Republicans are in full panic mode that McClintock will tilt the election to Bustamante.
Folks, it's over. Gray Davis is dead, burnt, ash of toast. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the new governor. And Tom McClintock is the new conservative hero.
Everybody had been focussed on the fact that two major Republicans are "splitting" their party's vote, thereby making it possible for Cruz Bustamante to win with a weak plurality. This is a very superficial, static analysis which is based on an improper application of historical results. Democrats are the dominant political party in California, so it seems logical that it would take a united Republican front to have even an outside chance of defeating the Democrat for Governor.
But this is the antithesis of a normal, historically-typical election. This is a "throw the bums out" election, and the people who vote are going to skew heavily anti-politician and anti-government. Let's look at what this means.
Around a million absentee ballots have been cast so far, and Republicans worry that the absentee votes cast for McClintock are lost forever, even if he were to suddenly withdraw from the race and throw his support to Schwarzenegger (which won't happen). True, but so what? Even in a normal election the early absentee ballots run more Republican and conservative than the election day voting. This election will accentuate that. The huge burst of absentee balloting is not coming from people who are eager to keep Gray Davis in office or who are fans of Cruz Bustamante. It is coming from people who can't wait to overturn the status quo.
So at 8:10 pm on October 7th, when the various county registrars release the early absentee vote counts, those numbers will show Davis going down by a huge margin. They will also show Schwarzenegger with a comfortable lead over Bustamante, and Tom McClintock with 10% to 15% of the vote.
In order for Davis or Bustamante to overcome that initial handicap, each would have to win in the election-day voting, and win by more than just the skins of their teeth. But if the election was close enough on election day for Bustamante to have a chance, then a large fraction of McClintock's supporters would hold their noses and vote for Arnold, which would easily put him over the top.
It's a lose-lose situation for both Davis and Bustamante. All those Republicans out there who have worked themselves into a state of shear terror have done so for nothing. As the results are reported on election night, we may see the percentage gap narrowing on the recall question and between Schwarzenegger and Bustamante, but the absolute margin of votes will continually increase. Even that might not be true; the percentage gap could also widen, and this could turn into a runaway landslide.
Indeed, if other polls in the coming few days mirror today's USAToday/CNN/Gallup poll, the pressure will abate for McClintock supporters to vote for Arnold to avoid Bustamante. If it seems certain that Arnold will win big, some of his reluctant conservative supporters may find it safe to swing back to Tom.
The news media needs conflict and it needs a story theme. If Davis' ouster and Arnold's victory is seen as a done deal, they'll have to turn elsewhere to find enough drama.
The surprise, last-minute election news frenzy may turn out out to be the question of whether Tom McClintock beats out Cruz Bustamante for second place.