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Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 2004 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Michael Barone

Michael Barone
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The second Bush term

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As I write (at 5 a.m. Wednesday), it is obvious that President George W. Bush has been reelected. The squadrons of Democratic lawyers in Ohio may be itching to contest Bush's victory in that state, but he is ahead by 125,000 votes, and that is not going to be overturned by provisional ballots which, as Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has pointed out, are not concentrated in central city Cleveland but spread all over the state. Gerald Ford could have been elected to a full term as president in 1976 if he had overturned Jimmy Carter's 11,116-vote margin in Ohio and his 7,372-vote margin in Hawaii. A 9,244-vote reversal could have kept Ford in office. But Ford didn't even try. He trailed Carter by 1.68 million in the popular vote and had no stomach for contention and for the tactic of delegitimatizing American election results for personal victory.


John Kerry, as was hinted at by John Edwards's astonishingly brief statement to Kerry supporters in Copley Square, Boston, on election night, may feel differently. Kerry lawyers are lined up to challenge election results in Ohio — Florida is too strongly for Bush this time for this to work. But Ohio's margin for Bush, as this is written, is about 125,000 votes. Kerry's lawyers will have to argue that almost every one of Ohio's provisional votes — challenged, and set aside — would go for him. But as Blackwell pointed out, that is exceedingly improbable. Provisional votes are not concentrated totally in central city Cleveland. They are cast, also, by Amish voters in Holmes and Coshocton Counties. They are not going to produce a 126,000-vote margin for Kerry, under any stretch of the imagination. Democrats are primed psychologically to challenge anything. But my guess is that Kerry's Democratic election lawyers, many of them cool professionals who have been through many things, will advise him that he is on a loser's errand. And that challenging an election where he has lost the popular vote nationally by some 2.5 million votes and can only win by horrendous legerdemain will do him and his party horrifying damage.

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The results as called by Fox News, for whom I worked on election night, showed 269 votes for Bush. This is at worst an electoral vote tie, which would be broken for the Republicans by the House of Representatives. Republicans entered the race with 30 state delegations, a number that evidently was reduced to 29 by Phil Crane's loss in Illinois but increased back to 30 by Republicans' wins in the redistricted seats in Texas. On top of that, three of the four states uncalled by Fox have Bush popular vote majorities: Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico. And Wisconsin is not out of reach. Any one of these would give Bush his 270th electoral vote. The election is over.


Why were the initial exit poll results more Democratic than the actual tabulated vote? No one is sure, though the national sample at midafternoon, which showed Kerry ahead 50 to 49 percent, was 58 percent women. My own suspicion is that some Democrats — at the command level, or somewhere below — had an election-day project of slamming the results. New Hampshire, Minnesota and Pennsylvania initial exit poll results had huge margins for Kerry — much larger percentages than he won in any pre-election poll. If somebody had slipped some Democratic operative the list of exit poll sites — 40 to 50 sites in each critical state — he or she could have slipped several hundred operatives into the polling places to take the exit poll ballots and vote for Kerry. The results would have shown Kerry much farther ahead than he actually was and, broadcast through drugdereport.com and other sources, could have heartened Kerry supporters during the afternoon and disheartened Bush supporters. When I was active in Democratic politics, in 1964-80, it would have occurred to us to do no such thing. But Democrats these days are so filled with a sense of grievance and with a feeling of justification for employing any dirty tactics to win, that this is not unthinkable. If people can game the exit polls, there's not much point to having exit polls any more.


At Fox News during the afternoon and early evening we assumed, based on the exit poll results, that Kerry was overwhelmingly likely to win. As I began to look at the actual election results, a different picture emerged. I looked at results in Florida and Ohio for small and medium-sized counties that had 100 percent or nearly that much of returns reported, and found that turnout was way up and Bush percentages were up from 2000 also. This was evidence that the Bush organizational activities and turnout drives had paid off. Pasco County, Fla. — a retirement haven just north of Tampa and St. Petersburg — had turnout up 40 percent and the Bush percentage rising from a 48 percent loss in 2000 to a 53.9 percent win in 2004. The Democrats' turnout efforts in heavily Democratic counties like Broward County, Fla., could not match that. Hence Florida went solidly for Bush in 2004, as it had for his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, in 2002.


The Democratic party must now decide whether it wants to be consumed by rage against purported unfair vote-counting or wants to try to win a majority of American voters in fair elections. It was perhaps understandable that Democrats felt they were robbed in 2000, when their nominee won a plurality of the popular vote and lost Florida by only the narrowest of margins. But the Democrats need to admit that the post-election audits of the votes by their friends in the national media could find no scenario in which Al Gore actually won more votes in Florida than George W. Bush. And this time Bush has a large national popular vote plurality — at this time a 3 million-vote popular vote plurality, with a 51 percent majority of popular votes for George W. Bush — and when Democrats in order to win must erase a 125,000-vote plurality for Bush in Ohio. In 2000 Democrats declined to contest New Hampshire's 7,211-vote plurality for Bush, even though New Hamsphire's four electoral votes would have given Gore 271 electoral votes and the presidency. A party that is consumed by rage at its defeat rather than one which is dedicated to interpret the popular will is not a party that can command popular support. The Democrats have lost the presidency, have lost seats in the Senate (including, apparently, despite the Indian reservations, the seat of Minority Leader Tom Daschle) and have lost seats in the House of Representatives needs to take a different approach. How long will it take the Democrats to learn that lesson? And will George W. Bush, in the meantime, use his Republican majorities to guide public policy in new and interestingly different directions?

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report His latest book is "Hard America, Soft America : Competition vs. Coddling and the Battle for the Nation's Future". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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©2004, Michael Barone