Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day - What To Watch For

From 7:00pm to 9:00pm, I'm going to be away from a computer-- and, in fact, away from any televisions, radios, or other devices which report election results. During arguably the most exciting portion of the night, when Virginia may be called for Obama, or when the returns start coming in for the Georgia Senate race, or when our own district begins reporting, I won't be able to be a part of it.

For a political junkie like me, that's like missing the World Series, the Rose Bowl (Go 'Cats! I believe in you!), and the World Cup all at once, which, by the way, are also on Christmas. Tomorrow could be a really amazing day, and I’m disappointed that I’ll be missing a big part of it.

But when I do get to a computer, I’ll be looking for a few things. I don't claim to have a secret formula or know which tiny town will be the bellwether, and I'm definitely not a Grebner-like expert. But I can tell you what I think a Schauer victory might look like, and where I’ll be looking for it.

Turnout in Calhoun, Eaton, and Jackson Counties

With 98 percent of Michigan's voting population registered, there are a lot of people who could show up to vote. That’s got to worry Tim Walberg, whose victory in the 2006 GOP primary was thanks to what former Congressman Joe Schwarz called a "motivated minority" of 7.8 percent in a low-turnout primary. (Schwarz also called them "quasi-theocrats... infiltrating the party power structure"). Granted, a general election is very different from a primary, but a Walberg victory will depend on certain people not showing up, namely in Calhoun County, where Mark Schauer could run up the margin.

But Walberg has someone working against him: Barack Obama. The Obama campaign has done a phenomenal job of registering new voters who are trending Democratic. But they didn't ask prospective voters for a partisan affiliation before they registered them, nor should they have. In a Republican-leaning district, is it possible that the Obama campaign might have just registered a bunch of new Republicans?

Maybe, but judging from where the new voters are coming from, probably not. With help from the Detroit Free Press (who got the data from the Michigan Secretary of State), here's a fun table:

County Reg. Voters New Voters % Change (Jan. - Oct.)

Branch 31,805 683 +2%
Calhoun* 103,707 3,950 +4%
Eaton 80,023 2,781 +4%
Hillsdale 33,327 724 +2%
Jackson 115,357 4,672 +4%
Lenawee 71,552 2,170 +3%
Washtenaw* 273,955 24,962 +10%

Note that both Calhoun and Washtenaw Counties have portions not in the 7th District. This is especially important in Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor (and the University of Michigan) probably accounts for most of the voters and most of the growth. However, Battle Creek, which is in the district, is the major population center for Calhoun County, and is probably responsible for most of that growth. So for our simplified purposes here, let's ignore Washtenaw County but keep Calhoun County.

As you can see, the most new voters were added in Calhoun, Eaton, and Jackson Counties (both in absolute number of voters and in proportion to their populations). Calhoun County is generally considered safe territory for Mark Schauer, who has represented the voters there in the state House and Senate since 1996 and is generally very popular. Jackson and Eaton Counties, meanwhile, are the major "battlegrounds." Not only are they vote-rich, but they were divided pretty evenly in the 2006 election (Eaton: Renier 50 Walberg 48; Jackson: Walberg 51 Renier 46). Although Schauer currently represents much of Jackson County in the state Senate, I’m expecting it to be a major battleground again. Neglected in the voter registration drives were the Walberg strongholds of Branch and Hillsdale Counties, and to a lesser degree, Lenawee County (more on it in a minute).

I don't have solid data behind me, but I'm going to guess that if they turn out to vote, the new voters in Calhoun, Eaton, and Jackson Counties will break Democratic. If they were registered by the Obama folks, they were probably targeted as students or underrepresented populations, which is probably good news for Mark Schauer. At least, that’s what I'm hoping.

In 2006, Calhoun County had 47.5 percent turnout, Eaton County had 59.9 percent turnout, and Jackson County had 51.8 percent turnout (data here and here). If turnout is higher than that in those three counties (and especially Calhoun County), new voters and Schauer loyalists could run up enough of a margin to offset losses in the southern part of the district. If the turnout is really big in Calhoun County, that might be the whole ball game.

Is that a possibility? Could central-west Michigan see a massive surge in turnout? I don’t know, but it sounds like Kalamazoo County (one west from Calhoun County) is getting ready for one:
KALAMAZOO -- Bracing for a very long and very busy Tuesday, area election officials say they're "as ready as we'll ever be" for the 2008 presidential election.

"We're in good shape," Kalamazoo County Clerk Tim Snow said. "We've been preparing for this all year. We knew this was going to be big."

A surge in voter registrations and predictions of a higher rate of participation means the county could have as many as 144,000 voters this year, compared to the 120,000 who cast ballots four years ago.

The city of Kalamazoo, in particular, has taken steps to avoid long lines Tuesday, putting in a minimum of 14 voting stations at each precinct and substantially increasing the staffing.


On Tuesday, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. People who are in line at 8 p.m. will be allowed to vote. The forecast calls for sunny skies and a high near 70 degrees.

Lenawee County

This is where Tim Walberg should win. He represented Lenawee County for 16 years in the state House of Representatives, and the mostly rural county is famous (or infamous) for its conservative politics and sometimes frightening tendencies. (Anyone else remember "Radio Free Lenawee"?) This is where I'm from, and I can say that it is a conservative place.

At the same time, though, people don't really like Tim Walberg all that much. Oh, sure, some do. Whenever I was canvassing, I was bound to run into someone who would say, "I plan to vote for Tim, I’ve known him for years" or something like that. But I'd also meet someone who'd say, "Walberg? I can’t believe we keep electing that guy!" The solidly-Republican state House seat Walberg vacated has been in Democratic hands (albeit moderate ones) for ten years. With state Representative Dudley Spade basically guaranteed reelection, it'll stay that way for at least two more years.

Meanwhile, the county is changing. Before the economy got really bad, a lot of people were moving out to Clinton or Tecumseh from Ann Arbor or metro Detroit for the cheaper properties, willing to put up with the couple-hour commute. They don’t have a relationship with Tim Walberg, and some of them are even (gasp) Democrats.

And the Schauer campaign has taken the county seriously, opening an office in downtown Adrian and hiring a full-time field organizer to staff it and coordinate with the Obama and Spade campaigns. Whenever he's in the county, Mark Schauer is certain to mention his great relationship with Doug and Dudley Spade, both of whom carry a lot of weight. (Side note: Their secret to success? They're actually really good representatives. If you go to Dudley Spade with a problem, he'll do everything he can to solve it.) Throw in the Obama organizers, and you've got a real chance for 2008 to be a year of Democratic revival in Lenawee County.

Will Mark Schauer win it? ... No. It just won't happen. But he can keep it close. Governor Jennifer Granholm managed to take 47 percent of the vote in 2006, and if Schauer can get a similar share of the vote and hold Walberg to 51 or 52 percent, it could mean a lot. If Schauer opens up a big lead in Calhoun County and Washtenaw County, then there just aren’t enough voters in Branch and Hillsdale Counties to make up for it. Walberg needs to win Lenawee County convincingly. If Lenawee County is as tight as the other "battlegrounds," it's going to be a rough night for Tim Walberg.

And what if Mark Schauer wins Lenawee County? Then short of something really unexpected happening, Schauer will win the district. But like I said, Schauer won't win Lenawee County. I'm not going to let my hopes get that high.


Barack Obama is going to win the state of Michigan. The only question left is "How big?" Since John McCain pulled out of Michigan, it's started to look pretty big. Here's the Pollster.com chart for Michigan:

That's quite a sight, isn't it? The final Pollster average puts it at Obama +16, which would be a bigger margin than Bill Clinton’s +13 win in 1996. That year, with the help of Ross Perot, Bill Clinton carried four of the counties that currently make up the 7th District: Calhoun, Washtenaw, Lenawee, and Branch. Calhoun and Washtenaw are to be expected, but Lenawee and Branch surprised me when I looked back at them. After all, these are supposed to be the conservative parts of the district.

Supposing Obama has similar success, picking up Calhoun, western Washtenaw, and at least one other county, is there any way Mark Schauer can lose? I'm not sure what the Obama-Walberg voter looks like, and I'd be shocked to see Obama carrying Jackson County by a wide margin but Schauer losing it. Maybe it's possible, but Mark Schauer has done a good job presenting himself as a moderate and a hard-working, dependable public servant. If Obama wins big, I can't imagine any reason for the Obama voter to choose "more of the same" and Tim Walberg.


Upon re-reading all of that, I'm worried that I'm being too optimistic and tempting fate for another disappointing election night. It's possible. Even so, and despite not having any idea of what I'm doing, I think that most of my reasoning has some foundation to it. I think one of the three factors above (if not all of them) could contribute to a Schauer victory.

That's what I'll be looking for, sometime around 9:15pm Eastern Time. It's possible that there will be a clear leader by the time I arrive on the scene. We'll see soon enough if any of this is right.

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I've read every word of today's entries and all I can say is WOW!

Thank you so much for everything--from Day One until this moment.
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