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Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev, 5763

Roger Simon

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From "no gloat zone" to "no vote zone"? | DANA POINT, Calif. Although this gathering of the nation's Republican governors was officially declared a "no gloat" zone, the governors were having a hard time wiping the smiles off their faces.

By Election Day, the Democrats were uncertain of retaining control of the Senate, resigned to not gaining control of the House, but were absolutely sure they would take a majority of the nation's governorships for the first time in decades. Never happened. When the smoke had cleared, the Republicans edged them 26 states to 24, adding to the sense that the Republican Party was either doing something very right or the Democrats were doing something very wrong.

"The voters chose an agenda, and it was the Republican agenda," White House Political Director Ken Mehlman told the governors. He then went on to list the range of the GOP victory:

  • Republicans won the senior vote by 3 percentage points

  • Republicans won the suburban vote by 9 percentage points

  • Republicans lost the female vote by only 2 percentage points and managed a split with Democrats among independents and Catholic voters.

  • And among union households, Republicans got 40 percent of the vote, which the GOP considers a big victory.

But best of all, Mehlman said, on the key poll question of whether President Bush "cares about people like me," 60 percent of the voters said yes.

"This is a question we usually don't do well on," Mehlman said. But that was before George W. Bush. That was before a president whom voters genuinely seem to like.

Likability alone, however, will not be enough to secure his re-election. His father was likable (though more remote) and he lost to Bill Clinton, a president who turned likability into an art form.

Because the Republicans now control the White House, Congress and a majority of the states, they have an added burden: They have to perform.

Mehlman said his party now had an "unbelievable opportunity to provide solutions, set an example for the country, unite people and change the tone."

But right after Mehlman told the governors how good they should all be feeling, Matthew Dowd, the chief White House pollster, brought them back down to earth.

Dowd pointed out that 70 percent of voters now have some investment in the stock market.

"The good news is that we won those voters by 12 points," he said. "The bad news is that people are now judging the economy differently."

In the past, Dowd said, people judged the state of the economy by looking at the inflation and unemployment rates.

Today, they judge it by the stock market.

"They watch the stock ticker on TV all day," Dowd warned. "And stock market news is now front-page news. This will change voter perceptions much more rapidly."

Translation: If the stock market tanks, it doesn't matter how likable anybody is. The voters will blame the Republicans. And the "no gloat" zone will become a "no vote" zone.

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate