Monday, September 22, 2008

Another Close One?

As I wrote here, we seem to be heading toward a third consecutive close presidential election, as measured by electoral votes.

That goes against the historical pattern. There were close elections during the 20th century, such as those of 1916, 1960, 1968 and 1976. But they were interspersed among elections ranging from comfortable victories to monster landslides.

Why do we seem to be stuck in a pattern where most states remain either red or blue (i.e., Republican or Democratic, respectively), while a few swing states decide the result?

I suspect that the packaging of candidates by political consultants might be producing match-ups designed to take only as much of the political center as is required for victory.

Karl Rove, mastermind of George W. Bush's electoral victories, is said to have calculated just how much was needed to preserve the Republicans' conservative base, and to reach enough of the center, to amass the 270 electoral votes required for victory.

It's a modern-day echo of the words supposedly uttered by Joseph P. Kennedy about his financial support for the 1960 president campaign of his son Jack: "I'll only buy as many votes as necessary. I'll be damned if I'll pay for a landslide!"

When a landslide is on the horizon, many commentators speak of how such a victory will give the winner a bigger mandate to execute his platform. But landslide winners have often run into trouble during the subsequent presidential term. Consider Harding after 1920, Hoover after 1928, Johnson after 1964, and Nixon after 1972.

Of course, that doesn't happen only with a landslide. George W. Bush has certainly had more than his share of difficulties after his razor-thin reelection in 2004.

There is still time for this year's election to open up. If either candidate starts gaining a significant edge, either through the debates, or otherwise, we could break out of the red-blue mold. On the other hand, maybe we'll stay in this pattern for years to come.

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