- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2004

A month to go. Now the madnesses will be loosed on the voters — voters who would prefer to make up their minds, decide to vote even if their choices are made, and reconfirm their assessments of the candidates, without the threat of a political volcano about to blow. It is poetic that Mount St. Helens is huffing and puffing at this very moment, and I think most voters prefer the drama of the real thing than one whose fire, smoke and magma is made of mere words and statistics.

A lot of folks on both sides of this campaign will be mad at me for saying that most of what is said loudly in the next 30 days by both sides is either false or grossly exaggerated. But I will defend this contention with three decades of observing national elections. This will be most certainly true of any so-called “new” information or charges put forward, whether by the candidates, surrogates, 527s or any other interested party.

It has been repeated over and over again how much more hate-filled and venomous the 2004 contest is compared with those of the past. Yes and no. Presidential elections are occasions for the nation to blow off steam when voters are upset, and some voters are quite upset this year on both sides. Some of this arises from the bitter election aftermath of 2000, some of it from the war, and some of it from the social issues espoused by both sides.

It’s my contention, however, that much of this genuine anger has been exaggerated, if not egged on, by the media, and that the majority of Americans do not feel anger or hatred. This majority, including voters from both parties and most of the independents, are very concerned about world terror and national security, their jobs and the economy (including their public and private pensions), the cost of health care and the future of American education, but are taking in the public debate about these issues and the character of the candidates with relative calm.

The madnesses have mostly happened in the last month of presidential elections in the past, but now we have put a great deal of cash into the noise, and thus given a small number of persons a lot of incentive to try to provoke the public with lies, distortions and accusations. Very few of these hold up the day after the election. Whether they succeed in turning out the vote is debatable. I want to point out that the most serious Republican and Democratic strategists are preoccupied with other strategies, most of them under the media radar, that are much more likely to bring electoral reward on Nov. 2.

I am speaking about voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts taking place nationwide, but intensely in the so-called battleground states. In most ways, such efforts in states that are one-sided for Messrs. Bush or Kerry are wasted. After more than one hundred years, the nation was re-awakened to the idiosyncrasy of the electoral college in 2000, i.e., that a majority of voters do not elect a president. As I have stated before, 2004 is turning out to be a “pure” electoral college strategy year, with both campaigns devoting almost all of their efforts in about a dozen states where the contest is considered close. If the Kerry-Edwards campaign turns out an extra million voters in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, it will not affect the outcome. The Democrats will likely win those states easily. If the Bush-Cheney folks turn out extra hundreds of thousands of votes in Texas and the southern and western states in which they have a commanding lead, it would also make no difference.

The whole nation will have to observe and listen to the madnesses, but they will be directed toward voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, West Virginia, New Hampshire, some western states such as New Mexico, Colorado and Oregon, and the voters of the new super-state I have named ‘Minnewisowa’ (also known as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa). The next month will not likely be serene and pleasant for the citizens of these electoral battlegrounds.

In addition to the contrived and orchestrated madnesses of the campaigns, of course, there are the vagaries of history, foreign and domestic, which may also intrude on the last month of the campaign. In 1932, the worsening banking crisis doomed Herbert Hoover’s re-election. In 1940, the war approaching from Europe doomed Wendell Wilkie’s challenge to President Roosevelt. The late developing crises in the Suez and Hungary doomed Adlai Stevenson’s challenge in 1956. In 1980, the Iranian hostage crisis doomed President Carter’s re-election. These late-breaking crises can help or hurt incumbents, help or hurt challengers.

They happen only occasionally, but they do happen. In the last month of a presidential campaign, all sorts of things are said and done.

Barry Casselman has reported on and analyzed national politics since 1972.

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