by Max Brantley
* ELECTION DAY: Today's the day, though early voting likely has pre-ordained the outcome in many local races (the 75,000 votes cast in Pulaski ought to be broad enough to establish a trend in all but the very tight races). Early voting was up about 17 percent in Arkansas, but we won't know until the end of the day if that reflects greater voting enthusiasm or greater vote time-shifting.
It is a big day not only for candidates but also for the people who make a living gauging public opinion. Nate Silver, the New York Times' number cruncher, puts Barack Obama as the heavy favorite to win the presidential election. The graphic above summarizes his assessment of the odds based on evaluation of a wide range of polls. Silver has infuriated Republicans for weeks now and they'll be loudly gleeful if he proves wrong. Other putatively scientifc information gatherers also indicate an Obama win, particularly in the electoral college, though the popular vote will be narrowly split. Science can't factor in vote suppression, however, and Republican efforts to hold down the vote in swing states will be immense.
A somewhat similar situation exists in the battle for partisan control of the Arkansas legislature. Republicans are confidently predicting — based on what they insist is honest polltaking district-by-district — a massive red tidal wave, with predictions as high as 70 Republican seats in the 100-member House and 25 in the 35-member Senate, both now narrowly in the hands of the Democratic Party. Democrats insist, though not very loudly and with noticeably declining enthusiasm, that they have a chance to hang on to a scant majority. The Republican tilt of independent voters demonstrated in the recent Arkansas Poll — driven at least in part by the use of Barack Obama to nationalize state politics — reinforces Republican optimism. If they are correct, they'll be cheering a delegation that includes two slavery apologists, perhaps a rebellious child executioner, a philandering violator of campaign finance law, a taxpayer-financed flouter of the U.S. Constitution, a reckless driver with no regard for the law and assorted tax and permit fee scofflaws, among other leading lights. All those foibles will have fallen, the prognosticators think, to dislike of the black president, helped by an unprecedented amount of spending by outside groups. If they are correct, this will not be a momentary course change in Arkansas politics, but one of significant duration. Republicans had an agenda and they executed a disciplined plan to achieve it. Democrats were, well, Democrats. Their disorganization and lack of predictability might be somewhat appealing in a world where each election and each issue is decided on its own merits. That political world no longer exists. It's all binary now.
Tonight, the Arkansas Times will have people checking the election night gatherings and I'll check in as I'm able. But I'll be on KARK-Channel 4 most of the evening, starting at 7 p.m., along with Bill Vickery, Clint Reed and Gabe Holmstrom. Lots of things to watch at every level, down to the county courthouse. I'm guessing there'll be some disconnect. Will the state legislature turn red — helped by the Koch Bros.' attack on Democratic legislators who put a highway tax proposal on the ballot that, in turn, will be approved by those same presumably tax-hating voters? Arkansas will join a solid South in repudiating the president. But if he remains president, what's the South to do? Secede?
* RUNAWAY FEDERAL SPENDING: This is looking like a happy night for that welfare-eligible low-level state employee from Paragould — the one with the state health insurance, the federal earned income and child care credits, ARKids and food stamps eligibility — who said at a Koch bus tour stop that he simply couldn't vote again for a Democrat and their party's runaway government spending. I wonder, too, how many will be voting Republican in that group of unhappy Arkansas River shippers and bass fishermen who are up in arms because the Corps of Engineers is reducing lock operations on the river to save money. I guess they'll all go to Republican Rep. Tim Griffin for some money to keep those locks open. Cut thee, not me.
* THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY: Outsiders' purchase of the Arkansas legislature is going to be accomplished by perhaps $2 or $3 million in spending, chump change for the Kochs and other deep pockets who fueled it. Someday, somebody is going to look at the out-of-control influence of big money and figure out a way to do something about it. Republicans might even have cause to reconsider because they could get gored, too. See California, where 20 people — some of them from the left side of the political spectrum — accounted for more than $250 million of the $372 million spent on ballot measures in that state.
* ELSEWHERE IN STATE GOVERNMENT: Mike Knoedl, the new director of Game and Fish, is already putting his stamp on the agency. He's reversed the combination 18 months ago of the education and communication divisions to make them separate again. Nancy Ledbetter is back in charge of communications.
* HUMAN RIGHTS: Another important issue is buried in election returns today. Four states will indicate their feelings on equal treatment under the law for gay people. Polls favor equal rights in each case. But the polls have invariably turned out wrong in past votes, in part thanks to scurrilous advertising. Frank Bruni talks about that today.
* ETHICS DENIED AGAIN: The attorney general has again rejected the form of a new and expanded Regnat Populus government ethics initiative. Presumably, Dustin McDaniel will eventually approve some form of this measure, though he hates it because it limits lobbyist hog-slopping for both the legislature and statewide officials, which he hopes to continue to be. No big deal except Regnat Populus, the ad hoc group pushing the idea, hoped to make a token showing at polls today with petitions for the new proposal to begin building awareness about it. There's been some scuttlebutt of late that some Republican legislators might make a stab at ethics legislation in the brave new legislative world. I'll believe that when I see it. Their last House leader, John Burris, opposed the measure circulated unsuccessfully for this year's ballot. He's one of several unemployed legislators. They often depend on the kindness of lobbyists for sustenance.
* ROBOBILL: Former President Bill Clinton has been robocalling the 1st Congressional District in behalf of Democratic nominee Scott Ellington. (Poor Ellington. Somehow, he got Rodney Dangerfielded in the election roundup in this morning's Democrat-Gazette. No mention, though third-party candidates were.)