Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Why Michael Phelps Reminds Me of Senate Elections

Since NLT’s sports editor Pat Garrity seems to have gone on strike, I’ll have to pick up the slack. One of the most impressive aspects of Michael Phelps’ terrific tun in the pool in Beijing (aside from his 12,000 calorie-a-day diet--three fried egg sandwiches and a five-egg omelet for breakfast each day; that’s a man after my own heart attack) is how he wins the close ones. I assume everyone has seen the footage of the butterfly where he was clearly trailing in the last five meters but managed to get his hand to the finish line first anyway. That’s what happens when everything is clicking.

Senate races remind of this. We’ve seen four cycles over the last couple generations where most of the key senate races fell to one party or the other, even in cases where the other party should have won: 1980, 1986, 1994, and 2006. I’d predict another Democratic sweep this year except that Obama may have reverse coattails, as several commentators have suggested. It will be a good test of whether some voters consciously favor divided government, in which case three or four embattled GOP senators will hang on. Unless of course Obama collapses (not out of the question in my mind) and McCain breaks it open, in which case we’d have the paradoxical situation of a Democratic sweep in the senate races. All of which makes handicapping politics this year more peculiar than Olympic gymnastics scoring.

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