Election Predictions: A Landslide For the “Change We Need”

by Randy Shaw on November 3, 2008

On November 20, 2006 I wrote an article, “Barack Obama’s Moment is 2008,” that urged Obama to enter the presidential race, since his candidacy “would galvanize young people and many others toward getting involved in the political process.” I felt that Obama would defeat Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, and never doubted he would win a sweeping victory over John McCain. Today, even longtime skeptics acknowledge that Barack Obama is headed for the White House. For the first time since 1944 (FDR’s last victory), the progressive movement will elect one of its own to the presidency, and Election Night 2008 will be an evening that activists will never forget. Here are my predictions for the swing states in the presidential race, the key U.S. Senate contests, and California state initiatives.

What Barack Obama has accomplished in the past year is unprecedented. The Obama campaign has attracted a record number of volunteers, a once inconceivable number of small donors, and has created a nationwide grassroots campaign whose movement mentality, scope and complexity has been astonishing.

So before getting to the nuts and bolts of predictions, let’s take a moment to appreciate what the progressive movement has accomplished. And for all of my early confidence in Barack Obama, I could not foresee the true genius of the man. Obama’s combination of coolness, intelligence, polish, and strategic sophistication is rare to find in any walk of life, and the Obama campaign is a testament to the candidate’s applying a community organizer’s approach to winning the presidency.

Florida and the Battleground States

Four states that went for George W. Bush in 2004—Iowa, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia—are already safe for Obama. A fifth state, Nevada, could also be included in this category. Pennsylvania, the only Kerry state that McCain has tried to win, will easily go to Obama

I also see Obama winning Florida. Here’s why.

George W. Bush beat Kerry by 5% in Florida in 2004. Bush began building his field operation in the state in 2002, his brother was Governor, and he had the strong support of the state’s Cuban-American community. In contrast, Kerry had no roots in the state and no statewide campaign operation until a few months before Election Day.

Barack Obama has a dramatically bigger field operation in Florida than John McCain, and has greatly outspent him in television advertising. Key Cuban-American Democrats are running tough races against Republicans in the Miami area, and the once notoriously Republican Cuban American National Foundation recently endorsed Obama.

Bill Clinton and Al Gore campaigned with Obama in Florida in the past week, and Hillary Clinton, quite popular among older voters, has been active in the state. Less publicized but likely more important has been Sarah Palin’s impact on the state’s elderly Jewish population—once skeptical of Obama, this constituency has been scared by Palin’s Christian fundamentalist agenda into going with the Democrat (intensive outreach by Jewish activists has also helped).

There are many new non-Cuban Latino voters in Florida, and the Obama campaign and Mi Familia Vota will get them to the polls. With the state allowing expanded early voting, McCain faces an uphill battle that he is likely to lose.

I see Florida going for Obama.

Ohio

On Election night 2004, I sat in ACORN’s Cincinnati office gleefully watching returns that appeared to show Kerry winning Ohio. With 50% of the vote counted victory seemed certain, but we did not anticipate that apparently every eligible voter in rural counties cast ballots, and that nearly all went for Bush.

Kerry lost Ohio after the Republican Secretary of State did everything possible to suppress African-American voter turnout, and at a time when no Democrat had won a statewide election in Ohio in the prior decade. For all the criticism of the Kerry campaign, it is amazing he came so close given the voter suppression and well-tooled Bush machine.

Obama has not polled as well in Ohio as other states. But the state has changed since 2004. Democrats won key state races including the Governor and Secretary of State’s office in 2006, and the Obama campaign has a dramatically larger field effort than Kerry’s. Meanwhile, McCain’s field effort comes nowhere close to the Bush campaign.

On October 31, McCain held a rally in Columbus with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the same venue and on the same last Friday before the election that George W. Bush hosted the California Governor in 2004. Whereas Bush’s event packed the 20,000 seat arena, McCain’s was less than half full. Obama then drew 80,000 at a Columbus rally on November 2.

I see Obama winning Ohio.

Indiana, Missouri, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina

McCain could well win all four of these states, and I’m willing to clearly predict his victory in Georgia. Missouri likes its reputation of going with the winner, and perhaps that will swing enough voters to give Obama a narrow win.

Indiana’s poll numbers have left it too close to call, but two factors might tilt the state to Obama. First, he has a massive field campaign in Indiana. Second, Obama dramatically outperformed the polls in the Indiana primary, and his support could be under-counted now as well.

Arizona has come into play only in the last week, with one poll finding the race a statistical tie. If Obama wins Arizona, a major shout-out is due UFW alum and SEIU State Council leader Scott Washburn, who with Martin Manteca began putting together a great Latino voter outreach operation in 2006 which has been improved and expanded for 2008.

I’d pick Obama to win North Carolina if there was not a ballot snafu—if you check the box for a Democratic straight line vote it does not cover the presidential race, which must be voted on separately. This could result in tens of thousands of Obama votes not being counted. North Carolina is also one of those states where Dems get all excited as a race tightens but Republicans usually end up winning. Like Indiana, it’s a tossup.

Bottom line: Obama wins an Electoral College landslide that gives him the mandate he needs. But does he get his “working political majority”?

U.S. Senate Races

At this point, the only undecided Senate races are in Alaska, Minnesota, Georgia, Oregon and North Carolina. Democrats will pick up seats in New Hampshire, Colorado, Virginia, and New Mexico, while Republicans have preserved their seats in Kentucky, Maine and Mississippi.

Since Alaska voters favored Sarah Palin over Tony Knowles in the 2006 Governor’s race, anything is possible in that state. But I cannot see Ted Stevens winning re-election after his recent corruption conviction, so this looks like a Democratic pickup.

Jeff Merkley is almost a sure thing in Oregon, with Republican incumbent Gordon Smith’s efforts to link himself to Obama having failed. Oregon votes by mail, and with most ballots already submitted, Merkley looks like the winner.

I wish I could be more confident of Al Franken winning in Minnesota, but polls there have been mixed despite Obama’s large margin over McCain. Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman reminds me of former New York Senator Al D’Amato in his ability to find a way to win among an electorate that supports Democrats for the White House.

I’ll go with my theory that Obama voters do not want a Senator to obstruct the change we need, and pick Franken.

Democrats despise Georgia incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss for his vicious attacks on the patriotism of disabled war veteran Max Cleland, which won him the 2002 election. Jim Martin, whose son lives in San Francisco, has made this a closer race than anyone expected, and given the presence of a third party candidate, a December runoff is likely.

Finally, the most outrageous campaign ad this political season in a major race has to be North Carolina Senator Elizabeth Dole’s televised charge last week that her opponent does not believe in God. Trailing in polls and on the defensive over her failure to spend almost any time in the state she claims to represent, Dole shows just how far Republicans have fallen this campaign season.

Dole’s Democratic opponent, Kay Hagan, is an elder in her Presbyterian Church and teaches Sunday school. She has sued Dole for defamation and put up her own ad accusing Dole of violating the Ninth Commandment by bearing “false witness.” I like Hagan to win this race.

The 60-Seat Myth

I predict that pundits will spend much of election night assessing whether Dems get a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority. But this is a complete non-issue.

Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine, as well as Indiana’s Richard Lugar and potentially Pennsylvania’s Arlen Spector, are not going to filibuster Obama’s agenda. The same likely holds true for other Republicans, particularly those facing the voters in 2010.

But the networks have to keep viewers watching after Obama claims victory, so the 60-seat narrative has emerged.

California Races

As I wrote on October 14, Proposition 8 will be defeated.

I see angry state voters rejecting nearly all of the key state measures, with the possible exception of Proposition 11 (redistricting), which has a good government image and is backed by a hugely expensive campaign.

California progressives could be in their own world on election night, jittery over Prop 8 and local races while their allies elsewhere celebrate Obama’s victory. But the twin victories of gay marriage and Barack Obama will make the eventual partying that much sweeter.

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of the newly released, Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century (University of California Press)

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