Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2002 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The polls indicate that the 2002 elections are not healthy for incumbents, frontrunners and other living things. When incumbents are under 50 percent in a two-way race, they are endangered species.
Yet an analysis of poll data, from John Zogby, the best pollster in the 2000 elections, and others suggests that nine of the 28 Senate incumbents are under 50 percent as the campaign enters the final three weeks. And that's after two Senator Bobs - Republican Smith of New Hampshire and Democrat Torricelli of New Jersey - lost the primary and vaporized, respectively.
Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) are mired in the low to mid-forties, as are Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.), offsetting losses which would keep the Senate's balance of power intact. If Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Torricelli's stand-in, Frank Lautenberg, continue their large, but recent, leads over GOP challengers, the battle for Senate control could come down to the open seats in New Hampshire and North Carolina.
Democrat Jeanne Shaheen appears slightly ahead in New Hampshire, probably due to her higher recognition as governor, while in North Carolina, Democrat Erskine Bowles is gaining steadily on Republican Elizabeth Dole, who seems to be carrying over her presidential race swoon into the Senate contest.
Incumbents and front-runners are in serious trouble in the '02 Senate contests. Voter anger is palpable. Their rage appears to have no partisan motivation. There are no good guys, only bad ones. The mood reminds the older among us of the voter animus of the '70s when Vietnam and Watergate soured voter attitudes.
Corporate excesses and the resulting stock market depression appear to be taking their toll as incumbents are automatically, and reasonably, suspect in voters' eyes. The economy is, of course, playing a role, but a curiously nonpartisan one.
A Fox News poll this week shows that voters divide evenly, 41-41, when asked which party they trust to manage the economy. Iraq, of course, works in the GOP's favor and is largely responsible for the generic 42-40 Republican edge in the Fox News poll (a five-point move from the three-point Democratic advantage in mid- September.
But while Washington counts incumbents' problems and ponders its partisan implications, the voters appear impartial in their rage to throw the current officeholders out. No party has virtue in their minds. All are suspect. The system seems the real enemy of the voters. Tired of parsing blame and following negative ads back and forth, voters seem prepared to hold the establishment to blame regardless of partisan stripe.
The real winners are the likes of John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chris Shays (R-Conn.), who criticize the system and demand change. It is their critique, not the self-serving charges of party leaders, that appears to be gaining traction with the voters. Ross Perot would clean up in this environment.
George W. Bush seems curiously exempt from this voter angst. Still at 70 percent approval, his preoccupation with Iraq and terror is exactly what the voters want. Should Bush campaign for his party this year? It's likely nobody can or will stop him. But Bush can only hurt himself by injecting his presidency into partisan contests while he is trying to sell the voters on the imminent threat from Iraq.
But even if Bush campaigns, voters are likely not to be affected. The Bush they see on the stump is not the 70 percent approval Bush in the polls. In his partisan garb, he is more like the man who lost the popular vote in 2000.
What will happen? More front-runners will fall. Incumbents who now appear safe will suffer yet more insecurity. The numbers will flip all over the place as voter anger shifts first one way and then the other. Pollsters will look like idiots as their data bounces all over the place.
This election is definitely a work in progress. Don't bet on the outcome. Bet on
something sure, like the lottery.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
10/16/02: Endangered incumbents