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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Most readers seem to have enjoyed yesterday's riff at the expense of out-going House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. A few, though, thought I was either unfair or premature in counting him out of the presidential running.

I should be honest that I come to this question with certain preconceptions. People are always telling me how Gephardt is a logical contender for the nomination in 2004. And I am always confidently -- though, I guess, perhaps wrongly -- telling them there is simply no way that's ever going to happen.

Why this is impossible exactly is a little hard to say. But I've always thought it was a little like that whole thing with nothing being able to go faster than light. Precisely why it can't happen is a little difficult to explain. And to really understand it you need to know various complex formulas and math tricks. But even if you can't quite get your head around it that doesn't change the fact that the fundamental laws of the universe say it can't happen.

Same with Gephardt.

I wasn't surprised by the news that Dick Gephardt was stepping down as House Minority Leader. I wasn't, that is, until I saw the text of his comments, in which he pretty much implies that he's stepping down to try to run for president. What's this dude smoking? This is sort of like having your girlfriend dump you and then you say, "Okay, baby, I can live with that. But I've got another idea for you. How 'bout you and me get married? Huh? Huh? Yeah, baby ... Whaddya think???"

As a young Democratic political consultant told me this afternoon, this guy's got the biggest #$%&@ in Washington.

I see that Mickey Kaus is still pushing this line that the general inattention to the late generic polls showing a GOP surge was an example of liberal media bias. I've always thought that Mickey's is far too great a mind to waste -- even a part of it -- on the liberal media bias canard. But we can deal with that issue another time. The truth is that those late generic polls were on to something. But the reason people didn't pay more attention has nothing to do with liberal bias. It's rather more subtle than that -- and for that reason ignored.

To make sense of this you've got to go back to the 1998 midterm where an expected landslide for the Republicans turned into a small but significant Democratic victory. This was supposed to have been a great shocker. But if you were paying attention it really shouldn't have been.

At the time I was working at the now long-abandoned Cambridge offices of The American Prospect -- the then-bi-monthly, now bi-weekly, and soon to be monthly liberal policy mag. I was going around saying that I thought the Democrats would actually pick up seats and I wanted to write an article on the dynamics in play. That got vetoed by the higher-ups who thought we'd look stupid running an article talking about a good Democratic year after the Republicans had picked up forty seats.

Now as you can probably tell I'm rather proud of having gotten this one right. But the truth is that it was really only a matter of watching the polls. As I said before, the 1998 results were treated as a big upset. But if you looked at the polls it wasn't at all. The generic polls and those of individual races were really quite close to the mark. And at the end of the campaign they were switching over, if I remember correctly, into the Dems' column. The key was that everyone was so convinced that the Democrats were going to pay the price for Clinton's shenanigans that they found ways to argue themselves out of the what the polls were saying. Not just Republicans, but Democrats too. (See, it wasn't conservative media bias then either.)

The favored argument was that whatever the polls said, the massive turnout among aggrieved Christian-conservative whack-jobs would tip the scales in the Republicans' favor. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

And I think that's pretty much what happened this time too. Going into the weekend most people were pretty convinced that the Democrats were going to hold or pick up a few seats. That consensus in that direction was very strong. And since people didn't see an obvious reason for the late move in the Republicans' direction, they just ignored it.

The point, I think, is that group-think is often more powerful than actual data.

Is TPM down for the count because of the dreadful election news? No, just busy, busy, busy with an election wrap-up article. There is an update on the contest, though. From our initial run-through of all two-hundred-odd entries, not a single person got all the Senate contests right. Not a one. We won't even need to go into the percentages. It wasn't that no one predicted a GOP sweep. It was that no one saw a GOP sweep and Tim Johnson pulling it out in SD. More soon.

Ha! I told you Tim Johnson would win South Dakota! Okay, okay ... But I did tell you. Anyway, Democrats are right to be devastated and to a degree ashamed about these results. But there is a faint silver lining here. I think these results are actually bad for President Bush's reelection prospects in 2004. We'll be saying more about this ...

Well, that really could have gone better.

Let's be honest. On the Senate side, the Democrats lost basically every race that was even remotely losable. Not that much different on the governor side.

Not too much time for comment right now. But a few thoughts. There will be a lot of talk about poorly executed tactics in various races. And there does seem to have been a late wave for Republicans -- probably just enough to seal a number of contests, and quite likely related to the president's election swing. But I think the issue here isn't poor tactics so much as an over-emphasis on tactics in general. The Democrats have lots of long-term political and demographic trends in their favor. But they don't really have a politics, a vision, or a message -- or perhaps, better to say, the courage and imagination to get behind one. And I suspect that that is the underlying issue.

The reaction among professional Democrats is one of profound shock. And a lot of heads are going to roll over this. Starting at the DNC, moving on to the leadership on the Hill, and likely spreading out from there.

This clip off the AP Wire ...

Its operation riddled with errors, Voter News Service abandoned its state and national exit poll plans for Election Night, depriving media organizations of information to help analyze the vote.

The decision did not affect VNS' separate operation for counting the actual vote. VNS also hoped to have limited information from the exit poll surveys to give its members guidance in projecting winners for individual races.

Still, it was a major setback for VNS _ a consortium consisting of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and The Associated Press. VNS had completely rebuilt its system in response to the 2000 election, when television networks twice used its information to make wrong calls in the decisive Florida vote for the presidential election.

Maybe the VNS is toast? Florida and now this?

We're just going to have to call this real time news reportage. A number of different number sets are floating around. And the most consistent thing I'm hearing is that the VNS system has somehow broken down or that they themselves aren't trusting their numbers. More soon when I feel I have something I can confidently report ...

I have it on good authority that these are the first looks at where we're going tonight. A '+' means a Dem advantage ...

AR +18

CO +20

SD +2 or +4

MN +3

NH +6

MO -10

TX -10

GA -3

NC -4 or -6

You'll notice that in a few cases there's two possibilities. This reflects conflicting information I'm getting. But on balance the outlines seem clear so I'm passing them on. Bear in mind though, these are the earliest sounds. Just indicators...

So here we are, the night before the big day. We've got all the contest entries in -- about 200 of them. And about a dozen friends of the site were kind enough to stick their necks out and make their own predictions for the races tomorrow. So I suppose it would be pretty lame of me not to have the guts to do the same.

So I'll try to be as candid as I can and perhaps the late hour will assist with that. If you're a regular reader of TPM you may have realized that I sometimes have a ... well, let's say a rather admiring sense of my own ability to predict political happenings. Frankly, in the last two election cycles I've done a pretty good job of it. But I'll be honest: I'm realllllllly confused about what's going to happen tomorrow.

There was one spread of numbers I was pretty confident about 48 hours ago -- a nice Democratic pick up. Then on Monday I was much less sanguine about the Democrats' prospects. As of near 2 AM on Tuesday morning I'm somewhere weirdly in between.

So let me go through the races and tell you where I think they'll all end up.

Arkansas: This is one of the few that seems straightforward to me. Hutchinson is a big-time born-again who attacked Bill Clinton for his infidelities. Then he did the wild thing with one of his own staffers, divorced his wife and married the staffer. And that's just not a good set of facts. I guess you could call him a born-again adulterer. And it never went down that well with the folks back home. He's consistently down in the polls. As nearly as I can tell most Republicans have simply written him off. Pryor wins; Dem pick-up.

Minnesota: Man, this one is a mystery to me. The polls are all over the place. I always thought that the whole brouhaha over the memorial/rally was really overstated. But whether I'm right on the merits is sort of beside the point. Republicans used it very effectively. And at the least it seems to have really blunted the Dems' momentum. I watched most of the debate on Monday morning. For the first few minutes Mondale struck me as old and rather feeble and that worried me. But he recovered and I thought he did a pretty good job. Not that he killed Coleman or anything. I thought he did pretty well too. But I'd say on balance Mondale helped himself more because he seemed energized and on top of things. I guess I figure that at the end of the day the combination of the political complexion of the state, Mondale's stature and the extreme motivation of the Democratic base win it for the Democrats. Part of me keeps telling myself that you just don't lose a race because your guy died. But this may simply be a moral argument that I've tricked myself into believing is a political argument. So I say that Mondale wins this and possibly even by a decent margin. But I'm far from sure of this one. Mondale wins; Dem hold.

South Carolina: Sanders ran a pretty good race. The Social Security thing helped him at the end. And he could still win. But I don't think he pulls it out. Probably closer than some people imagine. A few days back the Dems' internal tracking polls had the race dead-even. But I think Graham takes this one. Graham wins; GOP hold.

Colorado: I had only been watching this race sort of out of the corner of my eye. And I'd only really been paying attention to the spread which usually had Allard up by at least a point or two and often by more. But then I focused on it a bit and realized that he was seldom getting over like 40%. For an incumbent so late in the race that's just lethal. And a number of the most recent polls have Strickland, the Democrat, ahead. Strickland clearly seems to have the momentum and Allard's numbers are ones that normally spell defeat. So, not certain on this one. But definitely think Strickland, the Democrat, wins. Strickland wins; Dem pick-up.

Missouri: This one's been back and forth. The consensus is that Talent is a solid campaigner and Caranahan isn't much of a campaigner at all. A week ago it really seemed like she was toast. She seems to have recovered a lot in the last few days. I could see the Dems winning this. But my gut tells me probably not. One unfortunate side note: I've heard from a few people tonight that a solid GOTV effort could win it. But the Carnahan campaign apparently hasn't really put together a solid good ground operation and there's a degree of disorganization at the ground level. So I'm not sure on this one but I figure Talent wins. Talent wins; GOP pick-up.

South Dakota: As regular readers know I've written a lot about this campaign. The Zogby poll has Johnson up by four and CNN/Gallup has him down by three. Common sense and other information tells me that this race is actually dead-even, fifty-fifty. And that means it's going to be won on the ground. I started saying before a lot of people did that I thought Johnson was going to win that race. And that sense was based on a conclusion I reached early on that Johnson's campaign operation and particularly its organization on the ground was far superior to Thune's. Given that, I always figured that if Johnson went into the election without being behind that he would win the race through superior organization on the ground. That's pretty much exactly where we seem to be. So I think Johnson wins this one. But man is it close. Johnson wins; Dem hold.

Georgia: On this one I'm afraid I've got some bad news. I talked to a friend of mine tonight who knows Southern politics about as well as anyone I know. And he thought things looked bad for the Democrats in the South. This combined with various other info makes me pessimistic about Cleland. The one hope here is that Georgia Republican state-wide candidates always do seem to choke at the final moment -- particuarly in the off-years. But I'm just not sure it's going to happen in this case. I haven't been watching all the numbers that closely. But the feel I get on this one and what I hear from people whose judgment I trust isn't good. I'm giving this to the Republicans. Chambliss wins; GOP pick-up.

New Hampshire: This is another one where the numbers show it pretty much even. But I've got good sources on this one. And I'm pretty confident that Shaheen wins this one. Her strong momentum did seem to fizzle a bit, stalling at the dead-even point. But my understanding is that Shaheen has a very good operation on the ground. So I think she pulls it off. Shaheen wins; Dem pick-up.

Tennessee: I haven't been following this race too closely but the CW seems to be that Alexander will win. So I'll go with that. This does mean, unfortunately, that the chronically lame Lamar Alexander gets to become a member of the Senate. But what can you do? Alexander wins; GOP hold.

Iowa: This one's done. The number spread may not end up being all that big. But in win or lose terms this one's been over for a while. Harkin wins; Dem hold.

New Jersey: I've invested a lot in saying -- and taken a fair amount of grief for saying -- some time ago that Douglas Forrester was toast. And well ... he's toast. The Dem's a decent campaigner; the Republican's a sorry goof; it's a Dem-trending state; the polls all have at least a ten point spread. Get the butter ready for spreading. Forrester's done. Lautenberg wins; Dem hold.

Texas: This is where things get interesting. And this is one of the reasons I really don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. Kirk was supposed to be out of this. But a couple recent polls show the race basically even. What's more the Dem's internal polls have shown it this way for a while. I hear, but don't know, that the Republicans' polls have shown something similar. There's a lot of excitement on the ground for Dems, with some really solid turnout in early voting. I guess Cornyn also just doesn't strike me as a very appealing candidate. The truth is that I really haven't a clue how this race is going to turn out. Let's delay a call here until we get done with North Carolina.

Louisiana: I haven't been following this race that closely. But from what I hear, I figure she has to go into a run-off and then wins there. Landreau wins; Dem hold.

North Carolina: This one is another mystery. The TV reportage I saw tonight made it sound like Bowles had peaked too early and that it was slipping away from him. But I hear some different stuff from party types in the state. They seem to feel they're peaking at just the right time and that they can do this. Now a Bowles win would have the added benefit of keeping Liddy Dole out of public life. And for me this would be a really good thing since she is music to my ears in roughly like a sharp rock dragged slowly over a window pane. So here's the deal with Texas and North Carolina. I don't know which one -- maybe neither -- but I really think Democrats are going to pull one of these out. Different people I talk to point me in different directions. But I really sense that of them is going to come out Democratic.

I'd add that all up and give more of a run-down. But honestly I'm too damn tired. That's the best I can come up with. But man is it ever close and is it ever going to be a long night...

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