At the eve of election day in the USA, it is worth looking at my initial observations and seeing how they stack up to three and a half months of campaigning.
On July 13, I wrote:
At this tentative stage, I put the presidency as marginally Bush, the Senate a Republican hold with an increased majority, the House of Representatives open but marginally Republican, and the Democrats to make no net gains in the governor stakes.
Given how close the election appears to be I am surprised to note that overall I consider that the Republican Party has improved its position since July.
The Presidential vote is going to hinge on which party has best organized a massive voter-registration campaign in the battleground states, although watch out for Colorado with the bizarre proposal to introduce proportional representation that if passed could give Bush 4 Electoral College votes (the proposition probably won't carry unless the Democrats have enough to support to win the state). It would be poetic justice if a blatant attempt to fix the electoral system by local Democrats caused the re-election of the Republican president.
Whoever wins, we can expect denunciations of fraud by the losers. From this side of the Atlantic the shambolic organization of electoral lists, of polling, and counting elections is astonishing. The behaviour of TV networks in declaring results (with errors, deliberate or otherwise) whilst voting is still going on is nothing less than a potential vehicle for fraud. Frankly, no ballots should be counted until all the polling stations have closed and all valid postal votes received. This means that postal ballots received after polling day have to be refused, and there is no doubt a constraint on those states that finish voting early to declare their results. That's just too bad. The alternative is a dirty mess that continue to feed accusations of bias and fraud.
Although the presidency will be determined by massive registration drives that may or may not involved ballot-rigging the picture in the other layers of American democracy is rather less murky.
As would be expected when one party has 19 Senate seats up for re-election, the Democrats have more to lose than to gain. Despite this, it seems likely that the Democrat candidates in Illinois and Alaska will be successful. Such joy in the Watergate building will be tempered by the loss of Georgia and real threats in both Carolinas, and Florida. As for Tom Daschle the Democrat leader in the Senate, he is staring at defeat in South Dakota against a strong Republican, former Congressman John R. Thune.
For neutral election watchers the biggest fun is to be had in Louisiana, a state where no Republican has ever won a Senate election. David Vitter has run an excellent campaign and is polling close to 50% against four Democrat candidates. Because of the particular election system in Louisiana, if Mr Vitter fails to secure an outright majority, he faces a run-off election against his closest Democrat rival. We could have not one but two nail-biters in Louisiana.
The main difference between my July analysis and tonight's is in the House of Representatives: because of boundary changes in Texas and an improvement in the national polls the Republicans look likely to gain Representatives rather than lose any.
So my gut tells me it's a toss-up between a re-run of 1996: Republicans hold both Houses of Congress by with a Democrat president, or the polls have done their usual job of missing the "silent majority" and its a 1988 Dukakis disaster for the Democrats. The Iowa Electronic Markets, reputed to be more accurate than opinion polls suggest that Bush will win over 51 per cent of the popular vote.
From a domestic policy point of view, a Democrat President with a Republican Congress would probably be about as acceptable to most Americans as any realistic available choice. I admit to being puzzled by polls that cite terrorism as the main problem, President Bush as by far the most publicly trusted candidate for dealing with it, but no clear leader in the race.
Sorry, but there's too much potential fraud and incompetence in Ohio and Florida to call this one right. In fact, I'm not sure I should trust any media call of any one of about 29 states until they have at least two thirds of the ballots physically counted.