In what may be the clearest sign yet of Republican hopelesssness in Ohio, local party officials have begun laying the groundwork to allege that Democrats are stealing the election from them.
All day long, national Republicans have been trying to dance a tricky sort of two-step on voting problems: They've been dismissing talk of election irregularities as Democratic conspiracy theories while simultaneously building a foundation to complain about problems if they lose.
On Air Force One earlier today, White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that he hopes "any and all voter fraud in any way is detected and dealt with before Election Day," but he warned in the same breath that Democrats might try to "manufacture complaints" like he says they did in 2004. Appearing on Rush Limbaugh's show this morning, RNC chairman Ken Mehlman claimed that Republican-heavy precincts in New Mexico have run out of ballots and that there have been "irregularities" in "out-state counties" of Pennsylvania, but also warned at the same time that Democrats are "always crying wolf" about election problems.
In Ohio, by contrast, the Republicans seem to be pretty certain about which side of the issue they'll want to be arguing later tonight. In a press release distributed within the last hour, the Ohio GOP says that Republican voters are "reporting widespread problems with Democrat intimidation and suppression tactics at polling locations statewide." Among the GOP allegations: Republican voters have been "harassed" by Democrat activists as they entered voting locations; Democratic poll observers are "illegally trying to assist and communicate with voters" casting ballots; and "some Republicans" have been told by "Democrat poll workers" that they can't vote because of "identification discrepancies."
John McClelland, communications director for the Ohio Republican Party, tells us that he's "not surprised" by the reports he's hearing. "Unfortunately, this is the way [the Democrats] operate," he says. "They have a history of doing this type of thing, or at least of trying to stretch the rules as far as they can." McClelland says he's not aware of any GOP legal challenges -- yet. "Sometimes they don't tell me about those things until they actually happen," he said.
We'll be watching over the next few hours to see if Republicans push the stolen-election story beyond the Ohio. With pretty much everyone expecting the GOP to lose a Senate seat and the governor's office in the Buckeye State, there's not much risk for Republicans in raising the voter-fraud flag there now. If they start making the argument elsewhere, it may be a sign that the Republicans know they're about to go under a Democratic wave.
Democrats in the nation's capital, meanwhile, seem awfully confident that they're going to be arguing that tonight's results are legit. Although Democrats in Colorado are raising allegations of anti-Latino intimidation efforts there, Democratic poll watchers in Washington are saying that the "sporadic" problems they've been seeing "have overwhelmingly been resolved, and voting has continued successfully." The message continues: "DNC voter protection operations in the states are responding to voter concerns and continue to look into problems. But up to now, things look good for voters, and they should continue to go out to vote with confidence in the overwhelming majority of the country."