Another Cycle, Another Bunch of My Misjudgments
Like everyone who makes a living in the reporting and handicapping business, I made my share of mistakes this election cycle.
[IMGCAP(1)]While I didnt jump on the McCain is toast bandwagon during the summer of 2007, I didnt really expect him to come back to win the Republican presidential nomination. And while I never dismissed Barack Obamas chances of winning the Democratic nomination, I certainly didnt expect it until well into the Democratic nominating process.
Who thought that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) would lose Iowa but win New Hampshire? And who in their right mind really thought that McCain would pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate? Dont look at me.
Anyway, I thought Id point out some of my dumber assessments and evaluations for those of you who dont already think that Im totally clueless about politics. (This, obviously, excludes many bloggers, who already think that I cant find my own navel.)
I think my biggest blunder was believing (and writing) that McCain should pick someone such as Connecticut Independent Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman or former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R) for his running mate.
After watching what the Palin selection did to the GOP convention and to the entire Republican Party, I think a divisive pick, whether a pro-abortion-rights Republican or a Democrat with a liberal record on cultural issues and the environment, would have been a giant mistake.
Yes, selecting Lieberman or Ridge would have made a statement about his maverick or bipartisan approach (and that would have been a plus), but it would have created a chaotic Republican convention during which conservatives would have been in full revolt.
The GOP would have been in disarray for weeks, and McCains numbers, I now believe, would have tanked during that period. Lieberman or Ridge might have been more of an asset during the nations financial meltdown in late September and early October, but conservative Republicans would have been so turned off by a Lieberman or Ridge VP selection that Im not sure they ever would have warmed to McCain or voted for him, which they did.
Next, while I always thought that Obama could win Colorado and Virginia, I didnt treat North Carolina and Indiana as in play until much too late. Its easy to get locked into an assessment, and I did in this case.
Turning to the Congressional elections, I made two very different errors at different points in the cycle.
Initially, I assumed that voter sentiment would shift after the 2006 cycle, producing a more normal electorate and allowing Republicans to get out from under the time for a change sentiment that smothered them during the midterms. It never happened.
The publics mood soured even worse after 2006, and the book never really closed on the 2006 election cycle until this months elections were over.
Then, as the 2008 balloting approached, I obviously underestimated some of the Republicans ability to swim against the tide. I expected Democratic House gains to be in the 27-33 range, at least a few seats higher than they are likely to net.
In individual contests throughout the cycle, I was too late in seeing the wins by Tom Perriello (D-Va.) and Walt Minnick (D- Idaho), as well as Democrat Travis Childers victory in the special election in Mississippis 1st district.
I hadnt met either of the candidates in the Mississippi special, so I mistakenly assumed that the districts Republican bent would be enough to elect Greg Davis. My job is to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.
I also totally messed up when I repeatedly warned readers that I expected a handful of GOP seats to fall that I had not even rated as vulnerable. This happened in 2006, when I failed to note that then-Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Jeb Bradley (R-N.H.) could go down to defeat. This time, since the Democratic wave was smaller than I expected, not a single true long-shot won. I remain surprised by that.
My single biggest rating mistake was rating Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaskas at-large House seat as Democrat Favored. I expected Young, who received his share of bad press over the past couple of years and is under federal investigation, to be defeated by challenger Ethan Berkowitz (D). I was wrong. Young won, and he did so by more than a razor-thin margin.
Finally, I wrote that the Louisiana Senate race would be a tossup all the way until Election Day, even asserting it was likely to be decided by a point or two. It wasnt. In fact, my own newsletter moved the race from Toss-Up to Narrow Advantage for Mary Landrieu on Sept. 26. Landrieu ended up winning 52.1 percent to 45.7 percent, a 6-point win. Landrieus 52 percent showing was in line with her earlier wins (50 percent in 1996 and 52 percent in 2002), but the margin was not all that close.
Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.