Before Tuesday's election, political scientist Larry J. Sabato had just one question for readers of his "Crystal Ball" online newsletter.
"When has an incumbent ever won when he is tied with his challenger on election eve?" wrote Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "The answer is never. ... So George W. Bush needs to beat history, and the polls, to win the election."
Yesterday, the day after Bush did just that to win a second term, Sabato acknowledged that this campaign has undermined some of the tenets that have governed modern political thinking -- and suggested some new ones.
"This is not an election that changed all the fundamentals of politics," Sabato said. "It's one that's added to our knowledge."
Among the political truisms he and others say have to be rethought or modified after Tuesday are:
An incumbent who isn't ahead by election day is dead in the water.
As Sabato noted in his newsletter, Bush was dead even in some polls and in a statistical tie in a handful of others. Yet he won a second term 51 percent to 48 percent.
Sabato said the election "gives us additional insight into the strength of parties and incumbency in times of war."
A corollary to the proposition may also have to be rewritten.
"Certainly the belief that undecideds break against the incumbent will be changed, at least at the presidential level," Sabato said.
It's the economy, stupid
That quip by James Carville -- who masterminded Bill Clinton's defeat of Bush's father, George Bush, a dozen years ago -- memorialized the notion that pocketbook issues are paramount to voters.
Kerry tried to follow the Carville playbook, hitting hard on the 200,000 manufacturing jobs lost in Ohio and pointing out that Bush was the first president since Herbert Hoover to see a net loss of jobs during his tenure. He narrowly lost the state -- and with it, the election.
But the key may be how troubled the economy is and how many people are experiencing financial problems.
In exit polls on Election Day, the economy wasn't most voters' choice when asked about their main concern; "moral values" was. And those who felt that way backed Bush over Kerry by better than 4 to 1.
Ray Fair, a Yale University economist, had predicted last week that Bush would get nearly 58 percent of the vote, based on a model that took into account relatively good overall economic growth and modest inflation.
In a "postmortem" on his Web site yesterday, Fair wrote, "There are many reasons one can think of why Bush did not do better. ... My personal view is that were it not for Iraq, Bush would have come close to the equation's prediction."
Michael P. McDonald, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and an assistant professor at George Mason University, came to the same conclusion from a different direction.
"If the economy hadn't been as bad as it was, Ohio wouldn't have been as close as it was," he said.
High turnout benefits Democrats.
Because Democrats tend to be less reliable voters than Republicans, conventional wisdom has been that a surge in voters is more likely to come from Democrats who have been motivated to go to the polls.
On Tuesday, roughly 114 million people voted, the highest number in history and an increase of about 9 million from 2000. And that's before the absentee, overseas and provisional ballots are counted, which most analysts say could add a couple of million.
That would translate into about 58 percent of eligible voters, up from 2000 but probably a little shy of 1992.
So why didn't the Democrats do better?
One answer is that turnout didn't reach the 120 million or more that was at the upper end of many optimistic predictions.
In his "Crystal Ball" newsletter posted Monday, for example, Sabato wrote that Bush would have the edge if the turnout was 115 million to 117 million. But "if turnout truly skyrockets ... Kerry will pull the upset."
Lynn Vavreck, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the lower numbers tapped into what she called the "marginal nonvoters," who might go to the polls periodically, but not the "average nonvoters," who are turned off by the process and happy to be nonparticipants.
She said the "marginal nonvoters" probably split 50-50 for Bush and Kerry.
Democrats are better at getting out the vote, and Republicans are better at raising money
Bush, who lost the popular vote by 500,000 to Al Gore in 2000, got 8 million more votes this time around than he did four years ago. According to exit polls, he won among weekly churchgoers, white men and voters whose family incomes are over $50,000,
"The Republicans managed to turn out their base just as much as the Democrats, if not more," McDonald said.
The Democrats had trouble holding on to their base. Bush made gains from four years ago among women, Latinos, Catholics, Jews and urban voters, though he didn't win a majority of any of those groups.
This, despite the fact that the Democrats had more money to spend than the GOP.
"The Democrats out-raised Republicans in this campaign, when you count groups like MoveOn.org," Sabato said.
Geography may be destiny.
McDonald said he noticed a phenomenon in his home state of Virginia, which Bush won by 8 percentage points.
Fairfax County, an older suburb of Washington that went for Bush in 2000, went overwhelmingly for Kerry, he said. But fast-growing Loudoun County, a nearby outer suburb, voted more Republican than the rest of the state.
"The Republicans may be moving out of the older suburbs," he said. "It seems the new suburbs are going more Republican."