TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2002
RETURN OF THE EXPERTS: Why do they do it? If we just wait until the voting is done, well find out how our various elections turn out. But the press corps likes to waste its time with endless speculation. And so, after wasting his time two weeks ago with worthless FBI profiler experts, Tim Russert found a new gang of savants for last Sundays program. In truth, their expertise was underwhelming. For example, examine the following pearls. Russert presents numbers from the latest Zogby poll:
RUSSERT: Lets go to Georgia. This one has gotten awfully close. Republican Congressman Saxby Chambliss, 49 percent; Max Cleland, 49 percent. Cant get any closer than that, David Broder.
Huh! Would you have known that a 49-49 race was close without the advice of these experts? So it went as the panel killed time, showing they had nothing to say about one race after another.
BRODER: But the governors race is going to the Democrats and that governor has an organization that is as good as any in the country. I would think that spills over into the Senate contest.
RON BROWNSTEIN: These are hard races to call. I mean, I think itd be hard to put a thumb on the scale for either one of them, but if I had to, I would give the slightest edge to Cleland.
RUSSERT: Lisa Myers.
MYERS: Id give a tiny edge to Chambliss.
RUSSERT: Republican gain?
MYERS: Yeah. I think the Republicans have some intensity and I think Bush helps there.
RUSSERT: Charlie Cook.
COOK: Id give a slight edge to Cleland, but boy, this thing is close.
But our analysts came right out of their chairs when the experts considered the race for Maryland governor. Like us, some of these experts actually live in the state. How can they be so clueless?
RUSSERT: How about Maryland? Kathleen Kennedy Townsend running against Congressman Ehrlich. Lisa Myers, two and a half to one enrollment edge for the Democrats. This should be a walk.
How can pundits know so little? The last two Maryland gubernatorial races (1994, 1998) were eyelash wins for the Democrat, Parris Glendening. This race has polled 50/50 for months. Plainly, Maryland has become one of those states (Massachusetts is another) where registration edge has little to do with voting patterns for governor. And Ehrlich, a thoroughly capable pol, was always going to be a better candidate than Ellen Sauerbrey, the GOP hopeful who lost those last two tight races. At THE HOWLER, we dont focus on this sort of stuff. But, not being completely clueless, we always said that Ehrlich likely had the edge in this race. But Russerts expertssome of whom actually live in this statesomehow found the tightness of the race amazing and astonishing. Again we pose our simple question. How is it possiblehow is it possiblefor pundits to know so little?
MYERS: The astonishing thing is that it is still so close
You know, a lot of Republicans think that Bob Ehrlich really may win this. It would be a terrible defeat for the Kennedy family.
RUSSERT: What do you think, Charlie?
COOK: Al Gore won this state by 17 points. The fact that its this close is amazing. I think Ehrlich edges it out. If he doesnt, its only because the sniper hurt him in the D.C. suburbs.
BROWNSTEIN: I agree with that.
BRODER: My colleagues who have been covering it say they just simply wont call it and Im not going to go out on that limb.
By the way, what else has driven this race from the start? In Maryland, 1994 hasnt yet happened. Angry White Men havent had their big win, and anyone who listens to local talk radio hears the result of their sad deprivation. Townsend has been name-called on Baltimore talk radio for a year; in particular, she has been Little Kathy Townsend on the snarling, gong-show, hackwork programming that now infests Baltimore talk giant WBAL. Our entire staff did commentaries at this station for years; we have many friends at WBAL, and many people whom we admire. But the name-calling on this stations programs pretty much speaks for itself. (This name-calling has been done by the hosts, by the way, not by their hapless callers.) And make no mistake, the stations angry callers are often quite hapless; in recent weeks, it has been chic to ask if Townsend will move back to Massachusetts if she loses the governors race. Townsend, of courseRobert Kennedys daughtergrew up down the road in Virginia. The Angry White Men of this state havent heard. But no mattertheyre very upset.
You really have to lack the first clue to be surprised by Ehrlichs position. But then, Russert had experts in recent weeks who were advising us to jot down the license plate number if we saw the snipers getaway car. Is there a way to have less of a clue? If so, Meet the Press may find it.
INCOMPARABLE ELECTORAL DISPASSION: It would be wrong for us to predict todays elections, given our nationwide power and influence. We have been puzzled by one thing, however. Does anyone really think that Ron Kirk is going to beat John Cornyn in Texas? Many pundits say the race is close, but we havent seen any reference to a well-flogged polling phenomenonthe tendency of black hopefuls in statewide races to run behind their polling numbers. The phenomenon was thoroughly explored in the wake of Doug Wilders 1990 Virginia gubernatorial campaign; Wilder squeaked to a 50-48 win despite a healthy lead in the polls. (Final Washington Post poll: Wilder, 52-41.) Conventional wisdom? Some white voters dont want to tell pollsters that theyre planning to vote for the white guy. At THE HOWLER, we maintain a healthy prejudice against Cornyn based on his comic but inexcusable role in Campaign 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/22/00, postscript; well summarize cruelly if Cornyn wins). We dont have a clue who will win this race, but were surprised that no one has questioned them polls. But then, Angry White Men now drive our discourse, and no one likes to make them mad. Is it possible? Is it possible that a harsh, unyielding political correctness has kept us from asking the obvious questionhas kept us from wondering whether Kirks greatest number will be the one that he sees in them polls?