Jewish World Review March 8, 2004 / 15 Adar, 5764
Kerry is no Gore
The Democratic Party is united behind Sen. John F. Kerry in his bid to oust
President Bush. But do Democrats support Kerry as enthusiastically as they
supported Al Gore four years ago? The evidence to date, though somewhat
ambiguous, suggests no.
It's hard to read much into the early primaries, because many of the states
which held contests while the nomination was still in doubt either didn't
have primaries four years ago, or held them after Gore had locked up the
But a comparison of the turnout for the Democratic primaries on "Super
Tuesday" this year with that of four years ago provides a rough measure of
relative enthusiasm. The situations now and then are analogous. Kerry
entered the primaries with a large lead over Sen. John Edwards, his last
major rival standing, but Edwards was still in the race. (He dropped out
the day afterwards.) Four years ago, Gore entered the Super Tuesday
primaries with a big lead over former Sen. Bill Bradley, who, like Edwards
this year, was making these primaries his last stand. (He dropped out two
Nine of the ten states which held contests on Super Tuesday this year held
primaries on Super Tuesday in 2000. In four of those states (Georgia, Ohio,
Massachusetts and Vermont) voter turnout was higher than it had been four
years before. But in five (California, Connecticut, Maryland, New York and
Rhode Island) turnout was lower.
The increase in turnout in Georgia, Ohio and Vermont was impressive. In
Georgia, 53.8 percent more people voted in the Democratic primary than four
years ago, and the turnout amounted to 60 percent of the votes cast in that
state for the Gore-Lieberman ticket in the general election. In Ohio,
turnout for the Democratic primary increased by 15.9 percent, and amounted
to 53.2 percent of the votes cast for the Democratic ticket in the fall. In
Vermont, turnout increased 33.3 percent, and amounted to 49.7 percent of
Democratic general election vote.
In Massachusetts, turnout was up 5 percent, and amounted to 37.2 percent of
the Democratic general election vote, an increase that would seem somewhat
disappointing, since Massachusetts is Kerry's home state.
Turnout was down just a little in California (-2.1 percent), but was off a
whole bunch in New York (-33.4 percent), Rhode Island (-29.6 percent),
Connecticut (-28.5 percent) and Maryland (-13 percent).
Turnout figured to be higher in Georgia and Ohio, because those states
permitted independents and Republicans to vote, while primaries in the
others were restricted to Democrats only.
Georgia and Ohio were also the states were Edwards campaigned the most and
did the best. Exit polls indicate Edwards won most of the votes of
independents and Republicans who voted in those primaries.
The large increase in and absolute size of the Democratic primary turnout in
Ohio could spell trouble for President Bush in a state he carried by less
than 4 percentage points. But that could depend on how much of Edwards'
crossover appeal can be transferred to Kerry. The Georgia vote means less
because the Democratic base is low in a state where Bush creamed Gore in
The vote in Vermont was largely a farewell gift to former Gov. Howard Dean,
who won the primary handily, and has zero implications for the fall.
One shouldn't read too much into differences in turnout from election to
election, because turnout in primaries is heavily influenced by local issues
which don't repeat. For instance, the decline in turnout in California
might have been much larger, were it not for the presence on the ballot this
year of three initiatives critical to the state's financial future.
However, the outcome of those initiatives may have a caution for Democrats.
The two backed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won handily, while
that supported by Democrats in the legislature went down in flames. It's
hard to imagine a scenario in which Kerry would lose California in the fall,
but he may have to work much harder for the Golden State's electoral votes
than Gore did.
The turnout comparisons do suggest that Bush is fortunate he'll be facing Kerry, and not Edwards, in November. The irony is that most of the Democrats who supported Kerry did so chiefly because they considered him the more electable.
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