Last night was the annual Cardinal Bernardin lecture over at USC, and on my way in to hear Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta speak, Florence attorney and longtime USC Trustee Mark Buyck asked me what was going to happen in the presidential race. I told him what I said in this post, that it looked like Obama, at least in the Electoral College.
He said I should go read what Peggy Noonan had posted on her blog.
So I did. And in what Business Insider called “The Most Anti-Nate Silver Column Imaginable,” she basically argued that we should ignore the numbers and go with our gut. And her gut was telling her that Mitt Romney is going to win:
But to the election. Who knows what to make of the weighting of the polls and the assumptions as to who will vote? Who knows the depth and breadth of each party’s turnout efforts? Among the wisest words spoken this cycle were by John Dickerson of CBS News and Slate, who said, in a conversation the night before the last presidential debate, that he thought maybe the American people were quietly cooking something up, something we don’t know about.
I think they are and I think it’s this: a Romney win.
Romney’s crowds are building—28,000 in Morrisville, Pa., last night; 30,000 in West Chester, Ohio, Friday It isn’t only a triumph of advance planning: People came, they got through security and waited for hours in the cold. His rallies look like rallies now, not enactments. In some new way he’s caught his stride. He looks happy and grateful. His closing speech has been positive, future-looking, sweetly patriotic. His closing ads are sharp—the one about what’s going on at the rallies is moving.
All the vibrations are right. A person who is helping him who is not a longtime Romneyite told me, yesterday: “I joined because I was anti Obama—I’m a patriot, I’ll join up But now I am pro-Romney.” Why? “I’ve spent time with him and I care about him and admire him. He’s a genuinely good man.” Looking at the crowds on TV, hearing them chant “Three more days” and “Two more days”—it feels like a lot of Republicans have gone from anti-Obama to pro-Romney.
Something old is roaring back. One of the Romney campaign’s surrogates, who appeared at a rally with him the other night, spoke of the intensity and joy of the crowd “I worked the rope line, people wouldn’t let go of my hand.” It startled him. A former political figure who’s been in Ohio told me this morning something is moving with evangelicals, other church-going Protestants and religious Catholics. He said what’s happening with them is quiet, unreported and spreading: They really want Romney now, they’ll go out and vote, the election has taken on a new importance to them.
There is no denying the Republicans have the passion now, the enthusiasm. The Democrats do not. Independents are breaking for Romney. And there’s the thing about the yard signs. In Florida a few weeks ago I saw Romney signs, not Obama ones. From Ohio I hear the same. From tony Northwest Washington, D.C., I hear the same.
Is it possible this whole thing is playing out before our eyes and we’re not really noticing because we’re too busy looking at data on paper instead of what’s in front of us? Maybe that’s the real distortion of the polls this year: They left us discounting the world around us…
Now, on a certain level I have to sympathize with Peggy on this. After all, I’m the intuitive type, and have no great love of numbers. And more often than not, my own gut has been right when it comes to knowing who will win an election. It’s been right ever since the first statewide race I covered in Tennessee, the gubernatorial contest between Lamar Alexander and Jake Butcher in 1978. All the top political writers at the big papers were saying it was a dead heat, too close to call.
But I had accomplanied each of both candidates, practically 24/7 (we used to really cover campaigns in those days), for a week each late in the race, and Alexander acted like a winner, and crowds reacted to him that way. And Jake Butcher was pathetic. I remember Speaker Ned Ray McWherter walking him around his district to introduce him to constituents, and he looked like a lost child.
I was right. And I was right that day Sarah Palin campaigned with Nikki Haley, and I saw how Nikki had hit her stride at just the right moment, and was convinced she had the nomination.
I have also been very wrong. In the primaries early in that same gubernatorial campaign, I traveled with Roger Murray, a Democrat who was getting tremendous positive reactions everywhere he went. Voters kept telling him he had done the best job in the multi-candidate debate just before this tour, and I believed that meant he was going to win. He wasn’t even in the top two.
But I was just a kid then — even months later, in the general, I had gained a lot of savvy I lacked during the primaries — and it was a valuable lesson, learning to discount the effect of being in the bubble. I haven’t been that spectacularly wrong since.
All that said, while I may not love numbers, I respect them, while Peggy Noonan seems to be wishing them away. “The vibrations are right.” Really? We’ll see, very soon.