Pollsters and pundits are feverishly trying to discern whether McCain’s choice of VP helps his campaign get in gear after a sluggish summer. The bigger story, IMHO, is not its effect on the presidential race, but the down ticket races like US House and state governorships.
Here in Missouri, the home of both Harry "Stop the War Profiteers!" Truman and John "I’m a Homeland Security Lobbyist Now" Ashcroft (and also the senator who holds Truman’s seat, Claire "Bring Back HST!" McCaskill [pdf]), the elections are fierce up and down the ticket. Traditionally, the big cities of St. Louis and Kansas City come out for the Democrats, the rural areas come out for the GOP, and the elections turn on turnout. Who can get their own folks pumped up to get to the polls, even in the areas dominated by the other party?
This is where the VP choice will have its biggest impact. According to ABC (with emphasis added),
Given the sharp political divisions she inspires, Palin’s initial impact on vote preferences and on views of McCain looks like a wash, and, contrary to some prognostication, she does not draw disproportionate support from women. But she could potentially assist McCain by energizing the GOP base, in which her reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
That "energizing the GOP base" is what has grabbed my attention in Missouri. Pollster.com has data on the races for governor and two US House seats here, some of which is both interesting and problematic.
The governor’s race between the GOP’s US Representative Kenny Hulshof (MO-09) and Democratic state Attorney General Jay Nixon is very complicated. Sitting Governor Matt Blunt, son of US House Minority Whip
Mel Roy Blunt (update: oops!), surprised everyone earlier this year when he suddenly announced that he was NOT running for re-election, despite having spent a lot of energy raising money and keeping any challengers at bay. Perhaps the investigations over the destruction of official emails and the firing of one of Blunt’s own lawyers who tried to point out how illegal that was had something to do with that decision.
But I digress . . .
Hulshof and his primary opponent both ran very hard to the right to capture the base, with each trying to out-fundy the other, and ended with a very close finish. The loser (who carried most of the state outside of Hulshof’s district, neighboring St. Louis, and parts of SE Missouri where Hulshof grew up) conceded gracefully, which brought sighs of relief to the GOP apparatus across the state. Meanwhile, Nixon’s been bashing the GOP all over the state as he gears up his campaign. As you can see from the chart at Pollster.com, in May and June, while the primary battles were running, Nixon had a 20-25 point lead on Hulshof, in the "if the pairing in Nov is . . ." polls (not terribly valid, but that’s all you can do in primary season), which by mid-August (after the primary but before the Dem convention) had dropped to 6 point lead.
Which leads us to the first of those two US House races — Hulshof’s 9th District seat, which covers blue-leaning Columbia (home to the U of Missouri) , dips south a bit (but skirts the state capitol in Jefferson City), reaches east to the western suburbs of St. Louis, and extends north up to Iowa. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) was trailing Judy Baker (D) just slightly in July (within the margin of error), but by Sept 1-2 had opened up a 12 point lead.
On the other side of the state in northwest Missouri is the 6th District, which includes the northern Kansas City and it suburbs and goes up to Iowa. GOP incumbent Sam Graves is running against former Kansas City mayor Kay Barnes, and the race here is very close. Graves had a slight 4 point lead in the last poll, taken at the end of July.
It’s too soon for any serious polling to try to quantify how much the selection of Palin will bolster the GOP prospects in these three races, but I have no doubts that it has done exactly that. It probably will pull the Governor’s race into a tie when the next polls come out, and push the two house races toward the GOP as well.
Whatever happens with the Obama/McCain race, it’s in races like these three that Palin will have her biggest effect on the election this November. The rightwing loves her, and in races and districts like these where the GOP is fighting desperately to defend their seats, that TheoCon love may be what keeps them in the GOP column.
But the pushback is under way as well. Just today, the KC Star noted a countermove by Claire McCaskill to bring fellow Senators Jon Tester and Jim Webb to Missouri to campaign on Barnes’ behalf. They should both play well in the 9th district.
Of course, that’s my guess "if the election were held today." The way the news is going, a lot can change very quickly. But don’t underestimate the effect of this nomination. The TheoCons love Palin, and she’ll bring them out to vote in ways that McCain alone could only dream of doing, making life more difficult for Democrats like Nixon, Baker, and Barnes in the process. Now, more than ever, we need to put attention on the down ticket races.
Ever heard of this little thing called "Blue America"?