|Maybe I've just been in politics so long I feel like I've seen it all, but three weeks out, with certain demographic blocs of voters still bouncing around like pinballs, with a debate still to go, tens of millions of advertising, mail pieces and phone calls yet to be seen and heard, is still a ton of time. In 1968, after the Chicago Convention horrors, Humphrey came roaring back from 31 points down to almost winning, making up most of that ground in the final month of the campaign- and Nixon had made no major mistake. In 1976, Ford- after the Poland debacle in the debate- came roaring back from the final weeks to make it a two-point race, and likewise that happened without a major mistake by Carter. Even in the Clinton years when we won big, we had far bigger leads that dropped into the mid-single digits by the end.
Granted, it looks very good for us right now. Another week has gone by, and we are solidifying our lead. With early voting already happening, and a great Obama field organization putting votes in the bank, I think we are going to win. But winning teams don't relax when they are up 10 points with halfway to go in the fourth quarter. Instead, the goal should be to run up the score. While assuming nothing in terms of victory, we should be fighting to add to Obama's lead, because the bigger his lead, the more uptick for down-ballot candidates. Here's one example near and dear to my heart: if Obama ends up winning Washington state by only 6, I doubt if Darcy will make it. If he wins by 15, she is very likely to win. Another huge example: if Obama wins nationally by 10 percent or more, we have a very good shot at 60 Senate seats.
Even if you assume the Presidential race is done, as many of the folks I am talking to do, now is no time to coast. If we win a historically big Presidential landslide, we will win very big numbers in the House and Senate as well, and in state legislative chambers and gubernatorial races for redistricting. That kind of victory will make producing real results for the American people and progressive causes impossible to ignore.
Building a Governing Majority
For all my cautionary notes regarding not counting pre-hatched chickens, I do think we should be moving very aggressively with the numbers in our favor to build an actual governing majority in the Congress, as opposed to the easily filibustered, easily Blue-Dogged-to-death modest Democratic majorities we currently hold.
As long as this Obama lead holds, we (progressive donors, bloggers and blog readers, organizations, and the party committees) should assume that any Democratic incumbents and the easier races we thought would be close are likely to be swept in with the tide. I'm thinking here of races like the Shaheen race in New Hampshire, the Udall cousins out west, and open-seat House races with solid Democratic numbers. As long as we are well ahead in the Presidential numbers- with record turnout expected among youth, blacks, and Hispanics- these kinds of races should be ours for the taking.
To build a governing majority, we should really start focusing on the harder-to-win races that, to continue torturing the tidal wave metaphor, are still hanging out a few feet from shore. Senate races like North Carolina, Kentucky, Oregon and Maine are now clearly within range. Longer-shot races like Idaho, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Nebraska which have been really uphill, and still are very tough, are a lot more possible. Long-shot House races like that wild ID race, NE-2, CA-3, VA-10, and a bunch of others, are coming into range.
We have a legitimate shot at a serious governing majority in both Houses. Playing it safe, and being happy with five new Senate seats and 15 new House seats, is not what we should be doing.
The other thing we ought to be paying close attention to in this election since we have a chance to run up the score is redistricting. We have one election left to go before redistricting happens, and we should be focused on winning some gubernatorial races and a bunch of legislative races. As it turns out, two of the most important gubernatorial races in the country are in the expand-the-electoral-map states for Obama: Indiana and Missouri. And the third is in Washington State, the home of my favorite House candidate, Darcy Burner.
The top legislative chamber targets (where there are the closest margins of control in important redistricting states) are the following:
1. PA House
2. OH House
3. MI House
4. WI House and Senate
5. IN House
6. TN Senate and House
7. OR House
Again, the goal should be not just to win, but run up the score in these legislative chambers in case 2010 isn't so good a Democratic year.
Maximizing Early Voting
Right now, with a big lead, enthusiasm and momentum, is the exact time that volunteers, activists, and groups should be doing everything in their power to maximize the early vote. We can bring our vote in with huge numbers now, while we are up in the polls and people are excited about volunteering, it could make the difference if the numbers start to tighten up again at the end. This is a great place to spend your volunteer time and your money in right now.
Very quick note here, because I went into a lot of detail on the states last week and other than getting a little roster, not much has changed. A few quick points:
- Assuming the national numbers stay about where they are now, or even if they narrow a little, the following swing states can be put in the bank: Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Maine (all of it). If the national numbers narrow a lot, they are all still in the likely win category, but I'd be nervous about Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, or Wisconsin slipping away.
- Even if the national numbers stay where they are: Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Colorado are not done yet. They are just too closely contested states, too tough in too many ways, to be absolutely, positively done. We will probably win them all, but it will be closer than current polls show. And if the national numbers tighten up considerably, we will lose at least some of them.
- Indiana, Missouri, and yes even West Virginia, Montana, North Dakota and NE-2 are all quite possible if we stay close to the current national numbers. If the numbers tighten up nationally, they will probably all slip away.
Final note: We will know the Presidential election is finally over if we see the RNC start to shift most of its money to Senate races. If McCain is dying, and they know we are getting close to 60 seats, they will throw McCain under the bus and shift all the money into saving the ability to filibuster in the Senate. When that happens, I will stop being a cautious curmudgeon, although I will still want to run up the score.