Larry J. Sabato
University of Virginia Political Analyst
Wednesday, June 23, 2004; 11:00 AM
What is the latest news on the campaign trail?
University of Virginia political analyst Larry J. Sabato discussed the 2004 election, the campaigns and politics in general.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Larry J. Sabato: Good morning and welcome to our webchat on the 2004 election. I always enjoy these online discussions, because never once have i failed to learn from the questioners themselves. So please fire away, as we enter the most exciting four and a half months of the 4 year cycle!
What is your current assessment of U.S. Senate control after November?
Larry J. Sabato: We are all guessing, but I believe that the Senate is likely to go the way of the presidential election. A year ago, it looked like the Republicans would add to their Senate majority, regardless of the presidential results. The Dmeocrats have had a lot of breaks, more than the GOP, and thus we are in a pitched battle for control of the Senate, with just a slight edge for the Republicans to maintain a majority.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Professor Sabato, thanks for making yourself available for questions. John Kerry recently decided to make Virginia one of his campaign's battleground states. Is there a chance that the vote in Virginia will become competitive in the upcoming November election?
Larry J. Sabato: Sure, there's a chance. My position on this is that VA is most unlikely to be the state that puts John Kerry over the 270 mark in the Electoral College. VA is approximately 5-8% more Republican than the country as a whole in presidential elections. Therefore, if Kerry ends up winning by 5 or 6 points nationally, he might very well squeak through to a victory in the Old Dominion. Bill Clinton almost did this in 1996 over Bob Dole. That's the long and short of it.
If you were forced to make a friendly wager as to who Kerry's choice for V.P. will be -- which of the possibilities would you bet on at this point? Thanks.
Larry J. Sabato: I am not a betting man, because I would lose too much money--especially on VP choices. If we are to believe leaks from the Kerry camp, the finalists are John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Vilsack. Do you believe this? I thought not. Most campaigns have a surprise lurking somewhere on the list of finalists. I have made some guesses about them, and you might want to take a look at the University of Virginia Center for Politics' Crystal Ball website at http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/pres_veep3.htm
Dr. DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., recently elected Chairman of the US Election Assistance Commission, has pointed to the need to increase security safeguards for Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems, saying: "We're recommending that every voting jurisdiction that uses electronic voting do something about security that they have not done before."
The use of paperless Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting systems by millions of Americans could result in a stolen election because it would be easy for hackers, especially insiders, to tamper with DREs and not be detected. Computer security experts have come to that conclusion in numerous studies.
Hundreds of computer scientists and journalists have decried the use of paperless DREs, but their hair-on-fire warnings have been ignored by leaders in Congress and the administration. Shades of 9-11!
Please provide whatever thoughts you have about what should be done to avoid in 2004 what happened in 2000 -- a flawed election with a result that is not accepted as bona fide by a large percentage of Americans. Understandably, many would lose faith in an election process that they would see as having twice failed to reflect the will of the majority but, rather, rewarded underhanded manipulators of the election process.
Please take a shot at answering this question because your answer could be a step toward saving our democracy.
Larry J. Sabato: For what it is worth--and that is not much--I favor a paper trail on every machine. Good luck getting this in time for November 2004. It is way too late in most cases. You know, I just had a conversation with several premiers of Canadian provinces at the Western Governor's Conference in Santa Fe, and they celebrated the glories of paper ballots. The entire nation of Canada conducts its parliamentary elections using primarily paper. It counts and recounts the ballots in a single evening, and there has never been a significant charge of fraud. By contrast, the United States--in love with whatever is the latest election technology--has spent billions for advanced computerized machines that probably aren't as good as the old fashioned paper ballot. Returning to paper is a radical idea (i.e., that is returning to our roots) but as an academic with tenure who cannot be fired, I respectfully submit that we might want to go "back to the future."
There's a lot of hype here in the Buckeye state about it's
position as a "swingstate." Just how important is Ohio
from a campaign standpoint? And is it unusual for Ohio
to be up in the air?
Larry J. Sabato: Look, Ohio is critically important. It is one of 8-10 states that I consider to be true toss-ups. No Republican has ever been elected president without Ohio, so if Kerry captures the Buckeye State, it is all over for the Bush White House, still, I would add two provisos: first, Ohio is hardly alone, and we must include FL, PA, MI, WI, AZ, and several others in the critical toss-up category. Second, if the election were held today, I believe that Bush would carry Ohio very, very narrowly--less than his 3% margin in 2000. That is my best guess, as of June 23, and no doubt it will change before November.
Posting early in hopes of getting an answer. Bush won in 2000 without Pennsylvania. Can he realistically do it again? How does he win Pa.? Will the tight race in Pennsylvania 13 help (turnout conservatives in suburban Montgomery county) or hurt (turnout ticket splitting RINOs)? What, if anything are Toomey and CFG doing to turnout conservative voters for Bush?
Larry J. Sabato: Pennsylvania isn't called the Keystone State for nothing. It is absolutely one of the "keys" to the 2004 presidential election. If the election were held today, which it isn't, I would expect Kerry to win PA by a small margin, much as Gore did in 2000. Kerry has an additional advantage that Gore did not have: a friendly governor in Ed Rendell (if Tom Ridge couldn't carry PA for Bush in 2000 As the incumbent governor, he certainly cannot do it now).
Now, let's strategize from the Bush perspective. Bush is on the edge of losing a half-dozen states he carried in 2000. Where can he make up the ground in one fell swoop? There literally is only one place: PA. It is far more important that Wisconsin--the only other sizable state that Bush has a real shot to win after a 2000 loss. You had better believe that Toomey and the Club for Growth will help Bush and can have an impact if they so choose. You can argue PA 13 one way or the other, and as of today I am simply not sure.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:
I get your Crystal Ball and enjoy it very much. It is very insightful. My question is do you think that Bush will be defeated via the death by 1000 cuts scenario? He seems to be on the defensive and bleeding from so many different issues, either current or pending.
Also, what impact, if any, will the Michael Moore film have on the race?
Thanks and keep up the wonderful impartial analysis.
Larry J. Sabato: You are very kind, and my wonderful staff at the UVA Center for Politics (www.centerforpolitics.org) appreciates your pat on the back. You are correct that Bush is bleeding from 1000 cuts (what is it about president's named Bush and their fourth year in the White House? In both cases, they were wildly popular for the first three years, but under our constitutional system of fixed elections, only the fourth year matters!)
Still, I would argue that 900 of the thousand cuts are directly or indirectly related to Iraq. If Bush can catch some critical breaks with the June 30 hand-over, he has a chance to focus the election on the strongly-recovering economy. But the dark Iraq cloud must break before the economic sun can shine through and reach the electorate.
Did you know that by any statistical measure, the economy in 2004 is now BETTER than the one Bill Clinton ran on successfully for reelectino in 1996? You would never know if from the press coverage, and you would never know if from the polls that show Americans actually believe the economy is getting worse rather than better! When people are in a sour mood, they always see every glass as half empty, even when it is three-quarters full.
What role do you see youth political movements, specifically the College Republicans as playing in the upcoming election cycle?
Larry J. Sabato: You have asked about a subject near and dear to my heart. My University of Virginia Center for Politics was founded primarily to reach out to the young across America, and oiur signature program is the Youth Leadership Initiative (http://www.youthleadership.net/index.jsp). Please check out our non-partisan program that has now spread to all 50 states and some foreign countries. Over 6000 junior and senior high schools in all. We have the largest secure internet mock election ever, coming up in late October. The energy and enthusiasm of young people of all political stripes can transform American politics, if only we can tap into it.
While the electoral vote contest appears close, isn't it true that a nationwide shift of a few percentage points to one candidate or the other could result in an electoral vote landslide? If so, couldn't this election hinge on a single emerging major issue or major event that could shift the entire election? If so, what are the possibilities of such a major shift occuring?
Larry J. Sabato: Of course. The last time America had two or more very close elections consecutively was between 1876 and 1888. It is rare to have a squeaker repeated just four years later. I would not be surprised at all if the American public (in late October) made a decisive shift to one or the other major party candidates. It doesn't take much imagination to suggest how this could happen. A domestic terrorist event, a terrible mistake by one of the candidates in a presidential debate, a dramatic improvement or decline in the economy--any of these things could turn a close election into a landslide. See our comparisons of 1980 and 2004 at http://www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/updates_04-06-10.htm
Prof. Sabato, have you read Bill Clinton's book yet? Is it as bad as some critics say it is? Do you think the publicity surrounding the book will carry over into the Democratic convention, and will Bill and/or Hillary will play prominent roles in the convention?
Larry J. Sabato: No, I have not read it, and I will not. If Bill Clinton committed any news in this book, the media will tell me over and over again. The only presidential memoir I have ever read was the superb piece of literature created by former president Ulysses S. Grant on his deathbed. Presidential memoirs, in my view, are nearly worthless, except that they enrich the former presidents--as if they needed it.
As for Bill and Hillary Clinton, they will have about as much effect on John Kerry's convention and candidacy as Ronald Reagan will have on George W. Bush's--in other words, despite the forest being destroyed to produce the paper for all the news stories about the Clintons and their impact on Kerry, they will have little. This election is about George Bush and John Kerry, not Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
Are there any sleeper Senate races that haven't been getting much media attention? Recently, there has been a lot of talk here about Senator Mikulski's reelection, as she is very popular but up against a Multimillion dollar opponent who spent half a million winning the primary.
Larry J. Sabato: Mikulski is as safe as can be, but there is almost always at least one Senate surprise--sometimes several! I can only tell you what I see today, and while one can make an argument for Washington State as an unpleasant surprise for the Dems, and Missouri as an unpleasant surprise for the GOP, as yet I don't believe either scenario.
Do you put any stock in rumors that Cheney might be dropped from the ticket, or is this just a parlor game for political junkies?
Larry J. Sabato: Hey, almost all of politics is a parlor game for political junkies! Don't knock it! That's half of my career! My guess is that Cheney is as secure as can be, barring a fifth heart attack. It is probably too dangerous for Bush to drop Cheney at this point, even though most of us who analyze politics believe he is a significant drag on Bush's reelection prospects. He may have helped in 2000, but he is unpopular, unappealing, and too closely tied to the disasterous aspects of Bush's Iraq policy. Tom Ridge or Rudy Giuliani might actually help Bush, and there are others who could help as well. Ironically, Dubya was the one who argued to his father that he should drop Dan Quayle in 1992 and add Colin Powell. It would have helped the first Bush--probably--but what was good for the father is apparently not considered by the son.
Bay City, Mich.:
I think if Gore had used Clinton more in selected states (like Ark.) in the 2000 election, he would have won easily. It's clear from the book hoopla that Clinton is still extremely popular in many, though certainly not all, corners. Do you think his campaigning for Kerry could be helpful? And, more importantly, would Kerry be willing to ask him? Talk is that Kerry is shying away from naming Edwards his VP because the charismatic Edwards would outshine him. Does he feel the same way about Clinton? Thanks for your time.
Larry J. Sabato: No, I would bet that Kerry will have Clinton on the campaign trail where he can do the most good, in African American communities, and in states such as AR, WV, and maybe NH--all of which Kerry has a chance to snatch from Bush.
Do you think it would help John Kerry politically if he talked openly about how his religious beliefs shape or inform his political views? If Christian moral principles form part of the basis for his political values, would acknowledging the moral and religious basis of his politics, as Bill Clinton was willing and able to do, help him connect with religious voters?
Larry J. Sabato: If that is a genuine part of Kerry's character, then yes, it probably would help him. Kerry may be elected simply because the American people reject Bush. At least at present, only the Democratic partisans are attracted to John Kerry as an individual, at least beyond his war record. He is New England chilly, appears snobbish and off-putting, and in media terms, he is a cross between a funeral director and Lurch from the Addams Family. Religion might help to melt his iceberg image.
Do you think that Jeri Lynn's allegations will ruin Jack Ryan's shot at the Illinois senate seat?
washingtonpost.com: GOP Nominee Fights Calls to Exit Contest (Post, June 23)
Larry J. Sabato: Ruin? He was already a near-sure loser. Barrack Obama is the odds-on favorite to win the Senate seat handily in November. Ryan is barely in the game, and it will be interesting to see whether the GOP leadership in the Land of Lincoln can ease him off the ticket before he does even more damage to the down-ballot Republicans.
Larry, if you count Kerry and Nader poll numbers together, in most cases they show about a 44 percent Bush and 54 percent non-Bush split. Those numbers stand about the same when it's Kerry v. Bush. Yet, the media keeps calling this a split country. Seems to me 54 to 44 is about halfway between a split and a landslide. Wouldn't this be termed a comfortable lead in other years?
Larry J. Sabato: You may or may not be right. I am a longtime critic of public opinion polling. That doesn't mean I don't have my nose in the paper reading every number. But, polling statistics are NOT the equivalent of real human votes. I will gladly wait until November 2 to see the real vote, and then we can give you a reasonable answer to your good question.
New York, N.Y.:
When I took your class in 1982, you gave me a B. Why?
Larry J. Sabato: Wahoowa! Always remember that--at least in my class--a B equals "very good." After 34 years at the University of Virginia I am very biased, but I insist that a B at Mr. Jefferson's University is the equivalent of an "A+" at that bastion of grade inlfation in Cambridge, MA. I am still proud of you, and you have worn the honor of honors, you graduated from Virginia. Always be proud!
Do you see any end in sight for the rampant partisanship gripping D.C. right now? What will it take to soothe tempers and make things run more smoothly around here?
Larry J. Sabato: I am a pessimist on this. Imagine for a moment that John Kerry is elected. After the way that Democrats have treated Bush (the rhetoric, the judicial nominees, and all the rest) do you really expect there is any chance that Kerry could bring both parties together? But maybe something completely unforseen can change this sad reality. Let's hope so.
Is there any chance the 11th Congressional District in Virginia will again become competitive once Tom Davis moves on, or has redistricting made it safe for the GOP?
Larry J. Sabato: Of VA's eleven districts, the 11th would be one of only 3 or 4 that could possibly turn over. Davis is completely safe, and when he runs for the Senate, his successor as the GOP nominee will have an edge, but not an overwhelming edge. As always, it will depend on the identity and quality of the party nominees.
When should we start paying attention to polls and which ones do you think we should track?
Larry J. Sabato: Take a look at them all, but treat every individual poll with a grain of salt. The old method of taking a "poll of polls" is probably a reasonable one. Polling can suggest the general directions of public opinions, but as a precise tool, it is exceptionally lacking. Polls receive far, far too much coverage in the news media.
What is your take on economic numbers that have historically been spot-on indicators of election outcome?
Larry J. Sabato: There is not a one that is a spot-on indicator. As with every other electoral dimension, one must take a look at the entire picture, that is, focus on the economic forest, not a particular statistical tree. My personal favorite is the change in per capita or family income in the year prior to the election, but unemployment rates and all those wonderful measures released on a weekly or monthly basis, such as Consumer Confidence, are helpful too.
Colorado Springs, Colo.:
What should the standard of viability be before the media decides that Ralph Nadar is not entitled to the vast media coverage he currenty receives?
Larry J. Sabato: I wish I had a good response to your question, because it's an important one, but in the end it is unanswerable. Every news organization has to make this judgement for itself. Ideally, the media would not act as a herd, but would look at Nader from the perspective of their state or locality, and the prism of its issues. Like it or not, Nader is a great story, though after 2000, I will grant you that he is becoming a bit stale.
What, if any, significance do you attach to Senator Kerry's apparently incredible fundraising success?
Larry J. Sabato: Your assessment is correct. Not too denegrate the efforts of the Kerry team, which have been remarkable, but much of this is a result of the intense hatred of George W. Bush by the Democratic activists. I am old enough to remember the loathing of Richard Nixon by Democrats from the 50's until his death in 1994. Incredibly, in just under four years, Bush has generated the same degree of hatred that it took Nixon decades to produce. That is an unhappy reality, but it is an important one that may affect the level of Democratic turnout in November.
How about Sen. Breaux (Louisiana) or Gov. Warner (Virginia) as VPs for Kerry?
Larry J. Sabato: John Breaux is one of the few Democrats who could transform a "red" state to a "blue" one in November. On that basis alone, as well as his superb service in the Senate, he should probably be considered. As for Mark Warner, after his recent success with his tax and reform package, he has a great story to tell, and he and Kerry appear to get along well. Neither Breaux nor Warner is apparently at the top of the Kerry VP list, but who knows, really?
If Kerry loses, do you see Hillary Clinton as the front-runner for Dem candidate in 4 years? If he wins, then wins again, would Hillary be viable 8 years from now?
Larry J. Sabato: Hillary Clinton will alwyas be highly controversial whenever she runs. You can be sure that other major candidates will challenge her strongly, including Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), Governor Bill Richardson (NM), and Senator John Edwards (NC).
Any chance that the GOP picks up a seat in South Carolina?
Larry J. Sabato: Jim DeMint's landslide victory yesterday has made him the frontrunner for that seat. Inez Tenenbaum is an excellent candidate, but she is a Democrat in Republican South Carolina in a presidential year. She counted on the GOP to split badly and maybe nominate a weak candidate (David Beasley). It didn't happen. Can DeMint still lose the race? Of course, but it is his to lose.
If we get another electoral victory/popular loss, will there be an effort to abolish th Electoral College?
Larry J. Sabato: There may be an effort, but I would suggest that the chances of a constitutional amendment abolishing or significantly changing the Electoral College are quite small. Remember, it only takes one house of the state legislature in just 13 states to defeat a constitutional amendment--assuming it even gets out of Congress. The Electoral College will be with us, come what may, for many decades to come.
Michigan is also thought to be a 'swing' state, what is you thoughts on this? In the 2000 Primary, McCain won Michigan, in the 2000 General Election, Bush won Michigan, in the primaries Kerry won Michigan. I just don't see the arguement that Michigan is a swing state.
Larry J. Sabato: On our Crystal Ball, we have Michigan clearly leaning Democratic. If Bush surprises everyone and ends up winning by a substantial margin, the President might win Michigan, as it is NOT a Democratic runaway. But otherwise, I expect the usual--a Kerry win.
Re: Your Crystal Ball:
I really like your wild card pick. Don't know if Sam Nunn would even consider a run on the ticket (he's been out of office so long), but he'd also be the perfect counterweight to Cheney, in the sense of a somewhat non-charismatic, deeply knowledgeable, non-ambitious presence who brings credibility galore. By the way, Nunn was my write-in choice in the '88 election, as well.
Larry J. Sabato: Sam Nunn has been mentioned frequently, so it would not be a complete shock for him to be selected. And, he has a ready-made campaign slogan "Nunn Better."
Oak Hill, Va.:
Since the Dean craze of the primaries died down, where do you see the former Deanies going? I heard there was a grassroots movement of some sort being attempted by those loyal to the Governor, but do you see it having any effect come November?
Larry J. Sabato: Most of them will vote for Kerry, but I have noticed more than a few privately saying they are going to vote for Nader. We'll see whether they continue to say that by early November.
Larry J. Sabato: Great questions, as always. This is why I enjoy doing these Washingtonpost.com webchats. I only wish that all Americans knew as much as those who send questions in to this site! I'm sorry we did not get to all questions, but our time has expired. Next time! Best wishes and "Politics is a Good Thing!"
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