Scary Stories

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Well, here at last is the Democrats trying to lower expectations. But there is one problem. They actually sound scared right now. What if the polls are lying to them?

But Democrats have learnt from bitter experience that breaching the Republican defences — even with an opinion poll yesterday showing them with a 14 per cent lead nationally — is harder than it looks. The more fatalistic among them point out that in the year since the Katrina disaster the US has received many warnings about other hurricanes heading towards it. All of these, without exception, have fizzled out into nothing more severe than storms.

At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee headquarters, Karin Johanson, the executive director, has taken up smoking again, but with only eight days to go before polling day she says that there is scant time for indulging the habit.

Speaking to The Times as she pored over the latest numbers from swing seats, Ms Johanson said: “Some of the polls are looking great — really great — but some of the recent ones have been looking not so good.” The Democrats were “swimming upstream”, she said, against long-term disadvantages. They will be outspent by as much as $100 million (£52 million) in the coming week because their opponents have amassed vast war chests for TV advertising. Boundary changes (a more pejorative word might be “gerrymandering”) mean that there are far fewer marginal seats to target than there were when the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives 12 years ago.

Then there is the Republicans’ edge in identifying and mobilising supporters — the “Voter Vault” system and the “72-hour project” — which was worth perhaps an extra million votes to them in key districts two years ago. Ms Johanson said that the Democrats had improved their own “Get-Out-The-Vote” operation, although no one knows by how much.

“The Republicans have convinced everyone, not least themselves, that the reason they did so well in 2004 was because of their turnout operation,” she said. “They think they’re smarter than us, and, the truth is, some of us think they’re smarter than us.”

I don't pretend to have enough skill at reading the tea leaves to call this one. I have documented several items that indicate the polls may be wrong. But at least the Dems are trying to lower expectations instead of playing superman.

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