The Fat Lady Can Wait to Sing, This Election Is Not Over (Op-Ed)

President Obama speaks at a rally Sept. 28, 2010, on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, Wis. CBS

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Guest column by Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, a CBS News contributor

In 2007 and early 2008, pundits and prognosticators following the national polls confidently predicted that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for president. They were wrong for much the same reason that the talk of a Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives is overstated today: the national electorate doesn't vote in state-by-state elections. The facts on the ground mean the fat lady can wait a bit longer to sing, this election is not over yet.

Looking at the national polls, the situation is dire for the Democrats. In the latest Politico/George Washington University Battleground Poll, Republicans have a 6 percent advantage over Democrats (48%-42%) in the generic ballot and 64 percent of voters feel the nation is on the wrong track. If congressional elections were a national referendum where typical midterm voters were the only ones to show up Democrats would surely lose.

Facing this national environment, Democrats have been focused for the last few months on doing what the Obama campaign did - changing the math on the ground in key states. While getting African Americans and young voters out to the polls in key races is important, the party is also focused on irregular Democratic voters who show up in presidential years but not as often in midterms.

Not only does the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee report ground operations in over 65 congressional districts but Organizing for America, the successor organization to the Obama campaign has gotten fully integrated into state parties all over the country. They have been knocking on doors, calling voters and sending them mail to remind them to show up for the Democrats in this election.

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One staffer told me that OFA and the Democratic National Committee helped state parties contact more African American voters in September than they contacted in all of 2006. Meanwhile the Republican National Committee has been plagued by reports of a more lackluster GOTV effort, including cutting their program to send congressional staffers to districts and denying state parties the cash to compete with Democratic ground troops.

President Barack Obama and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., embrace during a rally at the University of Washington in Seattle, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
To get those core Democrats even more "fired up and ready to go," President Obama, Vice President Biden, the first lady and former President Bill Clinton have been traveling the country holding rallies, cutting campaign ads and raising money.

While Republicans and their allies spent much of the summer trying to run up the score on vulnerable Democrats, it does not seem to have worked. Democrats smartly held their advertising fire until voters were most likely to be paying attention in the fall and focused intently on the weaknesses of their opponents.

All of this activity looks like it is paying off. The polls on the ground in states tell a different story than the national narrative. While there are an unprecedented number of House Democrats fighting off stiff challenges, candidates who appeared far more vulnerable at the beginning of the year are still in the fight. Some Democrats in conservative districts that the GOP should win are doing pretty well like Bobby Bright in Alabama and Mike Acuri in New York and others who should be far behind are deadlocked like Lincoln Davis in Tennessee, Patrick Murphy in Pennsylvania and Dina Titus in Nevada to name a few.

Those who watch early voting returns are beginning to see a pattern too. Democrats are voting in greater numbers than Republicans in the first counts from many of these contests.

Strength at the top of the ticket should help as well. The Democratic Senate candidates in Pennsylvania and Illinois are closing strong. In states like California and New York with Democratic registration advantages and strong Democratic candidates for governor and. Senate, that momentum should help congressional candidates too. In Georgia, Roy Barnes is running a credible campaign for governor and Michael Thurmond, the African American facing a daunting challenge in the Senate race should help drive up turnout among black voters that would help congressional candidates Sanford Bishop and Jim Marshall's chances.

None of this means that Republicans won't score big on Election Day. All of the third party money available to GOP campaigns is bad news enough, giving Republicans more chances to make something happen than usual. That said, while greater Democratic enthusiasm in early voting and a stronger ground game may not be able to make up seven points, any Democrat within two or three points of a Republican should have a good shot at winning.

In one week, we will know whether Democratic efforts to build a few sea walls were effective in saving enough candidates from the effects of the storm to maintain their majorities.

  • Jamal Simmons

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