Tuesday's election was marked by some of the most outrageous spinning seen in recent years. "The level of disinformation out there early on was remarkable," says a Republican political consultant in Washington. "Both sides were doing it, but I have to say the Democrats and their operatives did a remarkable job of shaking things up."
Across D.C., consultants were emailing notices to their clients, both political and business, attempting to spin an election day that was barely hours old.
Take political consultant Michael Frisby's email to clients around 11 a.m. Tuesday:
Latest news development is the unprecedented decision by the Bush campaign to add two more Election Day appearances in Ohio. (They had surprisingly scheduled one yesterday). The Kerry camp says the President is responding to election morning reports of heavy voting in Democratic areas of Pennsylvania and Florida, which may make those states difficult for him to now win. By their account, President Bush appears to be making his last stand in Ohio, which he must now win if Florida and Pennsylvania fall to Kerry. One development has occurred in President Bush's favor: it is raining in Ohio. Republicans, particularly former Ohio Gov. Jim Rhodes, repeatedly pulled out close statewide races in Ohio after rain depressed the Democratic turnout in Northern Ohio. The Dems need to come out of the Cleveland-Youngstown area with close to a 150,000 to 200,000 vote lead if they hope to withstand the heavy Republican vote in Southern Ohio. The heavy morning voting in Democratic areas in key states is also spooking the pollsters; traditionally the morning vote trends Republican because that is when white color workers vote; the late afternoon and evening voting has traditionally been more Democratic because that is when blue collar voters come out to vote.
Frisby served as Gen. Wesley Clark's spokesman during his primary run.
In fact, Bush made only one stop in Columbus, Ohio, the single stop that had been on his schedule for at least a day. That stop was intended to balance the rally the Kerry campaign held in Wisconsin on Tuesday morning. There were no two additional stops. Nonetheless, Frisby's memo, which was furiously being emailed about Washington during the lunch hour, fed into the coordinated Kerry and Democratic leaking that was about to take place.
A little after one o'clock, early polling numbers, purportedly from the pool exit polling consortium, began to pop up on the Internet and in e-mails in Washington and around the country.
The early polling numbers are some of the most eagerly anticipated, if highly inaccurate, data on election day, and are widely distributed. Perhaps that was what the Kerry campaign was banking on.
According to at least three sources, one inside the Kerry campaign, and two outside of it, but with ties to senior Kerry advisers, some of the "early polling numbers" were in fact direct reports from Kerry campaign or Democratic Party operatives on the ground in such critical states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin. According to a Washington lobbyist with knowledge of the numbers, the numbers were packaged together so as to appear to be exit poll results. They were then scrubbed through several sources to land in the lap of sympathetic bloggers who these operatives believed would put the numbers up with little question.
Some of the numbers claimed to be exit polling data that showed Kerry with a 8-1 voter ratio. As soon as the numbers hit the Internet, panic set in.
"It was awful," says a Republican House staffer. "You just felt sick when you saw the numbers."
Within an hour, the real exit poll numbers began to leak out, and while they were considerably better for Bush, they continued to show him lagging three to four percentage points behind the Democrats across the major electoral map, with a two-point disadvantage in the national, popular vote.
"Actually when the real numbers came out, they made us feel a bit better," says the House staffer, who was on the road in Nevada working for the Bush campaign. "Compared to what we had seen earlier, it made us think we had a clear shot, since we knew the early numbers tended to be bad for Republicans in the past."
Still, the disinformation campaign spread a pall over Republicans in Washington for several hours. By 3 p.m., senior Bush campaign operatives were putting out word that things were looking considerably better for Bush in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Florida. By 6 p.m., some Washington insiders were already hearing that Florida and Ohio were winners for Bush, based on campaign internals. From there, the road to victory was much smoother.
With the Catholic and Hispanic vote coming up big for the President across the country, there are expectations that both groups will be given greater voice in a second term. Already, there are rumblings that Catholics are looking for senior administration appointments should slots open up on the Bush Cabinet or in Cabinet-level departments. Cabinet secretaries Tom Ridge, Tommy Thompson and Spencer Abraham are well liked by the Catholic constituencies, but RCs may be looking for more.
Hispanics likewise will be looking for a greater voice and higher visibility. Should Attorney General John Ashcroft decide to step aside, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales's name continues to float to the top of lists of potential replacements. But there is a sense that there are other names to be floated in the coming days for other positions before Gonzales's name crops up.
With Sen. John Edwards now nothing more than a thumb-thumping memory, Republicans are wondering who will take his seat on the Judiciary Committee. With Republican gains in the Senate, it is believed the GOP will have an additional seat to fill on that, and other committees.
One name that will surely pop up regularly is Sen. John Thune's. Given his success in knocking of Sen. Tom Daschle, Republicans will want to give Thune as much help as possible to reinforce the message back home that Daschle's loss in fact will be South Dakota's gain.