With only 48 hours remaining Sunday until voting, Tuesday's elections were the exclusive weekend pundit topic.
Neither snipers, weapons of mass destruction (unless we’re talking negative campaign ads), nor Israeli politics encroached on wall-to-wall discussion and prognostication.
Capital Gang had the most disciplined approach, requiring each gang member to make predictions on every tight race. Other shows allowed pundits to "punt," accepting claims that races were "too close to call." The News Hour and This Week didn’t seek picks from its regulars at all.
If there was consensus, it was that Democrats would pick up governorships and Republicans would maintain control of the House of Representatives. The Senate was where the pundits diverged. Optimism for the GOP averaged a gain of one seat, while optimism for the Democrats went as high as a three-seat gain.
Worst segment of the weekend was easily the joint appearance on Meet the Press by Democratic Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and his Republican counterpart, Marc Racicot. The bombastic McAuliffe seemed to puff himself up physically in an effort to overshadow the laconic Racicot, but neither offered any real insight. In an almost comic exchange, host Tim Russert began asking the party chiefs for their picks, race by race, until he suddenly realized how absurd that exercise was becoming.
McAuliffe surprisingly blamed the excesses of the controversial tribute to Paul Wellstone in Minnesota on the Wellstone family.
The second worst segments were appearances on Fox News Sunday and Face the Nation by Democratic Senatorial Campaign Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and her Republican counterpart, Sen. Bill Frist, D-Tenn. Face the Nation host Bob Scheiffer, to his credit, called them "chief spinners."
Most provocative guest selection was on Fox. Minnesota Republican Senate candidate Norm Coleman appeared with host Brit Hume, noting that Democrat Walter Mondale had declined Fox’s invitation. Coleman made his "looking forward" case while getting in a soft-edged Quip of the Week. Coleman, a former Democrat, was asked if he had ever voted for the former senator and vice president: "It was so far — long ago, I don't remember whether I voted for Walter Mondale."
David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour, offered this sop to Republicans expecting to fall short in the Senate:
"You see around several of the seats that Democrats will probably win, that the Democratic candidate is bragging that I support the Bush tax cut, I support the Bush military.
So while Democrats may keep control of the Senate and if I had to guess, I would think they would, there would be a lot of the big issues where Bush will have a majority on tax cuts, on defense spending, things like that."
Brooks’ "issue to watch" was southern voting:
"If he [Senator Max Cleland, D-Ga.] wins and if Democrats like him win throughout the south, that means there are a lot of Democratic voters, or a lot of voters, who say I'm pro-life, anti-taxes, I'm pro-gun, but I'm not a Republican, I'm a Democrat, because maybe they're too corporate for me.
If that voter block really does exist, won't move over to the Republican Party even though they have all the conservative views, that means the Democrats really have a chance of becoming equal or taking over the south again and that really would be the one sort of transformative group that is emerging in this race."
This Week host George Stephanopolous made a strenuous effort to turn SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt into an election issue. Guest Rudy Guliani made quick work of Stephanopolous’ question: "The weekend before the election is not the time to resolve this." Guliani denied he was considering the SEC job.
All six members of CNBC’s Wall Street Journal Editorial Board predicted a Senate take-over by the Republicans.
Does She Bake Cookies?
Time’s Margaret Carlson, on Capital Gang, called New Hampshire Democratic Senate hopeful Jeanne Shaheen a "Betty Crocker" candidate. Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times retorted that Shaheen was "Betty Crocker with a blackjack. She’s tough."
Against the Grain
Here are the underdog candidates and their pundit champions:
Bill McBride, Democrat, Florida governor’s race: syndicated columnist Mark Shields
Norm Coleman, Repbulican, Minnesota, Senate: Bob Novak, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol
Saxby Chambliss, Republican, Georgia, Senate: NBC’s Lisa Myers
Jean Carnahan, Democrat, Missouri, Senate: Mark Shields
Erskine Bowles, Democrat, North Carolina Senate: NPR’s Juan Williams
John Thune, Republican, South Dakota, Senate: Bob Novak, LA Times’ Ron Brownstein, political analyst Charlie Cook
Too Close to Call
Here are some pundits and the races they refused to predict:
US News & World Report’s Gloria Borger and the Washington Post’s Ceci Connally declined to predict which party would win control of the Senate.
The Washington Post’s David Broder would not call the Maryland governor's race.
Ron Brownstein wouldn't pick a winner in the battle for Massachusetts governor.
US News & World Report’s Michael Barone wouldn't call the South Dakota Senate race.
Bill Kristol found the Senate race in New Hampshire too close to call.
Juan Williams wouldn't predict the outcome of the Texas Senate race.
Dust Off Another One
George Stephanopolous reported on This Week that former Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colo., who lost the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination to Walter Mondale, is seriously considering making a run for the presidency in 2004.
Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va. Unable to obsess on golf, fishing or a weed-free lawn, he chose to stalk the weekend talk show pundits and their syndicated print brethren. His "Punditwatch" column appears in Tony Adragna's Quasipundit.