Thomas B. Edsall

Democrats Make Massive Gains as GOP Deteriorates

In seven short years, the American electorate has radically changed, as voters' priorities have shifted to the economy and away from such wedge issues as abortion and gay rights, as well as away from the threat of terrorism and from the war in Iraq, according to a comprehensive survey released Thursday morning by the Pew Research Center.

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A Guide for Watching Election Night Results


For those obsessed with the results on Tuesday night, here is a November 4 guide to watching television and searching exit poll data on the web.



There are three basic questions (with hundreds more to follow in the weeks ahead): 1) When can you feel confident about the outcome of the presidential contest?; 2) How well are Democrats progressing toward their goal of 60 seats in the Senate?; and 3) Will 2008 be another Democratic blowout, signaling the possibility that the party could establish a majority coalition in future elections?



The basic rule of thumb is to follow the closing times of the polls in each state. Once voting is stopped, the networks can start using detailed exit polling and post the material on their websites. If the networks are unwilling to call a given state, an examination of the exit poll data can often give you a clear signal of the ultimate results. The state-by-state exit polls released after poll closings will have large samples and should not suffer the defects that plagued the early findings in 2004 which pointed to a solid Kerry victory nationwide.



For additional help, HuffPost has election night widgets from CNN and MSNBC that will allow you to "watch the electoral vote count and the congressional balance of power with the national U.S. map or choose a state and see how individual counties are voting."



Fortunately for those who cannot stay awake, some of the first states with earliest poll closing times of 7 PM EST are key battlegrounds: Indiana, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky.



Virginia is a crucial battleground state, and an Obama win there (without Georgia or Indiana) would suggest he is likely to take the oath of office on January 20. In terms of the future, an Obama victory would mean that Virginia has completed the move from red to purple, with all the demographic changes pointing toward further Democratic gains.



If Obama carries either Georgia or Indiana, look for a big Democratic night all around. If he carries both (along with Virginia), Republicans should consider turning on the gas and closing the windows. Those who care only about the presidential outcome should feel free to switch to sports, watch a movie, or go to bed.



Conversely, if McCain carries Virginia, Indiana and Georgia, plan to stay up a little later.



These early states are also key to the Senate outcome:

Huckabee Embraces Confederate Flag to Seduce White Evangelical Voters

Columbia, S. Car. -- The populist campaign of Mike Huckabee, seeking to mobilize an insurgency of white evangelicals against the Republican establishment, took an abrupt turn today after the former Arkansas governor directly appealed to voters on the issue of race, summoning his fellow candidates to stop calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from government offices.

"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. ... If somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole. That's what we'd do," he declared to applause at a campaign rally in Myrtle Beach Thursday.

At the same time, an Atlanta, Georgia, based organization, Americans for the Preservation of American Culture, began running radio ads attacking John McCain for his opposition to displays of the Confederate flag on public buildings and praising Huckabee.

"McCain has been doing it -- calling the flag a racist symbol -- for years," the announcer declares. "After McCain, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stands as a breath of fresh air. Governor Huckabee understands that all the average guy with a Confederate flag on his pickup truck is saying is, he's proud to be a Southerner." The ad concludes: "In South Carolina, we're proud to be Southerners."

Michigan Results Reveal Dangerous Trends for Hillary

The Michigan Democratic primary was on the surface a non-event. The national party has ruled the state's delegation will not be seated. Of the major candidates, only Hillary Clinton was on the ballot, pitted against "uncommitted" in a seemingly meaningless race (she won by 15 percent).

Yet the exit poll results from this strange contest reveal some troubling trends for the New York Senator.

Among men, for example, the battle was neck and neck. Clinton got 47 percent and the anonymous/non-existent opposition got 43 percent. (Clinton did substantially better among women, winning 58-37.)

The opposition was not, however, altogether ethereal. For the most part, voting "uncommitted" was a substitute for casting a ballot for Barack Obama, or for some voters, John Edwards.

Among black voters, Clinton was crushed by "uncommitted," 26-70. If that kind of margin among African Americans continues into future primaries, she faces major problems in the heavily black January 26 South Carolina primary and in the states with large black populations going to the polls on February 5 -- so-called Tsunami Tuesday. Clinton carried whites in Michigan by a 61-30.

Clinton ran poorly among young voters of all races, losing those under the age of 30 by 39-48 percent; splitting voters from 30 to 44 by 46-48 percent; solidly carrying the 45 to 56 age group by 54-34 percent; and winning voters 60 and older by a landslide 67-31 percent.

Romney Scrambles to Win Iowa After Spending Tens of Millions

Mitt Romney, who a month ago believed his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire were bought and paid for, is now scrambling to remain competitive in both states, continuing to outspend his adversaries by a wide margin, saturating the Iowa and New Hampshire airwaves with anti-Huckabee and anti-McCain commercials.

From a purely business point of view the past four weeks have marked an extraordinary setback for the Romney campaign.

Since January 1, 2007, the former Massachusetts governor has spent well in excess of $80 million, including at least $17.4 million of his own money, paying media fees in excess of $30 million, salaries of roughly $16 million, and consulting payments of more than $15 million.

Among Romney's costly innovations this year has been putting more than 80 local conservative leaders in key states on his campaign payroll, in what amounts to a 21st Century revival of "walk-around money."

For a long time - through the summer and well into November -- the Romney "early state" strategy aimed at winning Iowa and New Hampshire looked as if it had paid off in spades.

From August 26 to November 27, Romney led in 26 straight polls in Iowa, sometimes by as much as 23 points. In New Hampshire, Romney saw his advantage grow to 15 points in mid-December.

Since those halcyon days, however, Romney has fallen into second place in Iowa, running roughly four points behind former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. In New Hampshire, Romney's double digit lead has steadily eroded, while John McCain, who was trailing by 11 to 18 points at the start of December, has surged to within 3.5 percentage points.

Romney, in the assessment of most political analysts, can still pull it out. But even after accommodating social issue conservatives by abandoning his formerly moderate stance on such cultural/moral matters as gay rights and abortion, Romney finds himself struggling to convince voters that he is a legitimate conservative while simultaneously ripping into the ideological credentials of his competitors.

Romney's biggest setback was a devastating December 26 editorial in the Union Leader, a conservative Republican newspaper with the widest circulation of any publication in New Hampshire.

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