I was campaign chair for Newt Gingrich in 1994, when the Republicans won control of the U.S. House. Many today don't recall that the '94 victory was the pot boiling over only after simmering and simmering somewhat beneath the surface for a long while. It wasn't until the last week before the election -- maybe even the last 72 hours -- that it became clear the Democrats would finally lose the House.
There has been a euphoric optimism in Republican and conservative circles over the past month. Polls have indicated that President Obama's approval ratings are dismal. Other "generic" polls show that Americans prefer Republicans in general over Democrats, and by margins not seen in ages.
But in the past few days, I've started to wonder. Consider all those Republican voters, combined with all the independent voters who plan to vote Republican this year to register their discontent with Obama and congressional Democrats. Are they starting to believe that Republican victories are guaranteed?
Often when I poll a political race, the data will show one candidate with a substantial lead over their opponent. Usually the trailing candidate and their backers will savagely attack the accuracy of the poll. What they often fail to realize is that being shown to be behind can be a gift. If the race looks over before Election Day, the motivation of the supporters for the frontrunner can dissipate. And this year the entire political landscape rests on voter intensity.
Based on my research, my guess is that Republican and Republican-leaning independents in November will indeed turn out with more intensity than Democrats and their sympathizers. But Republicans should be particularly wary of a developing media theme in the weeks and even final days or hours before the election on Nov. 2.
Legendary journalist Bob Woodward noted in a recent interview that the president is being all but overwhelmed nearly every day by the number of terrorism threats against American interests around the world.And we all are hearing about publicized threats of attacks on Europe -- that Osama bin Laden may be more actively in control of al-Qaida than we have lately believed, and even that American tourists abroad are being asked to make their presence known to U.S. or local authorities in these countries.
No fair-minded person wants to accuse the Obama administration of manufacturing a terrorism scenario shortly before the election. The reality is that there are so many genuine, credible terrorism threats that a heightened public awareness seems justified, no matter the American domestic political situation. Even an Obama speech on the matter from the Oval Office would seem justified sometime soon.
Democrats certainly accused George W. Bush of using the threat of terrorism to try to push voters to the polls and to vote for Republicans.
So far this year, the only concern of voters has been the economy. This collective worry sometimes manifests itself in related issues such as illegal immigration, cap-and-trade and the Bush tax cuts.
Yet it remains unemployment, overspending by the federal government and related issues that prey most on the minds of voters. It's just plain fear among American workers and others that has the Republicans posed to win back control of the House, and possibly even the Senate, miracle though that would be.
If some international terrorism scenario or the other were to unfold with just days to go before the election, that could divert the public's attention from their economic worries, and thereby change the voting patterns such that races that now seem sure-things for Republicans could suddenly get a lot closer.
Republicans looking for across-the-board victories on Nov. 2 face two crucial considerations. First, will GOP and conservative-leaning independent voters turn out in massive numbers, or will a significant share of them not vote because they've been told the day is already won?
Second, is it possible that certain enemies of America -- who might prefer to see the Democrats retain power -- plan to sway the sentiment of American voters by staging a terrorist attack, or at least making great noise about the possibility of one? And will powerful voices in the White House take these threats so seriously, and ask the public to take them so seriously, so that the public is diverted from other issues, thereby changing the outcome of the election in what, for now, looks to be the year of the Republicans?