- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

Republicans knew they were about to win big on Nov. 5, even though most published pre-election polls carried no hint of the GOP's oncoming surge.

"We knew that we were going to make history on Election Day, but we just didn't know how much history," said Matthew Dowd, who headed up polling for the Bush campaign in 2000 and now runs the Republican National Committee's polling operation.

Throughout most of the campaign, published polls gave no indication that Republicans would defy historic trends by recapturing the Senate and increasing their House majority in the midterm election. Only in the final days did two polls by Gallup and the New York Times show a shift toward Republicans.

That late shift reflected the effect of President Bush's politically risky decision to campaign hard for Republicans in several key races a move now credited with boosting turnout for the GOP.

"Going into the election, there was still general nervousness and concern because we knew Democrats had done a good job on turnout in the last election, even though we had set up a revitalized operation for our turnout," Mr. Dowd said.

Mr. Bush's whirlwind personal tour in the campaign's final days turned what the Gallup poll found was a Democratic advantage of 3 percentage points in late October into a 6-point Republican edge on Election Day.

The swing of 9 percentage points occurred during the same two-week period that Mr. Bush "was making numerous stops around the country to support his party's candidates," a post-election Gallup analysis noted.

"No question, Bush showed leadership in a leadership vacuum," said pollster John Zogby. "Because of his popularity, his visits put some close states into the Republican column."

If Republicans knew they were about to make history on Nov. 5, why didn't they say so?

"We saw Republican intensity building over the last few weeks," said Mr. Dowd, the Republican pollster. "But it's not in the nature of Republicans and the Bush administration to make outlandish claims before Election Day, the way you saw the Democratic National Committee and [DNC Chairman] Terry McAuliffe do."

Strong Republican turnout boosted by the GOP's new "72-hour task force" and by Mr. Bush's personal campaigning was one reason polls didn't predict the historic election outcome.

"Some of my turnout models were wrong," said Mr. Zogby, whose polls led him to incorrect projections in the New Hampshire Senate race, among others. "In a few states, I missed a heavier Republican and rural turnout."

In the search for explanations for the Nov. 5 stunner, analysts offer up two Democratic moves that backfired by helping to fire up Republican voters nationwide.

One was the Oct. 29 televised memorial for the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, which attracted widespread criticism as an unseemly partisan rally for Democrats. The other was the late-in-the-game substitution of former Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg for Sen. Robert G. Torricelli on the Democratic ticket in New Jersey.

"Judging from the people I've talked with around the country, the [Oct. 29] Wellstone service and the Democrats putting Frank Lautenberg on the ticket when their original candidate was failing in New Jersey affected the Republican base the sense that Democrats will do anything at the last minute to win," Mr. Dowd said.

Democratic pollster Mark Penn said he found that 68 percent of voters surveyed nationally knew about the Wellstone service. According to Mr. Penn's survey, "49 percent of voters said the service made them less likely to vote for a Democrat; 67 percent of independents said they felt that way," Time magazine reported.

While some have credited the Republican win to the focus on national security issues since September 11, pollsters say Democrats this year did not have their traditional advantage on economic issues.

"At least in states we've looked at so far, the economy dominated and the view of Democrats and their handling of the economy tanked," Mr. Zogby said. "Why? The president came across as credible and there was no Democratic spokesperson on the issue and no Democratic single, unified plan."

But Republican pollster Ed Goeas cautioned against confusing Republican voter intensity in the midterm election with an overall political realignment toward the GOP.

"That was the mistake [former House Speaker] Newt Gingrich made in 1994," Mr. Goeas said. "He assumed because Republicans won by a big margin, there was a real shift in the electorate," rather than simply greater intensity on the part of Republican voters fed up with then-President Clinton and the Democrats.

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