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Oct 19, 2004 5:25 pm


Election Night Guide



As we inch closer to Election Night, it’s worth thinking of how much politics has changed since the last time an incumbent Texan was standing for re-election. (It's hard to consider George HW Bush a"Texan," since his residence is pretty clearly in Maine.) 1964 was the last presidential election without the substantial use of exit polls, and in this clip (which lasts around 4 minutes, and for which the transcript is here), Lyndon Johnson and aide Bill Moyers attempt to read the tea leaves regarding the election, with the first polls closing around 20 minutes thereafter.

One item that has remained constant since 1964: we still don’t have a uniform national poll-closing time. In addition, the same three states—Indiana, Kentucky, and South Carolina—are the first three to begin tabulating their votes (each by 7.00pm EST). For the coming election, George Bush is all but certain to carry all three states, and so we’ll gain little insight on the night to come from the presidential totals. At the congressional level, however, it’s a different story.

Indiana and Kentucky each have two somewhat competitive House contests. Two GOP incumbents, Anne Northrup of Kentucky and John Hostetler of Indiana, represent marginal seats; both are currently narrowly ahead, and should either lose, it might signal a broader Democratic tide than is anticipated. In Indiana’s 9th district, Democratic congressman Baron Hill’s narrow margin in 2002 anticipated his party’s poor showing around the country. And Kentucky’s 4th district, held by retiring Democrat Ken Lucas, is the most GOP-oriented seat in the country currently represented by a Democrat. The Democrats have nominated a strong candidate (the father of actor George Clooney); if they can hold the seat, it would be a good sign.

The first three states to report also will give some sense of how the battle for Senate control will conclude. Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning has seen a large lead evaporate in recent days, largely due to self-inflicted gaffes. Bluegrass State voters aren’t exactly seeing a replay of the Webster-Hayne exchange; here’s how Roll Call commentator Stuart Rothenberg describes recent events:

Anyone who watched the recently televised Kentucky Senate debate may well have concluded that neither Sen. Jim Bunning (R) nor challenger Dan Mongiardo (D) deserves to be in the Senate.

When asked what legislation he would like to see the Senate pass, Bunning said he’d like to make everyone free. Omigod! And most of his other answers weren’t much better.

Mongiardo, on the other hand, looked as if he came from another galaxy. Who did his make-up, Elvira? Throughout the debate he promised more for less so often that I figure he believes in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and even Hanukkah Harry.

That said, if Mongiardo can win, Democrats would have a good chance of reclaiming the Senate.

Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Democrat Inez Tenenbaum has stayed surprisingly close to Republican congressman Jim DeMint in the race for Democrat Fritz Hollings’ seat: depending on which poll you believe, Tenenbaum either narrowly trails (3-6 points) or is even ahead by 3 points.

Soon after the call with Moyers ended, Johnson learned that he had carried Kentucky and traditionally Republican Indiana, previewing the overwhelming triumph that would be confirmed later that evening. But results from South Carolina were delayed amidst breakdowns of voting machines and allegations of voter suppression in precincts where African-Americans had registered to vote for the first time. I guess that some things never change.

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