Memo To: Robert D. Novak
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Remember 1980?
Thanks to your staff, I was provided a copy of your October 30, 1980, Evans-Novak Political Report, which appeared on the Thursday before election day. Of all the political experts, I think you and Rowlie had the best assessment of the election of Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter, but even I was shocked at how far off you were. You predicted an electoral college vote of Reagan 308 to Carter 230 and even then said you were not so sure, because “a larger-than-expected turnout could re-elect Carter.” When the votes were tallied, it was a Reagan landslide in the electoral college, 489 to 89, winning the popular vote by 43.9 million to Carter’s 35.5 million, another 7 million going to the other candidates. On the Senate races, you had it this way: “Barring an unexpected Reagan landslide -- or a series of unforeseen events -- a Republican takeover of the Senate seems out of the question. But modest Republican gains and a more conservative Senate seem in prospect.” The GOP needed a net gain of nine seats to get control of the Senate. You guys predicted only plus five. The net gain was 12!! The electorate made up its mind on that last weekend.
The “Great Debate,” which occurred a week earlier, in retrospect seems to have been decisive for Reagan, but at the time, it did not seem so clear. Here is how you reported it:
In many way, the Great Debate was a microcosm of the entire campaign, showcasing the assets and defects of both candidates. Early polling data shows RR to be the winner, based, we believe, on: 1) The perception of the challenger as the incumbent President’s equal; and 2) An unmistakably unattractive aura about the President. That is why, contrary to the prevailing opinion in both candidates’ camps, we have always felt that Mr. Carter had more to lose from a single one-on-one debate with Reagan than did the challenger. These additional points on the Debate: 1) The notion by some Carter insiders that the President would demolish RR in a one-on-one was clearly proven wrong. The Imperial Presidency syndrome? 2) JC’s realistic aim in the Debate -- as in the campaign -- was to mobilize the traditional Democratic constituency groups -- blacks, browns, labor, the aged, women -- and this was executed with JC’s typical doggedness. 3) This constituency tactic caused JC to be abrasive in the Debate, which collided with his attempt not to be mean, and made him appear as a somewhat crass political barterer while RR was appealing to a broader constituency. 4) In the course of his relentless war-and-peace theme, JC committed a gaucherie that might even be classified as a gaffe when he revealed that he sought out daughter Amy for advice on nuclear proliferation. 5) RR did not respond to briefing requests that he push hard on the economy and inflation -- still his great issues. 6) RR committed no major gaffes, contrary to the fears of his advisors, and betrayed no gaps of knowledge, although recalling the days when there was no racial problem in America called attention to his age and lack of interest in the black vote. However, we do not think the Democrats can capitalize much more on it. 7) In the dry run exercises, RR was urged to goad JC in order to get a flash of the famed Presidential temper. This is simply not the Reagan manner and, oddly, this failure may have contributed to RR’s victory in the polls. He was simply more pleasant. 8) In sum, RR ended up the winner by: a) Not committing major gaffes; b) Seeming as Presidential as JC; and c) Seeming a totally more congenial person.
In the Senate races, you had incumbent Alan Cranston [D-CA] a sure thing. He won. You had the Democrat winning in Alabama. He lost. You had Frank Murkowski, the Republican, winning a Democratic seat in Alaska. He did. You had Republican Paula Hawkins winning a seat from the Democrats in Florida. She did. You had the Democrat holding his seat in Georgia; Republican Mack Mattingly took it away from him. You had Steve Symms bringing down Democratic incumbent in Idaho, which he did. You had Democrat John Culver holding on to his Iowa seat against Republican Charles Grassley. He didn’t. You figured Warren Rudman, the New Hampshire attorney general, would knock off Sen. John Durkin, the Democrat, which he did. You thought Elizabeth Holzman, the Democrat, would beat Alphonse D’Amato, which of course she did not. You reckoned North Carolina Democrat Robert Morgan would hold his seat, but Republican John East took it from him. You thought the Democrat would hold the open seat in Oklahoma that his party had held, but a 31-year-old newcomer named Don Nickles took it away from him. You did see George McGovern losing to Republican James Abnor in South Dakota, which he did. And you saw Slade Gorton, the Republican, beating incumbent Warren Magnuson in the state of Washington. Finally, you thought Democrat Gaylord Nelson would hold his Wisconsin seat, but Bob Kasten took it from him.
When do we see your final calls for November 7? No kidding. We will run them here, at no charge!