Still crazy after all these years.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 10 2006 12:52 PM

Still Crazy After All These Years

The nuttiest congressional district in America keeps its reputation intact.

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(Continued from Page 5)

Last month, the Miami Heraldtried to stir up similar anxieties on the right by pointing out that the third-largest manufacturer of U.S. voting machines is a Venezuelan company staked by the government of supreme Bush-hater Hugo Chávez. Palm Beach County, which wrecked the 2000 election with its infamous butterfly ballot, is using Venezuelan technology this time. For all we know, these machines could flash a subliminal devil next to Republican candidates and emit readings of Noam Chomsky in high-pitched tones only the subconscious could hear.

Alas, conservatives shrugged. While Democrats tend toward the latest in fashionable paranoias, right-wingers' taste in anxiety is more traditional. Conservatives worry about old-fashioned mainstays like the mainstream media. Even their helicopters still wear black.

Democrats aren't buying the Chávez conspiracy, either. We'd rather fear the devil we know than the devil-caller we don't know.

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Based on my own experience at the polls this morning, tonight we will find out that the real voting-machine conspiracy is to deprive a weary nation of much-needed sleep. There were only five people trying to vote in my D.C. precinct at 7:30 a.m., and two of them were my underage children. But election workers said the fancy new electronic machine was already broken, and it was clear the three of us might have to stand in line for hours. We decided to vote with a number-two pencil instead.

In a boon for conspiracy theorists, one state has courageously resisted the modern era and held onto its punch-card voting machines: Idaho, where 13 counties will be vying to ensure that Katherine Harris's memory outlasts even her mascara. In elections past, Idahoans counted votes only out of civic duty, not because the outcome was in doubt. But this year, the House and governor's races could be close enough to come down to a few hanging chads. The state's old slogan: "Idaho Is What America Was." New slogan: "Idaho Is What Florida Was."

While Diebold and Chávez vie to steal higher profile races in places like Ohio, Tennessee, and Virginia, vote counters in Idaho are as honest as the state is long and can't imagine why something as unappealing as a seat in Congress would be worth stealing, anyway. If Republicans keep the House and the Democrat wins Idaho's 1st Congressional District, we'll know the Diebold conspiracy is for real.

After the Republican candidate for governor in Florida snubbed the president yesterday, the poor, confused voters of Palm Beach may once again not figure out how to cast their anti-Bush votes. But if Hugo Chávez is elected governor of Florida, we'll have solid proof that the devil is in our midst. ... 12:35 P.M. (link)

Tsunami or Not Tsunami?: Perversely enough, the nearer we get to finding out the actual election results, the more we obsess about the latest poll results—and as today wears on, the more we will wish we had exit-poll results we know will get it all wrong. In the same way, the closer we come to that blessed moment at 8 p.m. PST when we can put these campaigns behind us and once again watch TV in peace, the more we think each late-breaking campaign tactic matters, even though a few hours from now we'll find out in almost every race all those tactics didn't.

The spin we hear from all sides in the closing days of a campaign is like a bad poll that oversamples two demographic groups: people who have no idea what's going to happen, and people who wouldn't tell you if they did.

In recent weeks, one of Karl Rove's last sustaining hopes has been that unlike Democrats in 1994, Republicans in 2006 had a chance to prepare because they could see the tsunami coming. Whatever tonight's results, the GOP's preparation spin is wrong on two counts: That's not what cost Democrats in 1994, and it hasn't done the GOP much good in 2006.

To be sure, even now, many Democrats can't believe Republicans took Congress in 1994. On Sunday, David Broder passed along the recollections of Leon Panetta, the former congressman who was President Clinton's chief of staff in 1994:

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