With less than a week until the midterm elections, Republicans maintain pole-position in enough races to gain control of the Senate. They hold slim leads in a number of high-profile governor races and are within striking distance of capturing the top office in a handful of deep-blue states. With just days to go until the 2014 election hits the history books a question is nagging Republicans and conservatives: Are we outside the margin of fraud?
Appearing on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer predicted that the Democrats would hold the Senate due, in part, to their “better ground game.” Schumer said, “You can add two to three points at a minimum. . . Just about every one of those races. So if it’s 44 -43, we’re probably ahead.”
Some of this, no doubt, is campaign bluster. Campaigns that are behind in the polls always claim that their “ground game” or turnout operations will surprise the political handicappers. Over the years, every possible variation of this theory has been offered. Its usually wrong in individual campaigns, but Democrats do have an uncanny ability to win almost all of the close races.
Political analyst Dan McLaughlin reviewed the partisan record in very close election match-ups. Since 1998, 27 Senate or Governors’ races were decided by less than a point and Democrats won 20 of these. The Democrat party advantage holds also in races that were decided by a slightly larger margin. Of the 147 races decided by 6 points or less, Democrats won 60% of them. Even these numbers, though, obscure the fact that the Democrats advantage in close races has increased measurably during the “Obama years.”
McLaughlin concludes, “Democrats have had a significant competitive advantage in the very closest of elections, and in close elections overall, over the past 16 years, and that that advantage has grown during the Obama years.”
Some of this Democrat advantage is fraud. A recent study undertaken by The Washington Post found that non-citizens have not only voted in recent elections, but have likely provided the winning edge in several close races. The paper concluded that the illegal votes of non-citizens probably accounted for Sen. Al Franken’s win in Minnesota in 2008 as well as Obama’s victory in North Carolina.
There is a limit to how much outright fraud can be committed, however. In my experience, overt fraud happens more often than liberals admit and less often than conservatives fear. Far more prevalent are “soft frauds” like partisan-led absentee voter drives at nursing homes or community centers. Or, partisan-fueled rallies and concerts to engage disinterested voters. Tactics like these aren’t illegal and, anyway, have been around since ancient Greece and Rome. Indeed, George Washington finally won election to the Virginia House of Burgess by plying voters with rum.
The Democrat party, for a variety of institutional and historic reasons, puts more emphasis on turnout and getting out the vote than Republicans. A look through the FEC’s 7-day notices of expenditures by outside political groups reveals a number of Democrat and left-wing groups pouring money into canvassing and turnout. Very few Republican or conservative groups show similar spending. It is possible that outside conservative groups are using lots of volunteers, rather than paid canvassers and so not disclosing the full extent of their efforts. Personally, I wouldn’t want to go too long on that bet.
The more existential question is why the Republicans find themselves in so many very close elections this year. It is hard to imagine President Obama’s poll numbers going any lower than they are. The economy is stagnant and virtually everything happening in the news is negative for the United States and its citizens. One would be hard-pressed to imagine a political terrain or public sympathies more aligned with a Republican rout on election day.
Yet, the Republican party hasn’t closed the deal in a host of races that are critical to the outcome next week. Based simply on historical patterns, the party may only win 40% of the most contested races. With the generic ballot question moving increasingly towards Republicans in these final days, the public may ultimately save the party from itself.
In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, when the Republican party and outside groups squandered an enormous financial and political advantage, the party engaged in an “audit” of what went wrong. Lessons were learned, conservatives and Republican voters were assured. If, in a few days time, the party again squanders an historic advantage, “audits” must give way to bloodlettings.