Thursday, November 20, 2008

Very belated election thoughts

Now that the State of Missouri has finally been called for McCain, albeit just barely, I can officially evaluate my election-eve prediction:
Barack Obama will be elected the 44th President of the United States by winning 311 electoral votes to John McCain's 227.

In the end, I think McCain will wind up with narrow victories in several states currently rated as "toss-ups:" Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Carolina. But it won't be enough for him to win, as Obama will win every state that Kerry won in 2004, as well as Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia. Obama's final margin of victory in those last two states, along with Pennsylvania, will probably end up being very narrow and will keep the race in doubt until the wee hours Wednesday morning; that will certainly make the networks happy. But the end result will be an Obama victory.

As it turns out, my prediction of an Obama victory was correct. My prediction about his margin if victory, however, was off by a rather substantial 54 electoral votes. Obama picked up every state I expected him to take, as well as three state I didn't expect him to take: Florida, Indiana and North Carolina. Obama also won a single electoral vote in Omaha, Nebraska (who truly saw that happening?) to amass a final tally of 365 electoral votes to John McCain's 173. Of course, these number are not official until the Electors meet next month, but there's no denying that this was a rather decisive victory for the Democrat.

Nor was I correct about the election being in doubt "until the wee hours;" the networks called both Pennsylvania and Ohio for Obama rather early in the evening. Once they did that, the outcome of the election was no longer in doubt and Obama was projected the winner at 10 pm CST.

In the two weeks since the election, reams have been written about the outcome of the election - why Obama won, why McCain lost, what it says about the American voter and what it means for the future of either political party (and right now, the future of the Republican Party as it currently exists doesn't look so bright). So I really don't have a lot to say about this election that hasn't already been said many times before.

I do agree with the conventional wisdom that the deck was simply stacked against McCain this year. He was running beneath the shadow of a very unpopular President of the same party and he was blindsided by an economic crisis late in the campaign that put him at a severe disadvantage.

That being said, I think the McCain campaign was poorly run. The campaign was indeed erratic, as it lurched from message to message and from theme to theme. McCain never seemed to find his "voice," so to speak. I also think that the McCain campaign made errors on the ground: why, for example, was McCain spending the final weeks of the campaign in places like Iowa, a state he had no chance whatsoever of winning given, among other things, his (correct) opposition to ethanol subsidies? I also don't think McCain did any favors for himself when he nominated Sarah Palin as his running mate. Speaking personally, the more I learned about Palin, the more repulsed I became. Looking at the decline in her approval ratings between the Republican Convention and Election Day, a lot of other voters reached the same conclusion as well.

Obama, on the other hand, ran the better campaign. Sure, the fact that it was better funded made a lot of difference. But the campaign was also steady and focused. Their decision to "expand the electoral map" by competing in states like Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina also turned out to be justified. It remains to be seen if he can run the country as well as he ran his campaign, but I am hopeful.

Democrats also did well in Congressional races, extending their majority in the House of Representatives and picking up several Senate seats as well. Now that the Alaska Senate race has been called and Mark Begich has ousted 85-year-old GOP Stalwart Ted Stevens (in the process, sparing Senate Republicans a grueling task of having to expel the convicted felon from their caucus), Democrats and allied Independents now enjoy a 58-40 advantage over Republicans in the Senate, with two races in Minnesota and Georgia still unsettled. There's still a possibility, however slim, that Democrats could reach the 60-seat filibuster-proof threshold: that would be, in my opinion, a bigger disaster to the national Republican party than losing the White House.

Indeed, Election Night was tough for Republicans on the national level. Things were better for them here in Texas, however. Senator John Cornyn easily fended off Democratic challenger Rick Noriega to keep his seat, Republicans still have control of all statewide offices, and the GOP even picked up a House seat when Pete Olson wrested control of the 22nd District, which was once held by Tom DeLay, from Democrat Nick Lampson. That outcome wasn't really a surprise. Nor was it a suprise that all the other local US Representatives held on to their seats even though some of them faced well-funded challengers. The districts are simply drawn so as not to be competitive.

Counting appears to be complete for the numerous local races that were on the ballot. Harris County Democrats, as expected, ended the Republican stranglehold on countywide offices that has been in effect since 1994, winning the County Sheriff's seat and taking a majority of civil and criminal court races. I've never been a big fan of choosing judicial candidates by party; I wasn't a fan of it when experienced Democratic judges got swept out in the early 1990s and I'm not a fan of it today. Local Republicans managed to hold on to a handful of important county positions, including, fortunately, County Judge Ed Emmett, and, unfortunately, County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt. But it is clear that Harris County itself is trending Democratic. This is evidenced by the fact that the county voted for the Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964.

If I were a Republican, either at the local or the national level, I'd be concerned right now.

All in all, it's been a long and interesting election season. I, for one, am glad that it is finally over.

Finally, would somebody please do us all a favor and inform Joe the Plumber that his fifteen minutes are up?

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