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Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 2004 / 3 Kislev, 5765

Bill Schneider

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The label that sank Kerry | Karl Rove is the toast of the town. President Bush called his political adviser "the architect" of his re-election victory. Democrat Jack Valenti described Rove as "a political genius." Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, called Rove "the master of the game." What did Rove do, exactly? Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., put it this way: "President Bush and Rove — let's face facts squarely — were very concerned with 4 million votes they left behind in 2000. They didn't leave them behind this time."

Specter was talking about evangelical Christians. For four years, Rove has lamented the fact that evangelicals didn't show up in expected numbers in 2000, possibly because of the late-breaking story of Bush's drunk-driving arrest. As president, Bush reached out to Christian conservatives by taking strong, clear positions in opposition to abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage. Rove reached out to them with an army of volunteers. "We have 1.4 million this time," Rove said, compared with "the low several hundreds" four years ago.

Democrats see a stealth army of evangelical voters, organized below the media's radar, that pulled a surprise attack on Election Day and overwhelmed them at the polls. Didn't network exit polls show "moral values" as the No. 1 issue of concern to voters this year?

Yes, but the 22 percent who cited moral values didn't exactly dominate the electorate. They stood out because the voters were otherwise so divided on the issues. The 47 percent who cited the economy, Iraq, health care, or education strongly favored John Kerry. Bush's issues — terrorism, moral values, and taxes — were cited by a total of 46 percent.

Evangelicals did vote in large numbers, and they went nearly 4-to-1 for Bush. Rove's strategy of rallying the party's conservative base worked. But that's not the whole story of this election. Most voters on November 2 — 55 percent, about the same as in 2000 — thought that abortion should remain legal in all or most cases. Sixty percent favored legal recognition of same-sex relationships. The voters this year were not any more religious than in the past. Four years ago, 42 percent of voters said they went to religious services once a week or more. This year? Forty-one percent.

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Were religious voters more for Bush? In 2000, Bush carried 59 percent of the vote among churchgoers. This year? Sixty-one percent, a mere 2-point gain. Compare non-churchgoers. Their support for Bush went from 41 to 44 percent, a 3-point gain.

Issues like abortion, gay rights, and stem-cell research are some of the most divisive issues among the electorate. So it's easy to read Rove's strategy as "divide and conquer." But that's not what happened.

Rove's GOP critics were fearful that a sharp-edged campaign to rally the conservative base would end up alienating moderate voters. But as Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman told the Washington Post, the campaign advisers were confident that they could simultaneously "reach out to and expand the base and expand support among ticket-splitting swing voters." That's what happened.

Rove's achievement was not to energize the party's conservative base. It was to do so without alienating moderates. From 2000 to 2004, Bush's support held steady among moderates and independents. He made impressive gains among married women, Hispanics, and Catholics — despite the fact that his challenger was Catholic. Bush had something going for him besides religion and hard-edged conservative values. When asked what mattered most to them in deciding how to vote, Bush voters put strong leadership and clear stands on the issues at the top of the list. Strong religious faith came fourth.

That was Rove's doing, too.

For eight months, the Bush campaign kept up a relentless attack on Kerry as a flip-flopper. It started on March 3, when Bush said, "Senator Kerry has been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue." It ended at midnight the night before the election. At his final campaign rally in Dallas, Bush recounted Kerry's vote against funding for the troops in Iraq. "And then he entered the flip-flop hall of fame," Bush said. "And as he entered that hall of fame, he said, 'I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.'"

The voters got the message. On Election Day, most voters described Kerry not as a man who says what he believes, but as a man who says what he thinks people want to hear (56 to 40 percent).

In an attempt to win this election, Kerry worked to sell himself as a uniter. "I will be a president who unites our country," he said at rally after rally. Kerry knew that voters wanted a candidate who could deliver what Bush promised in 2000 — "America is looking for a uniter, not a divider."

But it is difficult for people to see you as a uniter if they see you as wavering and inconsistent. That was the image Rove worked hard to create in full view of the media's radar.

Think of candidates who are known uniters: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who won re-election with a huge majority; and GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who received a 69 percent approval rating from the same California voters who went solidly for Kerry. Nobody has ever called McCain or Schwarzenegger a flip-flopper.

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11/11/04:: Exploiting the rifts
10/21/04:: Creating Problems for Bush
10/12/04:: When polls collide
09/24/04:: Putin's power grab
09/22/04:: Scare tactics
09/14/04:: Packaging the Bush Doctrine
08/24/04:: Which way do you cut it?
05/02/03:: Dems are more partisan than ever
03/19/03:: Feeling all alone
03/11/03:: Hussein and hope
02/13/03:: Leadership and legitimacy
01/14/03:: Dems can't afford to be bold
01/08/03:: How Bush will reclaim suburban swing voters: The evolution of a political party
12/19/02: Why Gore dropped out --- he never grasped one of politics' most important lessons
12/12/02: The emerging 'tough Democrat'?
12/06/02: Hispanic voting surprises
11/08/02: "President select" no longer: What have the Dems learned?
10/31/02: Can a party without a message or a messenger still win?
10/24/02: Fright Night may come twice this year!
09/24/02: The politically loaded question: "Why now?''
09/19/02: Pundits in the crosswinds
09/10/02: Has Bush lost his momentum?
09/04/02: Bush's European problem
08/13/02: Overdosing on prescription drug promises
08/06/02: The Dems' secret weapon
08/01/02: Time for prez to let Cheney go
07/30/02: GOPers, feeling scared, get realistic
07/18/02: Soccer Moms, say hello to NASCAR Dads
07/11/02: Israel via Alabama
06/20/02: Does the solution fit the problem?
06/13/02: Triggering unintended consequences
06/11/02: Democracy won, the president is saying to our enemies. You got a problem with that?
06/06/02: White House warnings were effective tactical move
05/23/02: Giving the Dems an education on education
05/16/02: Power to the swing voters
04/23/02: The secret formula
04/09/02: Politics Remain Stalemated
03/31/02: Values and gas mileage?
03/25/02: Truly oppressed minorities
03/14/02: Reciprocal hostility
03/07/02: Bush's prudence
02/28/02: Is the 'clash of civilizations' becoming a political reality?
02/28/02: 'Cowboy' or not, Bush has the 'axis of evil' running scared
02/20/02: Could it be that the era of Big Government really is over?
01/31/02: 'Daddy issues' grab center stage
01/15/02: And, they're off
01/09/02: Three 'War Stars' are born
01/04/02: California cluelessness?
12/17/01: Congress' life or death issue
11/27/01: Our reinvigorated spendthrift Congress
11/27/01: Out of War, Peace?
11/14/01: The other war --- the one for public opinion
11/09/01: The mayor of New Yawk and the King of the World
11/07/01: An insurance policy on America
11/02/01: A nation of defiant optimists
10/30/01: Has Bush has flip-flopped on 'nation-building'?
10/23/01: The new political world
10/16/01: The return of big government
10/08/01: On political war
10/01/01: The "born-again" president
09/25/01: Making America squirm
09/14/01: The American spirit will not wane
09/10/01: What Dubya knows about the budget
08/13/01: Japan becomes the latest country to see its politics become personalized
08/09/01: Bush backers out to remake prez yet again
07/30/01: Will the GOP's mandate of 1994 finally runs out?
07/23/01: Both political parties are full of ....
07/16/01: Empowered moderate Republicans
07/09/01: As goes New Jersey, so goes the nation?
07/02/01: Dubya: Like father, like son?
06/15/01: The new soccer moms
06/05/01: Deals or deadlock?
05/29/01: The War Between the States is heating up again
05/21/01: The answer is men
05/10/01: Bush v. Carter?


© 2002, William Schneider