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The problem with this analysis is the same as the one that bedevils so much of the reportage and polling on the 2006 campaign: It suffers from what you might call the fallacy of the national electorate. Democrats rejoice when they read about the results of the most recent USA Today/Gallup poll, which has their party leading the Republicans nationally by a solid margin of 54-41 percent—just as they take heart in Pelosi’s relative national anonymity. And just as they reassure themselves that, across the country, swing voters have more important things on their minds than the future of Alcee Hastings.

In the age of Rove and Ken Mehlman, however, Republicans have demonstrated that swing voters are an overrated concept. They’ve shown that what matters, especially in midterm elections, isn’t what the national electorate thinks about the two parties at a point in time but what a small number of voters in a small number of congressional districts actually do on Election Day. As White House political director Sara Taylor put it bluntly last week, “In a traditional midterm headwind, Republicans are going to have to make sure they turn out their base. In places where they do that, Republicans are going to win races they’re supposed to win.”

In the age of Rove and Ken Mehlman, Republicans have demonstrated that swing voters are an overrated concept.

Thus the straightforward logic behind the GOP’s Pelosi pile-on. What worries Rove, Mehlman, and their allies most isn’t Bush’s unpopularity on the war or any other issue. What worries them is that the Republican base—dismayed over the Foley scandal and disappointed with the administration about so much else—will decide it’s not worth the bother to hit the polls on November 7. As it happens, for the people who make up that base, Pelosi is neither an unknown nor an unimportant quantity. She’s a threat to truth, freedom, and the safety of America’s children (at least that’s what the wingnuts tell me over and over by e-mail). And Rove et al. have no intention of letting it slip their minds.You’d like to believe it won’t work this time.

You’d like to believe it just can’t. But it’s worth noting that, for the first time in many months, self-identified conservatives are registering levels of intensity and enthusiasm equal to those of hard-core liberals. And even in those national polls, the Democratic lead has been nearly cut in half in the past two weeks. The power of Pelosi-bashing? Probably not. But, as Rove would surely say, it certainly isn’t hurting.

E-mail: jheilemann@gmail.com.


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