As I write this it is still several hours away from the first poll opening in Elmore County, and I am so glad that some time in the next 24 hours this election will finally (I hope) be over.
A year ago at this time the presidential election was clearly going to be between Rudy Guiliani and Hillary Clinton. No one else was seen as having a serious chance. So much for crystal balls.
Which, recalling the famous Chicago Sun Times headline, "Dewey defeats Truman," I'm a little reluctant to call this election. But the odds appear to favor Barack Obama becoming the 44th president of the United States. If he wins Virginia, North Carolina and/or Florida, I wouldn't be surprised if the national networks haven't called the race by 9 p.m. our time. If not, they may have to wait until the west coast polls close.
John McCain has pulled a few points closer in the final ten days of this race, and unbelievably there were still significant numbers of undecided voters going into Tuesday. So he had a slim chance, but it was slim.
I think it is significant that McCain made those gains in the final days when he finally abandoned the negative campaigning and started focusing more on why you should vote for him, rather than why you should vote against the other guy. That should have been his strategy all along.
But McCain made two major mistakes in his campaign, which probably cost him this election.
First was reorganizing his campaign last spring and bringing on the Karl Rove Kids to run his campaign. Having studied under Rove, the master of sleazy campaigning, these staffers launched a negative campaign that I think seriously undermined the public's previous perception of McCain as an honorable, upright man (he is, but the campaign didn't reflect that).
More than any election I've seen in years, negative campaigning appeared to be backfiring against candidates after enjoying a long run of success over the last 20 years or so. The public, which isn't half as stupid as some people think (of course there are always notable exceptions), is smart enough to recognize it for what it is and got fed up with it. They wanted a reason to vote for someone, not reasons to vote against someone.
Second, McCain's choice of Palin may have energized the far right of his party, but it worked against him with the crucial independent/undecided voters who, despite the campaign's efforts to limit her contact with anyone who might actually ask her a tough question (or even an easy one), quickly began to realize she wasn't remotely qualified for the job. That brought his decision making into play as an issue, which, combined with him allowing the Karl Rove Kids to direct his campaign, really did raise some serious questions about that.
But he still might have been OK if the economy hadn't suddenly melted down. He stumbled badly trying to respond to that, and it hurt him. Combined with the fact that the "maverick" had mistakenly allied himself too closely with Bush's policies (once again to placate his party's right wing), Obama was able to successfully paint him as Bush II (or III, depending on how you want to count it).
If nothing else, his campaign pointed to a serious flaw in the Republican Party -- that it is really two parties with significant internal differences. One is extremely conservative with a knee-jerk mindset focused on hot button issues. The other is more moderately conservative (the part that got him nominated) and focused on bread and butter issues. It's the latter that is more likely to appeal to the crucial independents that make up the center of the political spectrum.
As a result, after the debris of this election has been analyzed to death, I think the Republican Party has to make some serious decisions about what it wants to be.
Does it want to be the party of the evangelical Christian right wing, or does it want to be a party closer to the middle of the political spectrum whose concerns are focused on the Main Street voter?
This is similar to the decision the Democrats had to make in the 1950s to abandon the Dixicrats that were dragging them down and move to a more centrist approach.
I genuinely think the future of the GOP is hanging in the balance over the next four years. It has some tough decisions to make.