By Thanksgiving, the notion that moral value voters elected President Bush had played out. As more experienced experts looked at the election, it seemed to fit the recognizable pattern of past re-elections of semi-popular incumbents.
The notion that Americans elected George Bush isn’t a cop-out or an expression of sentimental faith in democracy. It is a serious explanation of what happened. And it can be stated very simply.
George Bush, the loser of the popular vote in 2000, improved his standing with every voting group except four: African-Americans, the very old, the very young and the LGBT community. This general boost in popularity is common with incumbent presidents. But Bush had no runaway victory. In the end, the president only carried two states that he lost last time.
In terms of percentages, it was the closest race ever won by a re-elected president. The difference was only 2.9 percent—51-48.1 percent. Even Woodrow Wilson in 1916 running as a peace candidate — “he kept us out of war” — won re-election by 3.1 percent.
Nonetheless, the Republican popularity in the small states is worrisome. It gives them a major advantage in the Electoral College. Every state, regardless of population, is given two electoral votes and two seats in the United States Senate. Conceding the small states can mean conceding the presidency and conceding control of the Senate.
The initial mantra that Bush won because of gay marriage is fading, but not before it has done damage. The initial belief congealed all too quickly into conventional wisdom – that the anti-gay marriage anti-abortion vote won the election for George Bush. We now know that isn’t true. Virtually everybody voted for him.
Gay marriage did not push Bush over the top. The American voters by a clear, but slight margin, preferred Bush to John Kerry, and no single issue provided that margin. But the Republicans know how to drive the Democrats crazy, and by claiming moral values are the decisive issues, they scapegoat the gay community. After all, creating dissension among the Democrats works to the Republicans’ advantage.
By Thanksgiving, it had become clear that the Democrats can still win in 2008. The Republicans in Congress offended independent voters by saying Tom DeLay could stay on in his Congressional leadership post even if he is indicted. Clearly, the GOP still has the ability to shoot itself in the foot.
After a president is re-elected — his party does badly four years later. Since 1952, there have been six elections after the re-election of a president, reports Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times: “The candidate from the incumbent’s party has fallen short of the reelection numbers by an average of 207 electoral college votes and 8.4 percentage points in the popular vote.”
In short, the Democrats can win in 2008, if they expand their campaigns into the Bush red states. Bush wins a major advantage by having so many small states’ support. He gains control of the Senate, and these two votes in the Electoral College go for the GOP.
Bush won 31 States. Twenty of these states are home to only 13 percent of the population in the United States, but this small base gives him 40 additional electoral votes independent of the states population. Bush beat Kerry by 34 electoral 286 to 252. The Democrats can not let the Republicans dominate in the small states; it gives them too great an advantage in the Electoral College.
But in all likelihood, it means four years from now the Democrats cannot nominate another candidate from the Northeast. They need someone with appeal in rural areas and smaller cities.
Perhaps the Democrats should run ministers and left-wing religious folk for Congress. Each Congressional race serves a double purpose. It also recruits ground troops to help in the next presidential election. The experience of using college students and city folk for door-to-door work was received poorly this year. The face-to-face work requires people who live in the community where they vote. Congressional races allows national organizations to recruit these activists.
This is especially obvious in the fastest growing counties. Ninety-seven counties gave President Bush a “punishing 1.72 million vote-advantage over Democrat John F. Kerry,” according to research by the Los Angeles Times. These are the fastest growing counties in the United States, and they voted for the GOP by overwhelming margins. They were also uncontested by Democrats because they were in the red states. This mistake cannot be made again. Democrats must push their fight into red states or have Republicans bring their troops into our states and deplete our resources in our areas of strength.
Moreover, the fastest-growing counties consist heavily of young families in their first home. If, as most people expect, interest goes up during the next four years, these families are going to experience hardship. Here’s hoping the Democrats have messages, they want to hear about mortgage payments.
The message that will work requires testing and congressional races are an excellent place to unveil new campaign themes. Here’s hoping the Democrats renew the campaign in 2006.