It's tempting to begin taking the likelihood of Obama's victory just a bit for granted. The polls look good. McCain and Palin are flailing, and Ted Stevens is headed for jail. The Republicans have started their blame game.
But it's dangerous to assume that the election is over, or to settle for a narrow margin. Here are four reasons to keep doing all we can to keep working (and get our procrastinating friends to finally donate and volunteer) so we can create broadest possible mandate for Obama and his Democratic allies.
A MANDATE FOR CHANGE: It matters hugely whether Obama wins. It also matters whether he wins by one percent or eight percent, and by 5 electoral votes or 105. Because the crises our country faces are too grave for tinkering around the edges, we're going to need major legislation or action on a host of critical issues, from the economy to health care, Iraq and global climate change. Republicans are going to resist most of these initiatives, so the more votes Obama has, the more leverage he has to argue that his election represents a mandate and convince the wavering couple of swing Senators he'll may need that if they don't respond, they could lose their seats next round. And of course the more House and Senate seats the Democrats can take, the more ability they'll have to overcome Republican filibusters and pass the most progressive possible versions of key legislation. The wider the margin in all of these cases, the more Obama can deal with America's multitude of unaddressed festering crises.
But we can't take even a narrow victory for granted, for three reasons. And since the actions we need to take are the same as to increase the Democratic mandate, it's wisest to assume a neck-and-neck race where a few hundred votes could determine the outcome, as they did in Florida and New Mexico in 2000, and in a 129-vote Washington State governor's race in 2004. Here's why we need to work for the widest possible margin of victory:
VOTER SUPPRESSION: Though they've hit some setbacks, Republican Secretaries of State and officials in state after key state are doing their best to eliminate as many newly registered voters from the rolls as possible. They're purging them for administrative typos (like misspelled names), for not checking redundant boxes, and for failing to respond to registered letters from the local Republican party. They're implementing restrictive ID rules and stirring up alarm about non-existent fraudulent voters. Since we don't know how many voters they'll succeed in deleting or deterring, we need to turn out as many Democratic supporters to the polls as possible, and arm them with the best possible information to ensure their vote will count.
A VOLATILE ELECTORATE: Palin may be dissuading moderates and independents, but she's still turning out a sizable Republican base. Obama's base is larger, but his margin lies primarily in the record numbers of new voters who support him, particularly young, African American, and Latino voters. Because they're unused to turning out at the polls, their participation is more uncertain. The more we remind them and help them navigate the obstacles, the more likely they'll turn out.
OCTOBER SURPRISES: There's still the possibility of Republicans conjuring up a last minute pseudo crisis to stoke the fears of the electorate. They've done that before, manufacturing last minute Soviet threats, Al Qaida threats, even Nicaraguan threats, that melt away the moment the votes are in. Al Qaida has recently come out saying they'd prefer a McCain presidency--there's even some chance they could launch a terrorist attack in support of that end. And of course there's the Bush administration helicopter attack that killed eight people in Syria--had Syria retaliated in kind, we might have had a major Middle East confrontation. That doesn't count the remaining barrage of attack ads, with the chance that some might unexpectedly work. We can avoid all this by working to turn out voters now, particularly with early voting and widespread mail voting, and then continue to do so until the final polls close..
Our grassroots efforts really do matter. I've seen my own help tip Senate and Gubernatorial races of astoundingly small margins. But to help create the maximum possible political shifts, we all have to do our part.
History doesn't stop on November 4th. We'll need to continue working to push the Senate and Congress and push Obama to do all that's needed for our country. The more we do now, the more favorable the likely political landscape from that point forward.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly, email email@example.com with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles