I voted yesterday. I was confronted with what was probably the longest line I've ever stood in to vote, and this during early voting, a process designed to help avoid long lines. Listening to chatter, the crowd seemed heavily democratic, though that's not a big shock given that Hillsborough is in Orange County, which is probably the most left-leaning county in North Carolina.
The crowd also felt a little young to me. Maybe that's just a reflection of the fact that I'm 44, and at some point in my life I was going to slowly come to the awareness that in any given crowd most people would be statistically younger. But my rather subjective memory is that most voting lines I've stood in have been dominated by people older than me, while this crowd looked to be heavily under 30.
Again, it's foolish to extrapolate from a single polling place on a single day voting trends for a state, or a nation. But, I've never allowed looking foolish to hold me back in the past, and I see no reason to start now.
I have a theory as to why North Carolina and a lot of other traditionally republican states might be in play this time: Rush Limbaugh. Back during the Democratic Primary, Rush Limbaugh instituted a vote drive called Operation Chaos where he encouraged voters to go out and vote for Hillary Clinton in order to keep the democrats divided all the way to the convention. His stated goal was to see infighting and civil war among the democrats. Shortly after he started Operation Chaos, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in the the Texas primary by roughly 1% of the vote, or 100,000 voters. Did Rush Limbaugh have enough sway in Texas to give Hillary her winning edge? I haven't bothered to look up actual numbers, but I'm willing to bet Rush has a lot of Texas audience. It seems plausible that he kept her hopes alive by giving her this little boost. If she'd lost Texas, it's possible that she would have seen the light and pulled out of the primaries rather than riding them out all the way to the end. (Or perhaps not--she obviously stayed in long after it was mathematically impossible to win.) By keeping the election alive until the very end, North Carolina wound up with a primary that actually mattered, something I haven't seen before. The result was that in the spring, hundreds of thousands of new voters registered as democrats, while republicans had nothing much to get excited about, given that their primary was mathematically over.
Thus, my theory is that by helping keep the democrat fight going all the way to the end in the spring, Rush Limbaugh actually laid the groundwork for a democratic edge in the fall.
Moving on from the presidential election, I was torn this year over whether or not to vote for Elizabeth Dole for senator. In any other year this would have been easy: No. I don't vote for incumbents at a federal level. It might seem dumb to have such a blanket rule, but I have 11 trillion good reasons why anyone who is currently in Washington should be fired, regardless of party. Still, Dole was one of a handful of senators who voted against the Wall Street Bailout. Also, I think there's a really good shot that the democrats are going to have a filibuster proof majority in the senate, and voting for Dole might save a seat for the republicans and make the numbers 41 to 59. It would be the only small brake left on the democrats over the next two years if current trends hold. But, this week Dole unleashed a new TV ad implying that her opponent Kay Hagen was an atheist, or at least hung out with the godless. The tone of the ad was such that it was clear that Dole felt that the only proper response to an atheist offering you a campaign donation was to spit on the money, and then slap the atheist. So, of course, as an antheist myself, it instantly became impossible for me to support Dole. Then, Hagen jesused up and sued Dole for the horrible accusation that she had ever willingly been in the same room as an atheist. In my mind, the proper response would have been, "I'm not an atheist, I'm actually a Sunday School teacher, but I'm running to be a senator, not the pope, and I'll proudly represent the godless as well as the Christian, the Muslim, the Jew, or the Scientologist." Then, I would have voted for her. Instead, I voted for the libertarian in the race, Chris something or other.
One final thought on the election: Despite the pro-Obama mood in the crowd yesterday, I'm starting to wonder if there's a signal in the polls that he might actually lose this thing. It's true that he's leading McCain in just about every poll I've seen. But, I notice that his numbers seldom reach 50%. Instead I'm seeing a lot of polls with numbers like 49 to 44 Obama, and I have to wonder what the 7% of undecided voters are waiting on before making up their minds. Could this 7% represent a percentage of Americans who won't vote for Obama because he's black, but who won't come out and admit this to a pollster? Obviously, I'd rather have Obama's poll numbers right now than McCain's. Still, it is hard to imagine what the undecided are waiting on at this point.
I think we'll see Obama win electorally pretty handily. I think the democrats are going to get to 60 in the senate. What happens next is tricky. I think there are so many things the democrats are going to want to do all at once that you might wind up with a kind of paralysis. What first? End the war? Stop global warming? Boost unions? Reform health care? Reinstate the fairness doctrine? I can see slap-fights breaking out on the floor of the house, and two years from now the Republican's sweep back into power in the midterms.
We live in interesting times.