Capitol Idea: The Other Reason I Want Democrats To Win on Tuesday

It shouldn’t come as any surprise to regular readers of this space to know that I’ll be pulling for the Democrats in the Tuesday elections. First of all, as I’ve written about here, I support Democrats on the merits. Although often imperfect, the economic and reform programs they offer are much more likely to benefit the lower- and middle-income Americans who need help most during this time of protracted downturn.

The Republican alternatives, meanwhile, will do much more harm than good.

Beyond the substantive, I have another reason to root for the Democrats on Election Night, however.

If the Democrats “win” Tuesday night — and by “win,” I mean not lose so badly as to turn over control of either side of Congress — it will be a great affirmation of the ability of a “ground war” to prevail over an “air war.”

Corporate and conservative interests have run a massive “shock and awe” air war by throwing literally thousands of attack ads, perhaps approaching $4 billion worth, at Democrats this year.

While Democrats and their allied liberal groups clearly have put up their own negative advertising, they’ve banked much more heavily on winning through a ground war.

They’ve been fighting that ground war on two fronts: a massive get-out-the-vote drive to mobilize the masses that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008, and by early voting, or encouraging supporters to vote ahead of Tuesday in those places that allow early voting.

Democrats, including the Obama-affiliated group Organizing for America (OFA), are spending tens of millions of dollars to motivate supporters and get them to the polls, especially those who voted for the first time just two years ago.

“It’s a great experiment to see whether we can bring out voters whose only previous vote was in 2008,” says Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

For Van Hollen and his cohorts, this, of course, is no academic exercise. At stake is whether Democrats can continue to hold a majority, at least through the end of Obama’s first term.

On the other side, Democrats have pushed early voting hard. Early voting gets more and more votes “in the bank” ahead of Election Day, and as hoped for, analysis of such balloting ahead of Tuesday shows some encouragement for Democrats.

Conservatives, clearly, have bet big on their attack ad strategy, but if their barrage comes up short, the efficacy of big-money-bankrolled negativity will be very much in question.

It will also demonstrate that, as bad as the Supreme Court Citizens United decision was that opened the floodgates to all this third-party bombardment, its harm can be overcome.

This may surprise you coming from an old reporter like myself, but a win for a get-out-the-vote strategy will also indicate the limits of the media, even in our media-obsessed culture.

Karen Nussbaum, the head of the union-affiliated group Working America, has been running a large labore-backed get-out-the-vote project, and has seen that neighbors talking to neighbors can have more power than Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, or any other right-wing commentator.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is important. So does New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

“I would just strongly urge everyone to get to work organizing on the local level because I think it’s the only way we’re going to turn things around in this country,” Herbert says.

For me, getting our heads out of our computer and TV screens, and returning to talking to each other, would be the biggest win on Tuesday.

I’m hoping Van Hollen’s “experiment” is a complete success.

The publisher of On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington.

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