Finally, a swing voter story with substance. As regular readers of Campaign Desk know, we grab our mallets and play a round of “Whack-a-Mole” whenever anybody discovers a “decisive,” “new” voting pod.

Today, however, we raise our mallets in salute to James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times, who examines the real or imagined impact of some swing voters — the huge numbers of new voters who have registered to cast ballots November 2. Unlike all the other groups annointed by the pollsters and the gullible media, these swingers are just that — a moving target, he concludes, writing, “The registration of millions of new voters across the nation has raised the prospect of a surge of first-time voters on election day, but it remains hotly disputed whether their ballots will alter the outcome of the presidential election.”

The reason for the uncertainty? Many have declared themselves independents. Nobody knows how — or even if — they’ll actually vote. “[P]arty loyalties remain unknown in two critical Midwest swing states — Ohio and Wisconsin,” Rainey reports. Much of the new registration growth has occurred among youthful voters, and they don’t have the best track record of showing up to cast ballots.

“It has been a truism of US politics for generations that new and young voters tend to diminish in significance when it comes time to go to the polls,” reports Rainey. To make his point, he invokes the wisdom of veteran Democratic strategist James Carville who once quipped: “You know what they call a candidate who’s counting on a lot of new voters? A loser.”

While the media — and the campaigns of John Kerry and George Bush — of late have trumpeted the success of voter registration drives in critical states such as Florida, Ohio and Iowa, only a few reporters have looked beyond the sheer numbers to get a sense of what actually is happening out there.

Rainey takes a crack at identifying trends among the newbies. Will the popularity of John Stewart’s “Daily Show,” Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and musical tours such as Rock Against Bush appeal to the “entertainment part of the common brain,” as one observer believes? How will “cell-only” voters — whose views may not be reflected in polling data — eventually come down? Will the massive get-out-the-vote efforts be able to deliver them on Election Day?

Refreshingly, Rainey’s report doesn’t have any answers except for the obvious: These swing voters may actually live up to their advanced billing. They are independent.

Susan Q. Stranahan

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Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.