It’s About Mobilization, Not Enthusiasm

With six days left, Josh Marshall sums up where we’re at with the key Senate battlegrounds:

Four races look to be realistically in doubt: Nevada, Colorado, Illinois and West Virginia. I’m still keeping a close eye on Pennsylvania and Kentucky. But Democrats need to rely on heroic assumptions to figure those as potential wins … Colorado and West Virginia has been trending toward the Democrats — with Colorado still probably ever so slightly leaning GOP and the reverse for West Virginia (note that Nate Silver just nudged both slightly in the Dem direction). Nevada has been trending toward Sharron Angle but by such a narrow margin it’s definitely still in play. And finally there’s Illinois where Kirk has had a consistent but extremely narrow margin.

Now, the conventional wisdom is that the Tea Party has given the GOP a considerable “voter enthusiasm” advantage.  But can they, i.e., the disparate groups that make up the Tea Party, actually mobilize their supportive voters in competitive congressional districts?

The Washington Post writes that it could only verify 647 out of supposedly 2,300 local Tea Party groups across the country.  Moreover, only 84 groups are doing any serious voter contact programs.  The sense among operatives on both sides, according to the L.A. Times, is that the Tea Party is “fractured and untested, with some … activists refusing to cooperate with more mainstream Republicans, in contrast to the unified and well-organized parallel effort by unions and Democrats.”

If this description is how the Republicans are operating outside the party structure, how are they faring at the establishment level?  From ProjectVirginia:

As progressive political organizer Robert Creamer notes, Democrats rely on face-to-face, door-to-door communications.  Republicans, meanwhile, “are much more prone to rely on paid telephone contacts and mail,” Creamer says… The Republican National Committee which traditionally handles GOTV for House and Senate candidates, basically announced early on that it was punting this cycle.  It is low on money and will spend much of what it has on TV ads and other last-minute items, such as mailings and electronic outreach.

To be sure, the Republicans are poised to make large gains in the House and Senate.  There is considerable anxiety among voters because of the economy. The fallout from the healthcare debate is that conservatives are even more opposed to Obama and independents have shifted right. Outside groups, like Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, are soaking in massive, anonymous donations to slander Democrats.  And let’s remember (despite the pundits’ best efforts to portray this election as a referendum on Obama) that the incumbent party always loses seats in the first midterm election when it controls both the White House and Congress.  Losses should be expected.

What is surprising is the large amount of uncertainty in these races, especially when the GOP was boasting about another “Republican Revolution” a few months ago. And there is a feeling, at least with the organizers on the ground who I talk to, that the Democrats’ focus on last-ditch GOTV programs over the last decade may staunch the bleeding. If the Democrats exceed low expectations (incidentally, one of the few things they’ve done well this cycle is let the press all but address John Boehner as “Mr. Speaker”), expect talking-head declarations about “The Comeback Kids.”

Wishful thinking? We shall see.