Before midterms, media downplayed potential Dem gains in House and Senate, touting GOP's "formidable" and "stunning" get-out-the-vote campaign; will they revisit?

››› ››› BEN ARMBRUSTER

In the weeks and days preceding the November 7 midterm elections, numerous media figures downplayed predictions of Democratic gains in the Senate and House of Representatives, stating that the Republican get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts were superior to those of Democrats. Many labeled the GOP's alleged "72-hour, get-out-the-vote plan" as "formidable" and "stunning." While polling regularly showed that a strong majority of Americans would cast their ballots for Democrats in the congressional elections, some media figures still claimed that the Republican Party held "the mechanical edge" with their GOTV campaign, while others said they were in "awe" of the party's "great turnout machine," and that the "foot soldiers are marching [in] battlegrounds." However, when asked about interpreting the election results during his November 8 press conference, President Bush pointed to the Democrats' "very strong turnout operation" in Pennsylvania, where Republican incumbent Rick Santorum lost, and in New York. In light of Bush's comments and election results showing that Democrats have retaken control of the House by at least 28 seats and have gained at least five seats in the Senate, will these same media figures revisit the strength of the Republicans' so-called "GOTV machine"?

Below is a list of examples of media figures recently touting Republican GOTV efforts, most often with the intent of downplaying potential Democratic congressional gains:

  • On the October 30 edition of CBS' The Early Show, co-host Harry Smith asserted that White House senior adviser Karl Rove "is as cool as a cucumber" because the "Republicans have an amazing get-out-the-vote mechanism."

  • On the October 23 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, said she is "in awe of the Republican machine," adding that "I think that they continue to hold the mechanical edge, that the get-out-the-vote operation is a stunning machine." Stoddard concluded: "I think if you go race by race, it's hard to really make it a tsunami."

  • On the November 6 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash reported that the "GOP foot soldiers are marching battlegrounds across the country, implementing their 72-hour get-out-the-vote plan," which "could make the difference where it's neck and neck."

  • Also on the November 6 edition of CNN Newsroom, CNN correspondent Bob Franken stated that the Republicans' "formidable" GOTV campaign in Ohio, in combination with an uptick in Sen. Mike DeWine's (R-OH) poll numbers against challenger Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), had the DeWine campaign "hoping for an upset." Franken added that the party's GOTV efforts are also significant "in many [other] parts of the country."

  • On the October 31 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, ABC News senior national correspondent Claire Shipman reported that "the Republican get-out-the-vote effort" was "[a] huge asset in the past two elections" and that "[i]t still looks stronger than what the Democrats have in place." Shipman added that her "sources say" that Rove "believes whatever the reality, voters want to back a winner."

  • On the November 3 edition of CNN Newsroom, Republican political strategist Mary Matalin downplayed favorable polling numbers for Democrats, saying that there are "other measurements that would be more predictive of outcome in the elections, predictive of the turnout, which are intensity of voters or intensity parity." Matalin then claimed, "We have a great turnout machine," adding: "So these things are never over until they're over."

  • On the October 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Roll Call executive editor Morton M. Kondracke claimed that he believed "a wave" of Democrats would win congressional seats in the midterms, but added: "[I]t's being broken, to some extent, by Republican get out the vote, Republican money, and gerrymandering."

From the 1 p.m. ET hour of the November 8 edition of MSNBC News Live:

BUSH: One of the interesting observations I had from last night was that if you take a look at New York state, Senator [Hillary Rodham] Clinton [D] ran a very strong race. But she ran a race that appeared to me to [be] beyond just the Senate race. She wanted to show people she had the capacity to help others win. And the same thing happened in Pennsylvania with Governor [Ed] Rendell [D]. He ran a very strong race, as did Senator-elect [Bob] Casey [D-PA]. And my only point to you is that I'm sure Iraq had something to do with the voters' minds but so did a very strong turnout mechanism in those two important states.

From the 10 a.m. ET hour of the November 6 edition of CNN Newsroom:

BASH: GOP foot soldiers are marching battlegrounds across the country, implementing their 72-hour, get-out-the-vote plan.

MICHAEL DuHAIME (Republican National Committee political director): The 72-hour program really takes about 72 weeks to put together. So there's no doubt it can make a difference in these close elections.

BASH: Since 2000, Republicans have been building a voter vault, files of GOP voters. Adding to that by micro-targeting, using consumer data -- what magazines or cars someone buys -- to identify new voters.

DuHAIME: We feel with our targeting, we're able to go in and find very specific voters in there as individuals and turn them out. And maybe instead of getting 10 or 12 percent, we get 14 or 16 percent.

BASH: That could make the difference where it's neck and neck.

FRANKEN: Well, Ohio is known to be a state that's kind of flat in its topography, but the lay of the land politically, is it's got its ups and its downs. The Republicans, for the most part, have been the ones who have been down. Although the polls are showing, that while they're still behind in key races, some of them are closing a little bit. In particular, the Senate race. Mike DeWine, who has been down in the double digits on occasion, the Republican incumbent, is now six to eight points behind depending on which credible poll you're going to believe.

He and other members of the GOP say that represents progress. Now, this has to be into the context of the get-out-the-vote effort here -- they call it GOTV. The Republicans have a formidable one here as they do in many parts of the country. And they are hoping for an upset. But there are so many problems they have here -- some corruption issues, scandal issues, that type of thing, in addition to the usual problems that Republicans are having nationwide like Iraq, that it would be quite the upset. But Republicans are saying that upsets happen in politics and they'd love nothing better than for some sort of upset to happen in Ohio -- Tony.

From the November 3 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

MATALIN: You know, I don't know. I guess Stu [Rothenberg] -- who's wonderful -- and Charlie Cook, who is wonderful and all those pundits, I guess they're looking at the polls. They're not looking at other measurements that would be more predictive of outcome in the elections, predictive of the turnout, which are intensity of voters or intensity parity.

There is, for the eighth consecutive week, [Republican National Committee chairman Ken] Mehlman and the RNC have contacted more voters than they did in the comparable period of time in the 2004 elections. We have a great turnout machine. We have the intensity. Early voting, absentee-ballot voting is leaning Republican.

So these things are never over until they're over. And I do remember in the last three cycles being told by somebody near and dear to both of us that Republicans were going to lose all three times, and they didn't. So we can't measure what is happening in the polls, but we have to look at what happens at the polls.

From the October 31 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:

SHIPMAN: Second, the Republican get-out-the-vote effort. A huge asset in the past two elections. It still looks stronger than what the Democrats have in place. Finally, and perhaps what's most behind the smile, pure psychology. Sources say Rove believes whatever the reality, voters want to back a winner.

From the October 31 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

KONDRACKE: I think there is a wave, but it's being broken, to some extent, by Republican get out the vote, Republican money, and gerrymandering. So that's why I'm saying -- not saying 30 or 35, I'm saying 25.

From the October 30 edition of CBS' The Early Show:

SMITH: He's looking like the Cheshire cat that he either he knows -- you know, they -- the Republicans have an amazing get-out-the-vote mechanism, and he's acting as cool as a cucumber.

From the October 23 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

STODDARD: I think if you look at the polls, the Democrats have reason to be guardedly optimistic. I think that the polls are showing the makings of a nice wave if you look at angry, determined independents and Democrats and also a disenchanted and disappointed Republican base. The combination for that, I think, puts them probably over the top, that they pick up the 15 they need to take control of the House, at least. Whether they are going to pick up 40, I doubt. I'm one of the people that -- I'm not as optimistic as Karl Rove, but I'm sort of in awe of the Republican machine.

I think that they continue to hold the mechanical edge, that the get-out-the-vote operation is a stunning machine and that their -- just their advantage in money and the fact that they've held power for so long, let's -- there's just a long list of advantages that they have. And I think if you go race by race, it's hard to really make it a tsunami.

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