This week’s Courier Herald column:
One of the worst parts of modern campaigns is that by the time the “campaign” is supposed to be effective, most of us who have been in, around, or through it have forgotten what the point of it is. Frankly, a lot of us are tired. We’re cranky (even more so than usual). And we’re so over hearing the same stump speeches – many of which were devoid of substance the first time we heard them months ago – that you may have to forgive us if these campaigns are beyond yesterdays news.
And yet, they are not. For the first time in well over a decade, this week matters.
The polls are close. The big-ticket races are generally considered to be within the margin of error. Worse, there’s honest and open debate as to what a proper polling model for Georgia is.
The Democrats haven’t managed a seriously contested statewide campaign since 2002. The population and demographics of who we are, and who our voters are, are already quite different since then.
Add to that the vast amount of outside money being spent by both Democratic and Republican affiliated groups, and….we just don’t know. Despite this campaign cycle beginning on a cold January morning almost two years ago when Saxby Chambliss announced his retirement, no one really knows what to expect when we start counting the votes on November 4th.
The closest we can get to consensus is that we’re likely to be counting votes again, but that consensus divides quickly if we’re talking about voting again for Governor on December 2nd or for U.S. Senate on January 6th. Or, help us all, both.
So…we don’t know. Which is what makes this week – This one that the insiders are already tired of – matter. The votes will all be counted next Tuesday. But most likely, these races can be won or lost this week.
You see a bit of a sense of urgency – coupled with some subtle new messages – coming from the campaigns. David Perdue seems to be landing a new talking point effectively. In a Friday evening rally kicking off a week long statewide bus tour, the race seemed slightly less about retiring Harry Reid as Majority Leader and more about promoting Johnny Isakson to Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The message was echoed in a GPTV/Atlanta Press Club debate Sunday evening.
Michelle Nunn has been balancing her attack ads with those featuring her former Senator father. Perdue was able to circumvent much of the Republican establishment by running commercials aimed at older voters with an “outsider” message. Perhaps part of the closeness of this race can be attributed to the fact that large number of these voters remember Senator Nunn fondly, and also see his daughter as an “outsider”.
The Governor’s race continues to spotlight the issue of education. Jason Carter continues to talk about the need for an additional $1 Billion per year of spending, but when pressed by Governor Deal and panelists during the debate, sources of the funds for the long term were mostly confined to the ever illusive “waste”.
Deal, for his part, wanted to know what bill Carter had sponsored during his Senate tenure that would have addressed these unspecified cuts to get more money to education. Deal has spent the last couple of weeks with direct counters to Carter’s pledges and plans. The polls seem to have nudged in Deal’s direction. And yet, they remain close.
So the point of all this is this: No columnist, pundit, poll, or other “expert” knows what will happen on November 4th. The candidates are making their closing arguments. For the first time in a long time, they matter.
A lot of the insiders like to deride the “undecided voter”, wondering how it could be possible to be undecided after millions of dollars of ads and years of campaigning. Many are undecided out of rational ignorance. There’s no reason to turn into these scripted games, listen to poll tested sound bites, and pick a team. Often, “undecided” doesn’t mean between the candidates, but whether to bother to vote at all.
This year, it’s close enough that the undecided voters may well choose to engage. For them to do that, however, the campaigns will need to have their best week possible. They’ll have to do that while they too are tired, cranky, and ready for it to be over.
This is a week for closing arguments. And for this to be over with on November 4th, the closing arguments will need to matter.