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OFF TO THE RACES

Returns And Reviews

A New Book Puts 2008 In Perspective; Party ID Gap Is Highest In Decades

Most political aficionados have moved on from analyzing, celebrating or bemoaning the 2008 presidential election. They have shifted their focus to how President Obama and his Democratic House and Senate majorities are performing and will perform, how the Republican Party seeks to repair its tarnished brand, and how Democrats will be judged on their work in the 2010 midterm elections. There is also the briefest of glancing at the early 2012 GOP nomination maneuverings.

But a new book, "How Barack Obama Won," is worth noting and will be an invaluable resource as we look back and recall what happened in each state, how and why it happened and what it means. It's also an invaluable road map to what lies ahead, state by state, demographic by demographic, all in a concise 258 pages. It's all meat, no flab, no war stories, just what happened, how and why.

 

This tag-team effort by Sheldon Gawiser, the longtime elections director for NBC News, and Chuck Todd, NBC's political director and White House correspondent, contains insightful 50-page overviews of the election and then takes the 50 states and divides them into four categories: battleground states, receding battleground states, emerging battleground states, and red and blue states.

It then looks at the election returns and exit poll data for each state, explaining what happened. It's a great after-action report by two frontline observers, one who watched from ground level and the other with an aerial view.

Don't let Gawiser's Ph.D. mislead: He knows the territory from years of dissecting and examining election results and exit polls under an electron microscope.

 

In fact, the late Tim Russert was a political science student of Gawiser's back at John Carroll University.

I've also had the privilege of working under Gawiser's direction at NBC's Election Night decision desk for the last seven general election nights.

Watching him run that desk is like watching the conductor of a world-class symphony, with an array of three dozen or so statisticians, political scientists and analysts clustered around him, analyzing intricate computer models, weighing raw election data against exit polls and supplementing with past results and contemporary reporting. It is something to be hold. He is the best in the business.

Teaming Gawiser up with the fast-rising Todd was a brilliant stroke. Todd, the former editor of National Journal's Hotline, was hired by Russert in early 2007 to be NBC's political director. With Russert's sudden death in June, Todd stepped in like a pro to the analytical role in the middle of the 2008 campaign.

 

Nobody can fill Russert's shoes, but Todd did a fabulous job and earned the White House correspondent job in the process. His vantage point was watching the hand-to-hand combat between every campaign in every state, putting texture and feel to the data.

Whether it is looking at the roles played by Obama's race or the age of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the outcome or five pages of analysis and data just on Pennsylvania, it's all there. Its concise nature doesn't waste your time.

Both Gawiser and Todd are good friends and longtime colleagues, but even if they were complete strangers, I'd say that this is an invaluable resource to help anyone sift through the mountains of data and get to the bottom line in each state. But this book is going into my computer bag; I won't be able to leave home without it.

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Meanwhile, another ominous sign for Republicans. Last week the Gallup Organization released its annual compendium of polling on party identification based on over 30,000 interviews in stand-alone -- not nightly tracking -- telephone interviews conducted over the last year, with a 1-point error margin. In terms of straight party identification, Democrats averaged 36 percent for the year, Republicans averaged 28 percent, a gap that was the highest for either party in two decades.

In 2001, the year after former President George W. Bush was first elected and the year of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Democratic edge narrowed and the two parties see-sawed back and forth, essentially tied through 2005, when Democrats starting breaking away.

From then on, they had a slight advantage that began growing, from 34-30 percent in 2006 to 33-28 percent in 2007 and now 36-28 percent for 2008.

When independents leaning toward one party or the other are "pushed," the Democratic edge expands to 52-40 percent.

In such "leaned" party identification, 2001 had Democrats with 45 percent to the GOP's 44 percent. The parties were knotted at 45 percent in both 2002 and 2003. In 2004, the Democrats came in at 48 percent to the GOP's 45 percent; in 2005, Dems were at 48 percent at the GOP came in at 43 percent. The Democratic edge widened in 2006, 50-40 percent, 51-40 percent in 2007 and now 52-40 percent in 2008.

Watching the quarterly averages of party identification over the next year will be the surest sign of how the public is reacting to this new president and the expanded Democratic majorities, and whether Republicans have begun to fix their own problems. Certainly Obama's job approval ratings and the generic congressional ballot test are good, if volatile, leading indicators, but when party identification, typically a lagging indicator, starts moving, you really know something is happening.

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