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Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 2000 / 3 Teves, 5761

John H. Fund

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Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's -- THIS YEAR'S presidential election was the closest since 1976, when Jimmy Carter reclaimed the White House for the Democrats in a 50% to 48% squeaker. In both elections the Republican candidate won almost exactly 48% of the popular vote. One big difference was that Eugene McCarthy, the 1976 liberal protest candidate, won only 0.7% of the nationwide vote while Ralph Nader, who was on the ballot in many more states than Mr. McCarthy, won 2.7% nationally and enough votes to tip Florida and New Hampshire--and thus the election--to Mr. Bush.

But there are other big differences that not only explain why Mr. Ford lost and Mr. Bush won, but also provide clues to where each party will find its base voters in future close elections.

Two regions of the country have essentially flipped allegiances over the years. The Northeast, once such a bastion of Republican strength that it delivered Herbert Hoover's only electoral votes in 1932, has become the base camp for any Democratic candidate's march to the White House. Even Mr. Ford, in his losing effort in 1976, carried Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont.

This year, for the third election in a row the Northeast has delivered a solid 115 electoral votes--43% of a 270-vote majority--to the Democratic candidate. Only one Northeastern state, New Hampshire, went for Mr. Bush, and narrowly--and even the Granite State went twice for Bill Clinton.

In some Northeastern states the trend toward Democrats has been huge. Mr. Ford lost New York by less than four percentage points in 1976, despite his rejection of a federal bailout for insolvent New York City, which led to the famous Daily News Headline "Ford to City: Drop Dead." Mr. McCarthy remarked that he might have swung the election to Mr. Ford if he'd been allowed on New York's ballot.

This year, by contrast, President-elect Bush lost New York by a stunning 25 points, 60% to 35%. "Suburbs like Sayville on Long Island went 2 to 1 for Gore, even though they're upper-income and have few minorities," laments Rep. Rick Lazio, whom Hillary Clinton trounced by 12 points in a Senate race that was supposed to have been close.

By contrast, the South has become a Republican bastion even in a year when Tennessee native Al Gore topped the Democratic ticket. Mr. Bush swept not only the 11 states of the old Confederacy but also the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

The South had been moving toward the GOP at least since 1964, when Barry Goldwater's opposition to civil-rights legislation helped him win five Southern states in his landslide loss to LBJ. But in 1976, former governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia swept the region, winning every southern and border state save Oklahoma and Virginia. Mr. Ford won only 35% of the vote in Arkansas, which Mr. Bush carried this year even though he was running against the designated heir of its native son, Mr. Clinton.

In some areas of the South, the Bush gains are even more eye-popping. The GOP nominee's socially conservative views helped him carry many ancestrally Democratic counties, including four in Kentucky that even George McGovern managed to win in 1972, when he lost the presidency by an even wider margin than Goldwater had eight years earlier.

According to JWR columnist Michael Barone, co-author of the Almanac of American Politics., a total of 22 Southern Democratic House members now represent districts that voted for Mr. Bush. That's prime territory for Mr. Bush to go hunting in search of votes for his legislative agenda.

Democrats respond that 19 Republicans in the Northeast represent districts Mr. Gore carried, and they had better mind their manners if they want to be re-elected in 2002. But Northeastern "gypsy moth" Republicans have long since figured out how to appeal to local political tastes and avoid too much identification with the national Republican Party. This year, Republicans in the region lost only one seat--the one Mr. Lazio vacated to run for Senate--and more than made up for that by gaining one House seat each in Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania.

But there are clearly other warning signs for both parties. Republicans won 41% of voters earning under $15,000 a year, but won voters with household incomes of over $100,000 by only 12 points--a surprisingly anemic showing that demonstrates how prosperity under a Democratic president isn't helpful to Republicans. Some tony, secular suburbs seem as lost to the GOP as college towns traditionally have been. In 1976, Gerald Ford swept the Pacific coast, winning California, Oregon and Washington state. This year California went Democratic for the third time in a row, and Oregon and Washington for the fourth time. California's wealthy and famously mellow Marin County, north of San Francisco, voted for Mr. Ford back in 1976. This year Marin gave Al Gore a 64% to 28% landslide.

The same pattern of old-line suburbs turning Democratic is found in New England. Upscale Lincoln, Mass., voted for Mr. Ford in 1976. This year it cast 61% of its vote for Mr. Gore, only 29% for Mr. Bush and most of the rest for Mr. Nader. If there was any posh suburb that should have delivered for Mr. Bush it would have been Greenwich, Conn., the town where his grandfather and father were both raised. Mr. Bush won an anemic 51.5% majority in Greenwich, with Mr. Gore netting 44%. In the old-money Connecticut House seat that includes Greenwich and which was once held by Republicans Clare Boothe Luce and Lowell Weicker, Mr. Gore won by a solid 55% to 41%--helped, no doubt, by Joe Lieberman's popularity.

On the other hand, Mr. Bush continued a generation-long trend that started with Ronald Reagan in 1980--the flight of blue-collar voters to the GOP presidential ticket. Nationally, Mr. Bush won 37% of union members, despite having almost no union endorsements. St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, a blue-collar suburb of New Orleans, voted for Mr. Carter in 1980 and for Mr. Bush this year. So too did Scott and Morrison Counties in Minnesota, which In 1998 both helped provide the victory margin for Jesse Ventura's stunning victory for governor on the Reform Party ticket.

The 2000 election has been characterized as dividing the country equally along urban-vs.-rural lines. But the geographical divisions are less striking than the blurring of class and educational lines that used to define the parties. Only 4% of voters in exit polls identified themselves as "upper class," but they voted for Al Gore by a dozen points. Similarly, voters with a bachelor's degree plumped for Mr. Bush, but graduate-school educated professionals voted for Mr. Gore. This group increasingly consists of teachers, social workers and lawyers, who don't always share the middle-class values of traditional Democratic voters.

All this may explain why members of the elite media have had such a hard time explaining how Democrats lost both the White House and Congress for the first time in almost half a century. They and their neighbors in Manhattan's Upper East Side, Beverly Hills and Washington's Kalorama neighborhood largely voted for Al Gore. But increasingly the voters who the Democratic Party claims it represents (with the conspicuous exception of government workers and blacks) are becoming indifferent or hostile to the party's message. The two major parties are today as evenly balanced at the presidential level as they were in that photo-finish election of 1976, but they represent two increasingly different and diverging coalitions.

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11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
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09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2000, John H. Fund