" who will win, he does say, "The numbers for President Bush show him in grave danger."
Tony Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book, a nonpartisan political publication, says that maybe the experts who have been telling us how divided the nation is "are all wrong and this will be a blowout election that could go in either direction."
And the Wall Street Journal reported last week that campaign operatives are bracing for "a race that breaks decisively one way or another."
Wait, it gets better. We won't even have to wait until November to find out which way things are breaking! According to Sosnik "the next 90 days will determine the outcome of the election." But how about all those stories you've been reading about how this election "is going down to the wire" and will be determined in the final days before Nov. 2? Nah, again. "The least important phase of this election," Sosnik says, "will be the last 14 days."
True, there are those who disagree, primarily Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush re-election campaign, who says, "I am not frigging Jean Dixon and I don't bend spoons, but given the nature of the country I don't think there is going to be a landslide either in the popular vote or the Electoral College."
But Chuck Todd bases his landslide theory on the history of recent elections: In the last 25 years, incumbent presidents have either won or lost by large margins in the Electoral College. In 1980, Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan 49 to 489. In 1984, Reagan beat Walter Mondale 525 to 13. In 1992, George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton 168 to 370 and in 1996, Clinton beat Bob Dole 379 to 159.
In other words, when it comes to casting a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down on their incumbent presidents, Americans are usually not that divided.
"I don't think whether you are re-hiring a president or re-hiring a plumber, your thought process is that much different," says Sosnik. "You ask what kind of job did he do last time and that decides whether he will be re-hired. When you are three and a half years into a president's four-year term, people have pretty much made up their minds about what kind of job the president has done."
Further, those who believe the election will be a blow-out point not just to history, but to the special nature of this election. "In 2000 the electorate was erratic because it was not a nationalized election," Todd says. "But this time the question is not about who invented the Internet, but who invented the Iraq war."
Sosnik believes this will be an historic election in which voters will want to send a message. "The people have not spoken since Sept. 11 on the direction in which they want the country to go," he says. "At times like this, people want a decisive course, they want to deliver a mandate. Besides, Bush's actions are so aggressive, so muscular that the dynamic middle of the country will choose a course either for Bush or for his opponent."
But what signs do we watch for (since waiting for Election Day itself is just too, too boring?) In this, Sosnik, a Democrat, and Dowd, a Republican, agree: the best indicator on how an incumbent president will do on Election Day is his approval rating.
Two weeks ago, Dowd told me, "The incumbent president usually gets a vote right at his approval rating. If we are at a 51-52 approval (on Election Day), we will win by 1 or 2 points."
But when Dowd said that, Bush had a Gallup approval rating of 52 percent. Last week, that figure fell to 46 percent, the lowest of the Bush presidency.
"For an incumbent to be at 46 percent job approval at this point in an election year has historically always spelled defeat" for presidents since 1950, Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said.
And a Pew Research Center poll released last week showed even lower numbers for Bush, with his approval at just 44 percent.
Still, whether this election is going to be decided soon or not until November, whether it will be a runaway or a deadlock, Matthew Dowd has advice for everybody on how to handle it when the dust settles.
"Don't dance in the end zone," he says, "and don't cry in your beer."
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