Sunday, May 18, 2008

McCain Can Run, but Bush Won’t Hide

THE biggest gift President Bush has given his party this year was to keep his daughter’s wedding nearly as private as Connie Corleone’s. Now that his disapproval rating has reached the Nixon nadir of negativity, even a joyous familial ritual isn’t enough to make the country glad to see him. The G.O.P.’s best hope would be for both the president and Dick Cheney to lock themselves in a closet until the morning after Election Day.

Republicans finally recognized the gravity of their situation three days after Jenna Bush took her vows in Crawford. As Hillary Clinton romped in West Virginia, voters in Mississippi elected a Democrat in a Congressional district that went for Bush-Cheney by 25 percentage points just four years ago. It’s the third “safe” Republican House seat to fall in a special election since March.

Party leaders have been haplessly trying to identify possible remedies ever since. It didn’t help that their recent stab at an Obamaesque national Congressional campaign slogan, “The Change You Deserve,” was humiliatingly identified as the advertising pitch for the anti-depressant Effexor. (If they’re going to go the pharmaceutical route, “Viva Viagra” might be more to the point.) Yet for all the Republican self-flagellation, it’s still not clear that the party even understands the particular dimensions of its latest defeat and its full implications for both Congressional races and John McCain in November.

The Mississippi election was actually a runoff, required by law after a preliminary vote left neither candidate with the required 50 percent. In the last round, on April 22, the Democrat, Travis Childers, beat the Republican, Greg Davis, 49 percent to 46 percent. (The rest went to minor candidates.) On Tuesday, that margin increased dramatically: the Republican remained at 46 percent while the Democrat jumped to 54 percent.

What happened in the intervening three weeks helps explain why. The G.O.P. didn’t merely step up its expensive negative campaign, attempting to take down Mr. Childers (who is a white, conservative Democrat) by linking him with Mr. Obama, a ranting Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Nancy Pelosi. It also brought in the party’s big guns. Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain recorded mass phone pitches for Mr. Davis. Karl Rove and Mr. Cheney campaigned for him.

The vice president’s visit was last Monday, the centerpiece of a get-out-the-vote rally in DeSoto County, a G.O.P. stronghold. “We’ll put our shoulders to the wheel for John McCain,” the vice president promised as he bestowed his benediction on Mr. Davis. Well, he got out the vote all right. In the election results the next day, the Childers total in DeSoto County increased 142 percent, while the Davis count went up only 47 percent.

The district as a whole is the second whitest in Mississippi. (Its black population is 27.2 percent.) It’s the sole district Mr. Obama lost to Mrs. Clinton in the state’s Democratic primary in March. Yet even in this unlikely political terrain the combination of a race-based Republican campaign and the personal intervention of Mr. Cheney energized enough white moderates and black voters to flip the district to the Democrats. Keep in mind, it’s the Deep South we’re talking about here. Imagine how the lethal combination of the Bush-Cheney brand and backlash-inducing G.O.P. race-baiting could whip up a torrential turnout by young voters, black voters and independents in true swing states farther north and west...[Open in new window]


Rich nails it. Read the whole thing.


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