Friday, January 18, 2008

Mother Nature And Democracy

Candidates spend months on the trail, trying to convince people to give them their vote. Who has the best organization, who is the best leader, who represents change, who has the endorsements, who has the momentum, who has the advertising, who has the ideas, who has the demographics....all factors in the ultimate outcome. I find it both humbling and quirky that in the final hour, the course of democracy isn't about the examples listed above, it can be trumped by a single force- mother nature.

In trying to decipher the pundit and poll meltdown in New Hampshire, the role of the weather may actually have been the deciding factor. Almost record highs, a meteorological oddity, translated to an exceptional turnout of older voters, which just so happened to back Clinton in a way that was never factored.

Tomorrow's Republican primary, by all accounts a close race, that could well determine the ultimate winner, is now at the mercy of nature:
Snow is forecast to fall Saturday as far south as Columbia, with accumulations up to 3 inches in northern parts of the state. Where it doesn't snow, a cold rain is expected. The bad weather could put a damper on turnout for the GOP primary, with first-time voters, senior citizens, independents and those still wavering staying home, according to political experts.

"It's not going to deter the party activists who will vote come fire or hail storm or 4 inches of snow," said Blease Graham, a University of South Carolina political scientist.

Any snow tends to bring South Carolina to a slow crawl at best. The state has little snow removal equipment and during a light snowfall earlier this week, some schools closed or delayed opening for two hours before the first flakes fell.

"We shut down in the South," said Julie Thompson a spokeswoman for Pickens County schools in the northwest corner of the state, which closed Thursday and opened late Friday after a couple of inches of snow fell. "Simply because it's such a rarity, citizens here are not accustomed to driving in those situations."

But the polls will stay open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. no matter how bad the weather gets, state Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said.

Low voter turnout could help former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, because his base is comprised of evangelical Christians, who could represent roughly a third of the voters in the primary, said Neal Thigpen, a Francis Marion University political scientist.

"Those folks will come out, it doesn't matter whether tornadoes are whipping out there," Thigpen said.

But wait, where the snow falls is equally important, it could favor McCain:
Up to two inches of snow is forecast to fall in the Upstate between midnight and 6 a.m. Saturday -- and some political observers already are saying that could help rival John McCain carry this state.

Snow, they say, would hurt turnout in the Upstate, where Huckabee has campaigned hard and has spent a lot of time reaching out to social conservatives. That means higher turnout would come from the coast, where clear skies are forecast and McCain has the strongest connection with voters.

"The snow could determine it," Robert Jeffrey, a political science professor at Wofford. "If the vote up here is suppressed in any way shape or form, it's going to hurt Huckabee."

There's a lesson in there. No matter the effort of men, their fate is always tied to the whims of the earth. Maybe it is as it should be. I guarantee, when the candidates wake in the morning, they won't speak with their "team", they'll urgently look out the window searching for their destiny.


Anonymous said...

McCain is backed by military men and women and their families. I dont think a litle snow will keep the military from voting.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:11,

The snow will not reach Columbia, Charleston, and Coastal Carolina where the military families and veterans are based. It hurts Huckabee and the mountain evangelicals which he will be dependent on.

Huckabee would have won if Giuliani somehow split the neo-con vote with McCain. Another state in which Rudy registers in the single digit. How can we take his campaign seriously?

Steve V said...

On Rudy. Can't win in the corn belt, can't win in the northeast, can't win in the industrial heartland, can't win in the south. But, just wait until Florida- the most confounding strategy I've seen.

There is another way to look at the weather forecasts. Evangelicals are considered "core" voters, more engaged than other demographics. If that holds true, then they will turnout, and early indications are those areas expecting snow had good early turnout, the rest of the state not so much, in McCain's stronghold the voting machines failed, people turned away, his campaign seeking an injuction to keep the polls open longer.