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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

Wait! Wait! How cool is this?

This week the first question of the program on NPR's quiz show "Wait, wait ... don't tell me!" is based on a quote from TPM! I think this really secures TPM's status as the unofficial political blog of the Starbucks and latte set. Click here if you wanna hear the audio. It's about two minutes and thirty seconds in ...

How cool is that?

Yada ...

Most readers seem to have enjoyed yesterday's riff at the expense of out-going House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. A few, though, thought I was either unfair or premature in counting him out of the presidential running.

I should be honest that I come to this question with certain preconceptions. People are always telling me how Gephardt is a logical contender for the nomination in 2004. And I am always confidently -- though, I guess, perhaps wrongly -- telling them there is simply no way that's ever going to happen.

Why this is impossible exactly is a little hard to say. But I've always thought it was a little like that whole thing with nothing being able to go faster than light. Precisely why it can't happen is a little difficult to explain. And to really understand it you need to know various complex formulas and math tricks. But even if you can't quite get your head around it that doesn't change the fact that the fundamental laws of the universe say it can't happen.

Same with Gephardt.

I wasn't surprised by the news that Dick Gephardt was stepping down as House Minority Leader. I wasn't, that is, until I saw the text of his comments, in which he pretty much implies that he's stepping down to try to run for president. What's this dude smoking? This is sort of like having your girlfriend dump you and then you say, "Okay, baby, I can live with that. But I've got another idea for you. How 'bout you and me get married? Huh? Huh? Yeah, baby ... Whaddya think???"

As a young Democratic political consultant told me this afternoon, this guy's got the biggest #$%&@ in Washington.

I see that Mickey Kaus is still pushing this line that the general inattention to the late generic polls showing a GOP surge was an example of liberal media bias. I've always thought that Mickey's is far too great a mind to waste -- even a part of it -- on the liberal media bias canard. But we can deal with that issue another time. The truth is that those late generic polls were on to something. But the reason people didn't pay more attention has nothing to do with liberal bias. It's rather more subtle than that -- and for that reason ignored.

To make sense of this you've got to go back to the 1998 midterm where an expected landslide for the Republicans turned into a small but significant Democratic victory. This was supposed to have been a great shocker. But if you were paying attention it really shouldn't have been.

At the time I was working at the now long-abandoned Cambridge offices of The American Prospect -- the then-bi-monthly, now bi-weekly, and soon to be monthly liberal policy mag. I was going around saying that I thought the Democrats would actually pick up seats and I wanted to write an article on the dynamics in play. That got vetoed by the higher-ups who thought we'd look stupid running an article talking about a good Democratic year after the Republicans had picked up forty seats.

Now as you can probably tell I'm rather proud of having gotten this one right. But the truth is that it was really only a matter of watching the polls. As I said before, the 1998 results were treated as a big upset. But if you looked at the polls it wasn't at all. The generic polls and those of individual races were really quite close to the mark. And at the end of the campaign they were switching over, if I remember correctly, into the Dems' column. The key was that everyone was so convinced that the Democrats were going to pay the price for Clinton's shenanigans that they found ways to argue themselves out of the what the polls were saying. Not just Republicans, but Democrats too. (See, it wasn't conservative media bias then either.)

The favored argument was that whatever the polls said, the massive turnout among aggrieved Christian-conservative whack-jobs would tip the scales in the Republicans' favor. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

And I think that's pretty much what happened this time too. Going into the weekend most people were pretty convinced that the Democrats were going to hold or pick up a few seats. That consensus in that direction was very strong. And since people didn't see an obvious reason for the late move in the Republicans' direction, they just ignored it.

The point, I think, is that group-think is often more powerful than actual data.

Is TPM down for the count because of the dreadful election news? No, just busy, busy, busy with an election wrap-up article. There is an update on the contest, though. From our initial run-through of all two-hundred-odd entries, not a single person got all the Senate contests right. Not a one. We won't even need to go into the percentages. It wasn't that no one predicted a GOP sweep. It was that no one saw a GOP sweep and Tim Johnson pulling it out in SD. More soon.

Ha! I told you Tim Johnson would win South Dakota! Okay, okay ... But I did tell you. Anyway, Democrats are right to be devastated and to a degree ashamed about these results. But there is a faint silver lining here. I think these results are actually bad for President Bush's reelection prospects in 2004. We'll be saying more about this ...

Well, that really could have gone better.

Let's be honest. On the Senate side, the Democrats lost basically every race that was even remotely losable. Not that much different on the governor side.

Not too much time for comment right now. But a few thoughts. There will be a lot of talk about poorly executed tactics in various races. And there does seem to have been a late wave for Republicans -- probably just enough to seal a number of contests, and quite likely related to the president's election swing. But I think the issue here isn't poor tactics so much as an over-emphasis on tactics in general. The Democrats have lots of long-term political and demographic trends in their favor. But they don't really have a politics, a vision, or a message -- or perhaps, better to say, the courage and imagination to get behind one. And I suspect that that is the underlying issue.

The reaction among professional Democrats is one of profound shock. And a lot of heads are going to roll over this. Starting at the DNC, moving on to the leadership on the Hill, and likely spreading out from there.

This clip off the AP Wire ...

Its operation riddled with errors, Voter News Service abandoned its state and national exit poll plans for Election Night, depriving media organizations of information to help analyze the vote.

The decision did not affect VNS' separate operation for counting the actual vote. VNS also hoped to have limited information from the exit poll surveys to give its members guidance in projecting winners for individual races.

Still, it was a major setback for VNS _ a consortium consisting of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and The Associated Press. VNS had completely rebuilt its system in response to the 2000 election, when television networks twice used its information to make wrong calls in the decisive Florida vote for the presidential election.

Maybe the VNS is toast? Florida and now this?

We're just going to have to call this real time news reportage. A number of different number sets are floating around. And the most consistent thing I'm hearing is that the VNS system has somehow broken down or that they themselves aren't trusting their numbers. More soon when I feel I have something I can confidently report ...

I have it on good authority that these are the first looks at where we're going tonight. A '+' means a Dem advantage ...

AR +18

CO +20

SD +2 or +4

MN +3

NH +6

MO -10

TX -10

GA -3

NC -4 or -6

You'll notice that in a few cases there's two possibilities. This reflects conflicting information I'm getting. But on balance the outlines seem clear so I'm passing them on. Bear in mind though, these are the earliest sounds. Just indicators...

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