On the eve of Georgia’s runoff, Democrats appear to have been outworked - and that is not something we have said much over the past two cycles. Saxby Chambliss has spent more money than his opponent, his campaign has been more apt at mobilizing their base in the state’s early voting program and top Republican surrogates have blanketed the state in an effort to energize conservative voters.
Today, it was Sarah Palin’s turn to travel to Georgia (she appeared with Chambliss in four separate events) and she is likely to prove a boost to the Republican Senator’s prospects. However unpopular Palin became among independents and Democrats, there is no doubt that she also energizes conservatives - and for the GOP base to turn out is probably all Chambliss needs tomorrow.
On the other hand, Barack Obama did not end up traveling to Georgia, nor did he cut a TV ad for the Democratic nominee. Other possible nationally known surrogates - whether Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden - also chose not to get involved, and the biggest name Martin got on his side was Bill Clinton. (The former President held one event whose location was changed at the last minute.) Martin did get Ludacris to campaign with him today - a choice that could help raise the runoff’s profile but that comes with a fair amount of political risk.
That African-Americans made up less than 23% of early voters (compared to more than 34% in the run-up to November 4th) confirms that Democrats have found it difficult to motivate their base to go to the polls again.
The last poll of the campaign, released today by PPP, shows Chambliss grabbing a 53% to 46% lead (up 1% from last week). Worse for Martin, Chambliss leads by 17% among those who have already voted - a stark reversal from the first round vote. Martin is not only suffering from poor black turnout but also from his weakness among white voters, of which he only captures 28%.
All Georgia polls released since November 4th have found Chambliss ahead, anywhere from 2% to 7%. Worse still is the fact that Martin never held a lead in any of the pre-November 4th polls, only managing to tie Chambliss.
If this runoff was an ordinary Election Day, there would be little suspense: a candidate who trails so consistently is highly unlikely to pull off a victory. However, this is no ordinary contest. It is being held a month after a high-intensity election and turnout is likely to fall dramatically. It is simply impossible to predict who will turn out to vote, and while all signs point to higher Republican turnout it would not be surprising if that does not hold.
In 2006, Democrat Ciro Rodriguez defeated a GOP incumbent in a December runoff in TX-23 after trailing in the November vote and in runoff polls. Republican voters were demoralized by their party’s recent defeat and they did not vote in sufficient numbers to defeat Rodriguez.
For Martin to pull off a similar feat tomorrow would constitute an upset, of course, but he does have the ground game to pull it off. Dozens of Obama staffers did move to Georgia in early November to pull Martin through and the AFL-CIO is investing significant resources to help him. After all, the stakes are certainly high enough that Democrats ought to stay motivated:
Tomorrow’s result could put Democrats one step closer to their ambition of a 60-seat majority - or it could finally squash that dream for good.