liberals freaking out about possible Obama loss

Monday , October 29, 2012 - 11:35 AM

Joe Garofoli

SAN FRANCISCO — Some liberals are so freaked out about the prospect of President Barack Obama losing his re-election bid that they can’t sleep at night. Can’t talk about anything else. Can’t stop parsing the latest polls.

David Plouffe, one of Obama’s top campaign strategists, has a word for supporters he feels are needlessly fretful: bed wetters.

"Oh, I think I’m worse than that," Kay Edelman said.

For the past several weeks, the 60-year-old San Francisco resident has frequently bolted awake in the middle of the night, in "a panic attack," she said. She darts for her computer and checks the latest polls. Some days she’s so distraught that she can’t exercise.

Every morning, the retired educational administrator gets emails from friends who’ve been just as sleepless. Most are so tense, they can croak out only a few words. "Very anxious." "Worried."

In this most unpredictable of campaigns, an emotional role reversal is happening in California. Republicans, who hold no statewide offices and are only 30 percent of registered voters, are more upbeat and enthusiastic.

Liberals, on the other hand, keep checking the polls.

It’s unlikely that even Republican Mitt Romney’s immediate family members think he’ll win California. But a Public Policy Institute of California survey released last week shows that while Obama holds a 12-point lead among likely California voters, 70 percent of Republican voters in the state were more enthusiastic than usual about voting -- a greater proportion than the 61 percent of Democrats who were more enthused.

For liberals, part of the problem is that neither of the presidential campaigns is active in California, conceding the state to Obama.

"We’re seeing these polls and reading about all these ads, and hearing about all of these undecided voters that are in other states, but we feel that we can’t do anything about it," said Pat Reilly, a longtime press spokeswoman for national and California organizations and politicians who lives in Berkeley. "You feel like you’re part of a fight, but you can’t see your opponent."

Like many liberals, Edelman pins the increase in her angst to the first presidential debate, in Denver. That was the performance where Obama joked later that he "felt really well rested after the nice, long nap I had in the first debate."

Edelman hosted a bunch of friends to watch the debate over dinner. But after the first five minutes unfolded, nobody ate. Few spoke. "And right after it ended, everybody just got up and left," she said.

During that debate, Berkeley resident Jim Blume found himself yelling at Obama, via the television, to "say something." And for the next two nights, Blume didn’t sleep. A man who has voted for only one Republican in his life -- when the Beatles were touring -- found himself questioning Obama and the state of the campaign.

"What was happening? Who was this guy?" Blume asked.

Only one person has been able to calm these and many other nervous Democrats: Pollster Nate Silver, creator of the New York Times’ FiveThirtyEight blog. Many anxious liberals check him daily. At least.

Silver, who correctly predicted 49 of the 50 states in the 2008 election, frequently updates the probability of which candidate will win the presidency. As of Friday, Silver predicted that Obama had a 74 percent chance of winning.

"After I read Nate Silver the other day, I felt better," Blume said.

(Reach Joe Garofoli at jgarofolisfchronicle.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com)

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