There is nothing like the start of a political campaign to enrich the language -- unless you truly hate politics, in which case you view election years as a season of linguistic impoverishment.
Since I like politics, I think of all the wondrous words and phrases it has bequeathed us. Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too is the 1840 election slogan that gave our country William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. Warren Harding promised the return to normalcy in 1920. Many would insist normalcy is not a real word, but it did seem to capture what people wanted, and Harding won in a landslide. John F. Kennedy in 1960 promised a new generation of leadership, and we've been doing generational politics ever since. One theory that undergirded Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign was positive polarization, meaning that a candidate pits groups against one another in a way that leaves a majority on his side.
Campaigns now wear their insides on the outside -- meaning we know not only what a candidate stands for and the slogans he or she wants you to hear, but also the internal calculations and inside moves that lead to them.
Thus we have become quite familiar with media buys and gross rating points, the lingo for an era of televised campaigns. But television is yesterday's great leap forward. The hot stuff now is on the Internet, and so Web-savvy politicians and their advisers have coined a term for themselves: interactivists.
The interactivists promise a whole new way to achieve every campaign's key goal, voter contact. Traditionally that's been done through mailings, telephone calls and even, occasionally, the old-fashioned, door-to-door canvass.
In the interactivist world, e-mail is the new, cheap means of voter contact, just as Web sites have become a locus for campaign fund-raising. Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster working for SpeakOut.com, a Web place where interactivists gather, says that the hits on candidates' Web sites "now outnumber the number of contributors they have or the number of volunteers they have."
But if politics in this election year is destined to seem ever more digital, it remains very retro, too, notably in its continuing obsession with mothers. Soccer mom was the buzzword of the 1996 campaign, describing married women with children who tend to hold moderate-to-conservative social views but have more liberal instincts on public spending for their kids' education and their elderly parents' retirement. One of the breakthroughs of the Clinton 1996 reelection campaign was to convert many of these soccer moms into Democratic voters, at least at the presidential level.
Soccer moms became so important that analysts got sick of talking about them (though it's worth considering whether you'd rather have your elections decided by soccer moms or the swing constituency identified during the 1994 congressional elections, angry white men). Some feared soccer moms were too upscale and, as a category, left out a lot of other women. So the term waitress mom was born.
Ruy Teixeira, a scholar at the Century Foundation who studies voting, credits Democratic pollster Celinda Lake for that term, while Ms. Lake credits Teixeira. A variant on that idea, coined by political activist Jim Wallis, is Burger King mom, to describe a more specific and hard-pressed group of women in fast-food work. Ms. Lake is also paying close attention to Internet moms. Members of this computer-friendly group, she says, are younger, more independent and less Republican than soccer moms.
Mr. Teixeira thinks the incessant focus on moms leaves out one of the most important swing constituencies in the electorate: male voters without a college education. For them, he's coined the term technician dads, a more neutral and specific term than angry white men.
And expect this year to hear much more about cohorts. Your age can change, but not your cohort. If you were born in 1950, you were 20 in 1970 and will be turning 50 this year. But you're still part of the same cohort, the group of people born around the same time you were.
Cohort analysis is especially important when talking about the votes of senior citizens -- those over 65 -- because the makeup of that group changes as some among it go on to their eternal reward. The over-65 cohort that came of age during FDR's New Deal -- many of them lifelong Democrats -- are being replaced by a cohort that Ms. Lake calls the Reagan seniors, voters who were 45 when Reagan was first elected in 1980 and turn 65 this year. As these folks join the Kennedy/Truman seniors, the over-65 group will become more Republican. But guess what? Gen Y, the newest group to join the electorate, is highly independent but leans more Democratic than previous groups of young voters. And you can be sure of one thing: The Gen Yers definitely will be interactivists.
What's the word? If you have suggestions or other ideas, write to Chatter, The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and telephone number. E.J. Dionne will credit contributions he uses.