Gallup reports that "52% to 55% of likely voters preferring the Republican candidate and 40% to 42% for the Democratic candidate on the national generic ballot -- depending on turnout assumptions." And everyone agrees that turnout is the key. The danger of lower turnout here is not only a Democratic concern; some Republicans may be so convinced of the inevitability of the "big Republican wave" that they think they needn't bother. Call it the "Tortoise and the Hare scenario." This also may make a difference.
Yesterday, I spent a couple hours on the phone at the teachers' union hall here in Madison. My contacts were mostly positive and the campaign is focusing on Get Out The Vote efforts. If turnout is the key, then turnout is the top job. Democrats seem to feel that a 4% increase in projected turnout in key districts will be enough to pull it out for both incumbent Senator Russ Feingold and gubernatorial hopeful Tom Barrett. My guess on which districts these are: Madison and Milwaukee. Wisconsin Democrats have a larger team of volunteers than in any other state, thanks in part to efforts by MoveOn.org.
For his part, Feingold's spirits are being buoyed by a wave of newspaper endorsements -- specifically, from conservative papers concerned by opponent Ron Johnson's refusal (or inability) to discuss specifics. The Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Oshkosh Northwestern, and Madison's Wisconsin State Journal (yes, the editorial page of the city's only print daily is wildly out of step with this progressive community -- they also endorsed doomed house candidate Chad Lee) have all given their support to Russ. The value of newspaper endorsements is questionable at best, but in the cases of the Press-Gazette and Northwestern, they have to give readers pause -- these papers simply do not endorse Democratic candidates. And it's not that Feingold is so good that wins their endorsements, but that Ron Johnson is so bad. Time for me to trot out my old standby again: people don't vote for things, they vote against things. "Ron Johnson sucks" is a stronger incentive than "we love Russ."
In any case, the mood in that union hall was upbeat. You don't get the feeling that the staffers are just going through the motions and hoping for the best, which is what you'd expect if the numbers showed this thing as being hopeless. That 4% number seems to be accurate. And Wisconsin Democrats' GOTV effort is massive. They'd filled the room when I was there, all tables manned, with some volunteers sitting on chairs against the walls, calling numbers from a list in their lap (glad I got there early). Callers are happy, contacts are excited -- this doesn't seem nearly as gloomy as the polling would suggest. Meanwhile, Johnson's making robocalls. I have yet to hear from a Republican volunteer -- although, to be fair, this district may not be worth the effort for them.
One thing that strikes me about GOTV is Wisconsin that I think is worth mentioning; we have an open primary. That means you don't have to register as a member of a party to vote. In the primary, you show up and vote in whichever party's primary strikes your fancy that cycle, which means that Wisconsin is wildly Independent on paper. And it also means that voter registration rolls don't include party affiliation. You have no idea whether you're calling a Democrat, Republican, or swing voter. So what you do is call districts that tend to vote the way you're hoping voters will go this time. So a Johnson call in this district would probably be made from a GOP donor list and, since those lists are proprietary, that call would be unlikely to be made by a volunteer -- you'd get that call from a temp at a fundraising firm. Just a parenthetical observation that was too long for parentheses.
In the end, it's all about people at the polls. Go vote and don't go alone. If you can, volunteer to knock doors or make calls. There's still time before election day and GOTV on election day makes a difference -- I plan to do one last shift on Tuesday. And, remember, there are going to be referenda on that ballot as well. Do a little research to learn about those as well. They made not get a lot of coverage, but they're important.
Either way, just vote.
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