Tuesday, October 31, 2006

symbolic victories, or why indiana is important this year

election day is one week from today, and most polls suggest that democrats will retake the house, if not also the senate. but liberals, progressives, and even moderates and conservatives who are sick of bush and his GOP enablers shouldn't get complacent. in order for democrats to retake congress, it's essential that we get out the vote. indiana is a particularly important state to win, and not just for the reasons you might think.

depending on who you ask, three or four republican congressmen are in serious danger of losing their seats: john hostettler, chris "the count" chocola, mike sodrel, and (debatably) mark souder. so the first reason why indiana is important this year is obvious: the more seats democrats pick in indiana, the fewer seats they need in other states. but there's also a more subtle dynamic going on, one which cq politics hints at in its final review of this year's congressional polling:

Barring major glitches in Election Day vote counting, there should be an indication whether the Democrats' momentum will overwhelm the Republicans' barrier or whether the GOP barricade, though leaky, will be left standing.

The early poll closings, at 6 p.m. Eastern time, are in Indiana and Kentucky, states with high concentrations of Democratic House takeover bids.

In Indiana, Democrats' oft-thwarted efforts to oust staunchly conservative Republican John Hostettler from his seat in the state's southwestern corner may be coming to fruition at the hands of Democrat Brad Ellsworth, the sheriff in the district's most populous county. If Hostettler hangs on, it will send a strong signal that Republican damage will be limited. If the Democrats win a pair of rematches — in the state's southeastern corner, where Baron P. Hill is looking to get back the seat he lost two years ago, and in the district around South Bend, where lawyer Joe Donnelly is taking a second shot at Republican Chris Chocola — it could herald a big night for the challengers.

yes, indiana's famously early 6pm poll closing will be a big deal this year, and this is one instance where i'm glad that most of the state is still in eastern time rather than central: 6pm EST is 3pm pacific, 4pm mountain.

the media loves to project election winnings as early as possible, and the entire country will be watching this time. unless the races are extremely close, the media will project the winners in indiana house races hours before polls close out west. cq politics mentions this offhand: indiana's election results should be an early indicator of whether democrats will take the house. but cq doesn't mention the potential effect that these early results might have on western voters.

in a phenomenon that is most often seen in presidential elections, voter turnout on the west coast can become deflated in the event of a landslide. voters out west see on the news how the election is trending, and if it looks like their favored party or candidate is bound to lose, they conclude that there is no point in voting and they don't bother to go to the polls.

obviously there's a difference between a presidential election (based on the electoral college) and elections for the house (which is technically 435 or so separate elections). but psychologically speaking, many of the same forces apply, especially if voters think of congress in gestalt instead of local terms. (if the gop can convince voters to vote for gop candidates because they think those are the best candidates, what's happening elsewhere won't matter. but if the best argument the gop can come up with is "if democrats win, pelosi will be speaker!" then it won't really matter to gop voters whether the dems gain 15 seats or 50.)

in other words, the better democrats do in the indiana house races, the more it will psyche out and demoralize gop voters who live out west, which in turn means even better results for western democrats.

(conversely, it could be argued that big democratic wins in indiana and kentucky would energize western republicans and cause western democrats to become complacent about the impending democratic wave. to be sure, at least a few voters would act this way, but i suspect the net result would be far more advantageous to democrats.)

voter registration is over in indiana for this year, so if you aren't registered, it's too late. but if you are, you had better make sure you get out there and vote, because hoosier votes matter more than ever this year.

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