Four years ago, Florida was the center of an election drama that delayed a final decision on the nation’s presidency.

This year, Charles E. Cook Jr. said he’s glad it didn’t happen again.

Cook, a political analyst, handicapper and commentator who spoke last week during a political forum at the National Association of Realtors conference in Orlando, Fla., said, “I’m absolutely ecstatic with this outcome.” He said it doesn’t matter to him who won the presidency – what matters is that there is a winner.

The Realtors association is a powerhouse in politics, with 1 million members, a firmly established lobbying arm, and one of the most giving political action committee networks in the nation. As of Oct. 25, the association’s Realtors Political Action Committee had contributed about $3.76 million to federal candidates in the past election cycle – about 52 percent of which went to Republicans and 48 percent of which went to Democrats.

The presidential election race was “wavering back and forth all the way along,” Cook said, but in the end it was a very solid victory for President George W. Bush and Republicans – particularly in the Senate, where Republicans picked up an additional four seats.

That’s the way it goes sometimes in elections, he said – it’s difficult to call most of the way through, but in the end there can be significant gains for one side or another. “Dominoes all fall one way or another – they don’t split down the middle,” he said.

“It was clear that voter turnout was going to go up,” Cook said, but the question prior to the election was whether this increased turnout would provide a bigger boost for John Kerry or for Bush. In Cook’s view, the turnout was just high enough to boost Bush, but any higher and it likely would have swung in Kerry’s favor.

Ironically, the Democratic Party hit a lot of the vote counts that they were looking for in many parts of the country, but the Republicans had a larger than expected turnout, and that nullified the projections.

As for Republicans’ surprising gains in the Senate, he said, some of the winners were “very good” and some were “very lucky.”

Gains for Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate could be short-lived, though, if history is any indication, Cook said. The mid-term election of a presidential administration’s second term in office has often spelled election disaster for the party in power, with numerous seats swinging the other way.

“Bad things happen to parties halfway through their second terms,” he said. A number of factors may contribute to this, he said, such as a lack of new ideas and energy, or the emergence of scandals.

With the presidential election, personality may have played a role in the outcome, Cook said. While presidential races “are not personality contests,” Cook said, “I think if (Kerry) had the personality of an ashtray, he absolutely could have won.” The Democratic Party “could’ve done something with this guy to warm him up,” Cook said. Also, the Democratic National Convention was not nearly as powerful as the Republican National Convention in carrying the party’s cause and rallying voters.

“Democrats need to do some soul-searching,” he said. Democrats got “absolutely hammered outside of metropolitan areas” in this election, even in places that typically have lukewarm support for the Democratic Party. Kerry’s Northeastern roots may have had some bearing on the outcome, too, Cook said, as voters may have perceived a geographic disconnect.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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