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2010 Watch: Fluidity in Elections

The future in politics is never certain.

10:11 AM, Feb 19, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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It wasn't until early summer 1994 that some conservatives began to realize the Republicans could take over Congress. Nor did conventional wisdom heed these conservative's warnings; when the Republican Revolution happened, blind-sided liberals wrote it off as a "temper tantrum," the dawn of the "Angry White Male," an attitudinal protest without ideological merit. Hindsight is perfect. Now, with another anti-incumbent, anti-liberal wave forming off the coast, the professionals already are warning that another Republican takeover could occur.

But of course no one has any idea what will happen. I mentioned yesterday that the two events which sent Clinton's liberal period into a tailspin did not take place until August and September 1994. What we think will dominate a campaign in the winter and spring often turns out to be completely irrelevant by Election Day. Remember that 2008 was supposed to be about Iraq -- before it was about Lehman Bros. and the economy. Remember that Bush tried to change the subject in September 2006 to terrorist interrogation and detention -- before Mark Foley's hobbies doomed the GOP majority. Remember that 2002 was going to be about Enron -- before it was about homeland security and Iraq.

In 2000, George W. Bush's solid lead collapsed the weekend before the election when media broke the news of his 1976 DUI. Florida was the result. In 1998, Republicans were convinced that Clinton's transgressions would help them at the polls. Instead the public perception of GOP overreach helped the Democrats. The only recent election that followed a solid trend throughout the year was 2004. It was fought almost entirely on national security grounds. But it may be the exception that proves the rule.

In politics, ignorance rules. The "unknown unknowns" happen late, and they make all the difference. Which is why being a political junkie is so much fun.

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