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MILBANK: Election deadlines and dead heats

Karl Rove, the Republican political savant George W. Bush dubbed "Turd Blossom," has an election-week tradition worthy of his nickname: He dumps a load of manure on the American public and watches to see if it will flower.

Like clockwork, this year's shipment was delivered via the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, which on Thursday published Rove's prediction that "sometime after the cock crows on the morning of Nov. 7, Mitt Romney will be declared America's 45th president. Let's call it 51 percent-48 percent, with Mr. Romney carrying at least 279 Electoral College votes, probably more."

Rove may be right — but only in the sense that a stopped clock is right twice a day. Let's review his previous predictions:

In November 2000, two days before the election, he forecast that Bush would beat Al Gore by 6 percentage points and win 320 electoral votes; in reality, Bush lost the popular vote and got to 271 electoral votes only because the U.S. Supreme Court essentially awarded him Florida.

On the eve of the 2004 election, Rove predicted an easy victory for Bush, asserting that he was ahead in eight of 10 battleground states; on Election Day, Bush's 286 electoral votes were only a slight improvement over 2000.

In the days before the 2006 midterm elections, Rove confidently predicted a "Republican Senate and Republican House;" Democrats took control of both. <NO1>Even before the Democratic landslide in 2008, Rove saw a path for John McCain to "be America's 44th president."

<NO>

Rove is an easy target because his motive <NO1>— conveying a false sense of momentum for Republicans — <NO>is so transparent. But he has plenty of company among prognosticators who confidently predict that which they cannot possibly know. There's Nate Silver, a statistician-blogger at the New York Times, who predicts with scientific precision that President Barack Obama will win 300 electoral votes and beat Romney by two percentage points in the popular vote. He gives Obama a 79 percent likelihood of winning.

I give Silver a 50 percent likelihood of being correct.

The truth is, anybody who claims to know what is going to happen today is making it up and counting on being lucky. For that reason, this has been a humbling election for people who follow politics. We have filled countless hours of airtime and gone through untold gallons of ink over the past six months, but we are essentially where we were when we started: It's a dead heat, with the likeliest voters appearing to favor the challenger but the battleground states appearing to give a narrow edge to the incumbent.


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