Washington Prowler

You Never Can Tell

A Minnesota surprise. Pollster geist. Grounded Democrats. Liddy Dole's lost weekend.

By 11.4.02

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THE REAL MONDALE
According to a longtime Washington political insider, word from Minnesota is that Walter Mondale last spring commissioned private polls to determine how well he'd do in a primary against Sen. Paul Wellstone.

POLLSTER GEIST
When everything is said and done on election Tuesday later today, one thing the media will be mulling over for some time is how badly out of whack the poll numbers appeared to be in many of the races across the country. It isn't just an undecided public, of which there was much this election cycle: some Senate polls showed an undecided category of almost 25 percent, surprising numbers with incumbents running.

Take the pivotal Minnesota race. Over the weekend, the Minneapolis Star Tribune poll had Walter Mondale holding a 46 percent to 41 percent over Norm Coleman, with a margin of error of +/- 3%. Meanwhile the Pioneer Press/Minnesota Public Radio poll had Coleman with 47 percent to 41 percent for Mondale, with a margin of error of 4%. Yet neither poll can be considered terribly accurate, given the small sample of the survey -- neither poll had the generally accepted minimum of 1,000 respondents to bring the poll within the acceptable 3 point margin of error, although the Star Tribune came close with about 960 respondents.

"You can't toss a poll out there with sample pool of 400 and call it accurate, or even close to accurate," says a Republican pollster. "You have the media touting numbers that just aren't realistic. Forget the soft money ban. Ban lousy polling."

BACKYARD CHAINS
While President Bush has been able to hop across the country campaigning for seemingly everyone -- he hit ten states in three days leading into today's vote -- Democrats have had to stay at home due to pressing campaigns. John Kerry had been invited to appear on behalf of prospective Senate candidates in at least four states on Monday and Tuesday. He had to take a pass. Instead he will campaign with Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Shannon O'Brien. John Edwards was by far the most in-demand around the country, from Iowa to Florida, Texas to New Hampshire. Instead, he's been called into service in North Carolina, where Democrats hope he can pull enough African American votes for Erskine Bowles. Meanwhile Tom Daschle is stuck in South Dakota trying to save Tim Johnson's job.

"It certainly wasn't a plan, but all the close races have kind of forced the Democrats to focus on their local races instead of having the freedom to move around," says an RNC staffer. "Terry McAuliffe likes to brag about how great the Democrats will be in 2004 with all those governors controlling statehouses, but having the presidency is the best campaign tool you can have. Especially when you have a president everyone can be pictured with, unlike past presidents and vice presidents."

A LID ON LIDDY'S LEAD
If Elizabeth Dole loses her North Carolina Senate race against Erskine Bowles, as some suspect she might, she'll have only herself to blame.

Dole, who two months ago had a 20 point lead over her closest Democratic opponent, found herself in a neck and neck race going into the last weekend of the election season. Some polls showed Bowles had cut her lead to to a mere 5 percent.

Bowles spent the final weekend traveling across the state, speaking at black churches and trying to rally his base. Meanwhile Dole had a light campaign schedule on Saturday and on Sunday did no campaigning whatsoever. Instead, she attended church in her home town and ran errands.

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