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10.27.08

A Chance for the Long Shots

At least in Hyde Park, there is optimism, growing less guarded by the hour, about a huge Obama victory—which, of course, will make the Windy City into the nation's de facto political clubhouse.

Nearly forty years ago, my home university, Princeton, instituted a break in classes for the week before Election Day so that students and faculty could leave campus and work for the candidates of their choice. One of the enduring reforms of ‘60s tumults, the fall break long ago lost touch with its original inspiration and now serves as a welcome bit of rest and relaxation before the foliage has completely turned.

The excitement of this year’s long and volatile campaign has revived the old spirit, and many colleagues and pupils of mine will be putting in their time doing whatever they can—98% percent of them for the Obama-Biden ticket. Yet ever since the onset of the financial catastrophe completely changed the presidential electoral calculus overwhelmingly in the Democrats’ favor, I’ve been more drawn to working in congressional campaigns where once certain outcomes now seem far less certain. And so this week, I’m headed for New Mexico, where a Democrat named Martin Heinrich, once a long shot, might well win a seat in the House.

Over drinks at one academic gathering, there was high-spirited talk of maybe three million Chicagoans assembling in Grant Park to celebrate on the Big Night.

I’ve already done my New Jersey service, giving some advice as well as money to a bright and spirited Democratic newcomer—and, as it happens, a fellow American historian—Joshua Zeitz, who is trying to unseat a 14-term G.O.P. incumbent, Chris Smith. Just as I was packing my bags, a scandal began to break: Smith (who spends most of his time in Virginia and hardly any in central New Jersey) apparently obtained in-state college tuition for his children at UVA, which looks fishy. The national party took notice, major cash and media attention suddenly came Josh’s way—and, amid the Obama boom, it’s just possible that a prohibitive underdog will actually prevail.

I’ll have more on the New Mexico race once I arrive after a weekend’s stopover in Chicago. Here, at least in Hyde Park, there is optimism, growing less guarded by the hour, about a huge Obama victory—which, of course, will make the Windy City into the nation’s de facto political clubhouse. Over drinks at one academic gathering, there was high-spirited talk of maybe three million Chicagoans assembling in Grant Park to celebrate on the Big Night. Normally, Democrats—like Philadelphia Phillies fans—don’t talk this way, lest they tempt the fates. But for once, the Dems look even more like sure winners than the Phillies do—and the Phils, after winning big last night to go up three games to one in the World Series, aren’t looking too shabby.

But how will it play out in Albuquerque?