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Jewish World Review July 8, 2003 / 8 Tamuz, 5763

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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A question of confidence

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A plausible scenario for the 2004 presidential election is beginning to emerge. It is set out in a recent memo by Republican pollster Bill McInturff titled "A Coming Bush Landslide in 2004?" McInturff's numbers are not much different from those in Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg's recent Democracy Corps memo titled "Hunting Season Is Here: A Time for Boldness." When a pollster calls for boldness, you know that he means that his side must turn opinion around. McInturff is careful to say that his scenario is not inevitable, just likely. Consumer confidence is high, and voters express warmer feelings toward Republicans than Democrats--a first since polling started in 1935. National security, a Bush issue, remains a paramount concern--and is likely to remain so through 2004.

The two parties have responded in different ways. Republicans in Washington are confident but aware that their majorities are small and conceivably vulnerable. They have passed a big tax cut, and both houses have passed Medicare/ prescription drug bills. Republicans around the country are united as they have not been since 1984 and are pouring record amounts of money into the Bush campaign. State-by-state and district-by-district analysis suggests that Republicans will probably win more seats in the Senate and House next year.

The Dean factor. Democrats have responded with a combination of depression and anger. They are haunted by the narrowness of their defeats in 2000 and 2002 and infuriated by the magnitude of the policy changes that have followed. Core Democrats, the 20 to 25 percent of the electorate who hate Bush and ooze contempt for him, are flocking to the banner of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who last week had a big lead in the Internet poll run by MoveOn.org. He claims to have raised an impressive $7.5 million in the second quarter. Dean says he does not regret opposing the Iraq war and said of Saddam Hussein's ouster, "I suppose that's a good thing." He got loud cheers at a meeting of Democratic state chairmen in St. Paul, Minn., June 20 when he lambasted Bush and predicted that by making a bold case against the president, Democrats could bring out enough new voters to win in 2004.

That sounds like fantasy. But it doesn't sound entirely like fantasy when Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, predicts he will win the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The caucuses are low-turnout events, and Trippi says that Dean has supporters not just in Iowa's university towns and affluent liberal neighborhoods, which Bill Bradley carried in 2000, but in the industrial and rural counties where Al Gore, with strong union support, shellacked Bradley. Dick Gephardt currently has big leads in Iowa polls and has good prospects for strong union support. But his steadfast support of the Iraq war will make him anathema to many core Democrats. Will the unions be able to turn out enough people to outnumber war opponents? If Trippi is right, Dean could get off to a roaring start, despite his frequent sloppiness with the facts and his ragged performance on Meet the Press June 22.

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That's just one scenario. The consensus has been that Gephardt wins Iowa January 19, John Kerry wins New Hampshire January 27, and they fight it out in the big states with any moderate candidate--Joseph Lieberman, John Edwards, Bob Graham--who comes out well in the southern and southwestern states February 3. National Chairman Terry McAuliffe says the nomination will be clinched by March 10 and surely hopes that Dean will not be dominating the dialogue.

But he could be. Core Democrats have an emotional investment in the idea that George W. Bush is an idiot; if conservatives believe they are conservative because they have more common sense than other people, liberals believe they are liberal because they are smarter than other people. At the heart of their hatred of Bush is snobbery. Gephardt, Lieberman, Graham, and Edwards don't exude this snobbery. Dean and Kerry do. This could give whichever of them survives New Hampshire an edge with core Democrats. The Democrats' problem is that at least 70 percent of voters do not share their contempt for Bush and find it off-putting. Outside a Bush fundraiser last week one protester's sign read, "France was right." That is not a winning slogan in an American election.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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©2002, Michael Barone