This column was supposed to be a self-congratulatory analysis of how Nebraska's Pete Ricketts has a better chance against Sen. Ben Nelson because he adopted the strategy I've been advocating for months.
Ricketts's brilliant tv ad shows the faces of Sens. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and says that a vote for Nelson is a vote for the three liberal potentates to control the Senate agenda.
But that was before Kerry's slap against our soldiers, saying to Pasadena City College students that they'd better do well in school or they'll get stuck in Iraq. This column isn't about that either.
Once again, I'm compelled to resort to Newton's laws. In politics, as in physics, for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. So, in the fevered brains and nervous, hushed conferences of the 527 Media, they must be deciding whether Kerry's outburst is another Karl Rove maneuver, or whether House Speaker Dennis Hastert knew and didn't do enough to prevent it.
But how can that be? Kerry served in the navy in Vietnam, and the navy is part of the Defense Department, so surely Kerry's gratuitous slap at the troops must be blamed on Donald Rumsfeld's failure in post-war planning. Len Downey has probably called in Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank to get the story straight, and CBS News is probably deploying platoons of reporters to ask Katrina victims about how their suffering was assuaged by Kerry's remarks.
The only predictable result of Kerry's outburst will be at least one more October surprise before next Tuesday. Yes, it's November, but ever since Cap Weinberger's indictment was announced right before the 1984 election we've had tardy October surprises and before Tuesday we're almost sure to get one or more from the 527 Media (or the UN: remember the 2004 phony missing explosives story?)
It's the necessary product of the principal element of liberal thinking in this campaign. Stick with me for a moment, because it all comes back to President George W. Bush and Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential candidate.
You meet the nicest people in smoke-filled rooms. A couple of weeks ago, in the rear courtyard of the Dominican Embassy, suitably shrouded in the finest cigar smoke, I met a neuroradiologist. This medical genius (and Air Force vet) took the time to explain that his profession is the one that seeks the mysteries of the human brain in CAT scans, MRIs and electro-encephalograms, often discovering things they don't expect.
The next day, he sent me a clipping from the October 2006 issue of a magazine called "Diagnostic Imaging." The article said that new experimental results -- based on a very small sample of 10 registered Democrats and 10 registered Republicans -- showed that there was a measurable difference in their brain functions.
The article began with something only a medical specialist could understand: "Researchers found that the dorsolateral prefrontal and anterior cingulated cortices, the brain regions involved in cognitive and emotional control, worked in tandem to promote positive feelings toward the subjects' favored candidates and negative feelings toward opposing candidates."
Fortunately the next sentence explained, "While Democrats demonstrated negativity toward Bush, and Republicans showcased similar feelings for Kerry, fMRI revealed that the Republicans could stomach Kerry more easily than Democrats could Bush."
My new-found doctor pal wouldn't say the data were conclusive but it's apparent that there's something more than political beliefs propelling people such as Kerry to make outbursts, DNC Chairman Howard Dean to scream and the DailyKos to conduct its online jihad against Joe Lieberman. Diagnosis: anger. But anger is not a political ideology and it's not enough to win American elections.
The polls later this week will begin to mean something. By Monday, the Democratic "wave" - if there is one -- will be measurable in height, and Republicans will pretty well know how badly, if at all, they're going to be beaten. I won't write again before the election, so here are some thoughts on how Tuesday's results may set the stage for 2008.
Many of the disputed Senate races are still up in the air. In Virginia, New Jersey, Montana, Missouri, and Tennessee the current leader is at this writing up by five percent or less. As John McIntyre pointed out a few days ago, George Allen's race alone swung 7 percent in only a week. Weekend polls will show the five closest will likely have solidified around one candidate or another, but still can't predict voter turnout.
Before the campaign, it appeared that Sen. George Allen's race would result in a bankable Republican hold and the start of Allen's 2008 presidential bid. But from the time when Allen's campaign fell into disarray with the "macaca moment" his opponent, Jim Webb, seemed to be wearing a Teflon coat. I thought Virginia could be a bellweather for Republicans. It seemed a state in which we might measure whether Republicans could overcome big errors and campaign weaknesses by running on their strengths.
Instead, the Virginia race may come down to voters' decisions between sexually-bizarre passages from Webb's old novels and Allen's politically-bizarre focused pursuit of votes from Virginia's feminists community. We're not likely learn to much from Virginia.
Between now and Monday, we'll probably see a defining trend in the polls. If Republican Sens. Mike DeWine or Rick Santorum recovers significantly from their current deficits that should indicate that the Democratic wave will be only a ripple. These polls and others will tell us something about 2008.
Anger at President Bush and the war in Iraq fuels the Democrats' campaign. Frustration with their party's leaders may lead to Republican mistakes that will place the Democrats on a limited anti-war track that will take over their 2008 races. Will Ohio Republicans let their anger with their state party overcome their desire to re-elect DeWine? If Republican turnout fails in Ohio, it could be a signal of a larger problem in the national Republican Party, confusing the picture as we go into 2007.
Connecticut Rep. Chris Shays will be another measure, not so much of the national Republican agenda as of the Iraq war. If Shays survives in the shadow of the Lamont-Lieberman contest, it will signal that many Americans have assimilated the bad news from Iraq and still believe that the war against the terrorists has to be fought. The fact that Kerry's campaign appearances with Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and Minnesota's Tim Walz have been cancelled and Tennesee Rep. Harold Ford Jr. called for Kerry to apologize are early signals of that possibility, even among the Angry Dems.
John Kerry's gift to Republicans is a video clip no amount of campaign funds could have bought. If more candidates do what Pete Ricketts is doing in Nebraska, or if the RNC spends a little money on ads like his, they could have a profound effect on Tuesday's results. It takes only hours to produce ads like the one Ricketts is running, and the Dems and the media are worried that they will. Proving the point, Jim Van DeHei's piece in the Wednesday Washington Post assures us that the Kerry statement and Bush's reaction is an, "...unusual back-and-forth that has little to do with the 2006 mid-term elections..." But, as the president's speech made clear, it has everything to do with this election.
The president has finally focused on a national message by taking on the Dems and warning what will happen if they take control of Congress. A few national ads like Ricketts's -- maybe one taking on the 527 Media and featuring second lady Lynn Cheney's body-slam of CNN's Wolf Blitzer - might just turn Democrats' anger against them. Kerry's gift includes the gift of time. There's still enough of it for Republicans to make the liberals -- and their media enablers -- the defining issue. If they do, they can light a path to 2008.