A little possum play? Who's misreading the DSCC pullout?

Oct 22, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I hate political hope. Not Barack Obama’s version, but the kind that may bear expectations of a victory. While I have had the great fortune to have been part of political teams that realized those victories on a number of occasions, there have also been excruciating defeats of that optimism. It feels as though there is a death in the family — lonely at times; surrounded by others sharing in the anguish; emptiness where there was once something meaningful; and gone forever, existing only in memory. For these reasons, I hate being optimistic but am still willing to say it: Alison is going to win.

Political activism is usually born out of desperation — desperation to create change, improve lives, make a difference, etc. Most people, regardless of party affiliation, get into politics because they believe that their lives are meant to help make a difference. This goes for candidates, staffers and volunteers. What drives people to public service is the desperation, sometimes fear, that if they do not step up, nobody else will. 

Now, two weeks out from Election 2014, that desperation seems to be suffocating Kentucky. And while a lot of Democrats I have spoken with are nervous about squandering the opportunity to defeat Mitch McConnell, my nervousness is strictly limited to hope because there IS reason to hope. 

There have been a number of hot coals simmering the water beneath the Grimes campaign in the last couple of weeks. If you only watch MSNBC, you would think that the young, politically inexperienced, conservative Democrat was fumbling her way to a defeat by the elder (ELDER) statesman: running a pro-gun ad, refusing to answer a question about for whom she voted in 2012 and, the final “nail,” the National Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) abandoning its Kentucky candidate to spend money on winnable races. 

But this race is not over. This election does not rest on the punditry of Chuck Todd or Nate Silver. In fact, Grimes may have a little of Kentucky’s greatest, Muhammad Ali, in her, and just might “shock the world.”

First, if you are reading this column or this paper, the chances are that neither Mitch nor Alison’s campaign is directed at you. Statistically, you are too engaged to be a “swing” vote. The millions of dollars spent on television ads, doors knocked, flyers sent … none of these were going to appeal to you. 

Second, Mitch cannot break the ceiling of 46 percent in any poll. You can maybe win from 48 – 49 percent, but he has never approached those numbers. In the latest Bluegrass Poll, Mitch got only 44 percent. For a 30-year incumbent with an unfavorable rating of 47 percent, it is unlikely that any closing argument can persuade voters that he deserves six more years. 

Finally, everyone is misreading what happened with the DSCC leaving Kentucky. Either intentionally or unintentionally, the decision to withdraw support was the most brilliant “October surprise,” and possibly one of the few strategic decisions that could actually affect the final vote. 

Most importantly, there is a tremendous motivation schism between the two camps. The desire to defeat Mitch outweighs any dissension Alison may experience from her base, and after 30 years, the enthusiasm well for Mitch has run dry (if there was ever anything down there to begin with).

So with Alison’s possible gaffes on the campaign trail and the loss of DSCC support, the media coverage of the race has turned entirely to McConnell’s inevitable re-election. If the outcome is inevitable, what motivation do voters have to take time away from work, family or home to go vote?

Again, what do the numbers tell you? After 30 years in the Senate, half of likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of McConnell. Additionally, McConnell’s voters are older, which means it is more difficult to get them to the polls. And why make the effort if the election is over? With two weeks remaining, no amount of money or television advertising can buy the motivation McConnell needs to turn out the vote. 

Another important thing to note: The DSCC is only ceasing to spend money on television ads, not necessarily the get-out-the-vote efforts. And as of last weekend, Alison had over $4.5 million in cash to spend on the final two weeks, regardless of the DSCC or any other outside groups. 

Voting, at its core, is visceral. This last Sunday, I turned 31 years old. Mitch McConnell has been in Washington for almost my entire life. So if, after all this time, his closing argument to me and his other constituents is, “She’s a vote for Obama,” I ask you: What does your heart tell you? 

I hate having expectations, but there is a palpable sentiment that 30 years is enough. Voters in Kentucky feel it in their core, and Alison is going to win.