My favorite last-minute campaign maneuver is probably more legend than fact, though there are some people who swear it is true. This was during the last days of a heated 1950 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Florida. George Smathers reportedly announced that while it gave him great pains to do so, he felt obligated to reveal that his opponent’s sister had been a thespian.
Worse, this behavior took place while she was matriculating at a well-known university. As for his opponent himself, the incumbent senator, well, he openly practiced nepotism with his own sister-in-law. And worst of all, there were reliable reports that before marriage, he was a known celibate. Naturally, Smathers won by a landslide.
But to be fair, he did campaign in the conventional way as well, by suggesting his opponent was also a Communist.
There have been a lot of last-minute Hail Mary passes since then. Sometimes, just as in football, they go sailing over the voters’ heads. But you never can tell. Towards the end of the 1968 campaign for president, Lyndon Johnson suddenly announced a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam. The idea was to inspire disgruntled Democrats to come out and cast a vote for Hubert Humphrey.
Indeed, it may almost have worked. The polls tightened, and Humphrey almost won. He was beaten by Richard Nixon, who told us that he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War.
As it turned out, the secret plan never existed. One of the most successful end game strategies was that used by Debbie Stabenow six years ago, when she was challenging incumbent Senator Spencer Abraham. He had far more campaign money.
But she carefully managed what she did have for TV, spent almost all of it in the last two weeks, when voters were paying attention, and came from behind to win a narrow victory.
Today, it seems to me it would be harder to pull off a November surprise. We the people have been saturated with this campaign for months. Every voter with a TV has to know by now that Dick DeVos spends every minute plotting to send Michigan‘s last few jobs to China. And Jennifer Granholm is the architect of a one-state recession that has impoverished Michigan. And if we reelect her, she has fiendishly vowed to “blow us all away.”
After that, it would take a lot to rattle us. These days, nearly all our candidates are guilty of serial matriculation at multiple universities, though nepotism is more or less illegal. Celibacy seems out of style too. But some things never change.
Years ago, another legendary senator said he had his race in the bag unless he were to be caught with a dead woman or a live boy. Well, we’ve had a version of that this year too.
We’ll see what the voters make of all this four days from now.