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A frightful forecast for election eve

| Friday, October 31, 2014

Expect an unusually spooky Halloween tonight around the White House while haunting visions of ghoulish GOP goblins eerily hover against a moonlit sky backdrop. These ghosts of elections — past, near-future and generations hence — portend of political polls pointing to a GOP senate takeover if they capture at least six seats next Tuesday. After dusting off my gypsy fortune-telling queue ball, I can predict the upcoming senate electoral results will stand at 49-48-1 with two runoff elections to occur in December and January.

Every four years, presidential elections feature hyper-charged campaigns that wow the electorate and draw a higher number of voters nationwide. Conversely, midterm elections comprise of more state-by-state and locally concentrated neutral atmospheres. Midterms by nature encompass less of a national tone, other than for the party out of the White House to continue to whine about displeasures lingering like a presidential hangover from two years prior. Senatorial election cycle dynamics serve as a rotating two-year yin and yang in American politics.

For two-term presidents, the American political calendar inherently creates a voters’ gauntlet during the sixth year midterm election cycle against the incumbent’s fellow party congressional candidates. Inevitably, newly chosen presidents like President Obama in 2008 overextend their party’s favorability factor when initially elected. The new president’s coattails sweep in novice senators who cannot successfully stand alone for reelection a half-dozen years later, when the president is no longer with them at the top of the ballot. This calendar quirk of quicksand has throughout the decades become a built-in electoral course correction mechanism by punishing the incumbent party’s candidates who serve as the president’s stand-in against the brunt of voter dissatisfaction.

History has not been kind to second-term presidents other than Bill Clinton, whose party lost no senate seats in 1998 after his impeachment precipitated a voter backlash against Republicans. Rather, the powerful Franklin Roosevelt nearly lost his New Deal programs — saved by massive governmental deficit spending for World War II that countered the Great Depression — after he lost six senate seats in 1938. The likable Dwight Eisenhower lost 13 senate seats in 1958, while George W. Bush lost six seats in 2006.

Even the affable Ronald Reagan in 1986 could not break his six-year jinx. His approval rating on Election Day stood at 63 percent, but it plummeted a month later to 47 percent following the Iran-Contra scandal revelations. Despite raising $33 million for GOP candidates and campaigning vigorously in 22 states through 54 appearances that totaled 24,000 miles, Reagan lost nine of his 12 first-term senators. Reagan biographer Lou Cannon wrote that, “Republicans won nearly every close contest in 1980, while losing 11 of the 15 closest races in 1986.”

Facing low approval ratings and unlimited PAC spending against his party, Obama may buck the trend. Obama’s 2012 get-out-the-vote effort is now deployed for Democrats in marginal states that Obama did not carry two years ago. Days before the election, polling shows almost a dozen races still nearly tied and within the margin of error. Should polling — which had a slight pro-GOP senate bias in 2008 and 2010 but bulged to a 3.5 percent bias in 2012 that surprised Mitt Romney early on election eve — still contain just one percentage point bias now, Democrats will win Tuesday.

As the matchups stand, Democrats need to win at least two races, such as those in Colorado and Iowa, where they remain slight underdogs. If by Monday, polls move Democrats to somewhat heavier underdogs in those states, they would need to get “lucky” in four states on election night. That scenario is unattainable, since the GOP will win these currently held Democratic seats: West Virginia, Montana, Alaska, Arkansas and South Dakota. However, my once-a-year gypsy fortune telling blood predicts a GOP loss in Kansas to an independent while currently GOP-held Georgia and Democratic-held Louisiana move into runoff mode.

Democrats will successfully defend New Hampshire and North Carolina. Colorado’s new mail-in voting process, coupled with the Obama-led voter turnout effort, will propel Mark Udall to victory. In Iowa, my gypsy hunch predicts that too many forces will unite to ensure a Bruce Braley win, despite most polls showing the Democrat slightly trailing. Ultimately, the Obama ground game will successfully partner with pro-Clinton groups that desire to hone Hillary’s 2016 operation for the first-in-the-nation caucus.

Pundits predict at minimum a 60 percent chance the GOP will capture the senate. Should that occur Tuesday or from a future runoff, the Obama White House can take solace in Reagan’s reaction after his 1986 loss. Former aide Jeffrey Lord recalls emotional supporters listening to a serene, not depressed Reagan who drew from a childhood-memorized poem by quoting a 17th century Scottish ballad about Sir Andrew Barton:

“Fight on my men,” says Sir Andrew Barton,

“I am hurt, but I am not slain;

I’ll lay me down and bleed a while,

And then I’ll rise and fight again.”

Democrats need only to pull that prospect from Reagan in preparation for a Hillary run in 2016.

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. Contact him at: [email protected].

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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