Earlier this week Democratic Senators were briefed by senior Democratic National Committee staffers on the events and plans the party has come up with for the final days before Tuesday’s elections. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of stories on Sunday about Republican candidates all over the country just pop up,” says a Democratic Senate staffer who was afterward told about the meeting by his boss. “Various campaigns have held back on opposition research and are looking to have those stories dumped over the weekend leading into election day.”
It wasn’t clear from the briefing whether the national party was aware of what stories were going to break, but local campaign staffs had apparently been pitching story leads to local reporters for several weeks, in the hopes of seeing those damaging stories published and aired in the days leading up to November 5th.
“The key is getting them out at a time when the target can’t respond in a way to satisfy undecided voters,” says a DNC source. “So Sunday is the perfect day with a Tuesday election.”
And this year undecided voters are more important than ever. In key Senate races, from South Dakota to Minnesota to Missouri, polls indicate that better than 15 percent of the electorate remains undecided. “It’s always about swaying the undecideds,” says the DNC source. “This year it’s just more important than usual.”
Desperate for an upset, the DNC is dispatching Al Gore‘s pit bull campaign chief, Donna Brazile to North Carolina to oversee get out the vote operations for Senate candidate Erskine Bowles. Bowles has cut the lead of Republican Elizabeth Dole to single digits (some polls have him within the margin of error), and Democrats believe if they can up the turnout of African-American voters, the North Carolina seat is theirs.
Brazile is well known for her aggressive, down and dirty political gamesmanship. For the past several months she has been consulting with the DNC on minority voter outreach. “If she’s coming down here, then they must be desperate,” says a Dole staffer. “We’ll be ready for her.”
Brazile’s presence would indicate that Bowles was never able to reach accord with his Democratic primary opponent Dan Blue, whose influence among black voters was a key reason Bowles bent over backward to get his endorsement. Blue, a former speaker of the legislature in the Tarheel State, gave Bowles only the faintest of support, and it’s believed he will do little for Bowles leading into election day. “Someone has to energize the black vote,” says a DNC staffer. “If we can’t get them out in high numbers, we’re dead.”
Two races worth monitoring that may prove critical to Republicans’ retaining control of the House:
1. North Carolina’s 8th, where Republican Rep. Robin Hayes had the deck stacked against him by the Democratically controlled state house during redistricting. Hayes already knew he had a tougher fight this time around when Democrats moved several heavily Democratic Charlotte suburbs into his district, which otherwise features moderates and Republicans and military (read “conservative”) households.
But Hayes made it even tougher on himself when he supported the Bush Administration’s fast track trade authority legislation, a move that might have undercut his standing in a state that treasures agricultural and textile quotas and trade protections.
Hayes, though, has done a tremendous fundraising job and appears in line to hold the seat against Democratic challenger Chris Khouri. The Republican has pulled in more than $2.2 million compared to less than $500,000 for the Democrat. House Democrats had viewed Hayes’ seat as a “pickup” target, but party insiders now say Dems have given up on it and turned their attention to other districts around the country.
2. Oklahoma’s 4th, where Republican Tom Cole appears in good shape to hold the seat of retiring Republican J.C. Watts. Cole has weathered a minor storm over Democratic ads that charged he sought to avoid the draft, this in a district that includes a military base and a number of retired military personnel. Currently, Coles’ lead is in single digits, but beyond the margin of error.