Jewish World Review March 8, 2004 / 15 Adar, 5764

Jack Kelly

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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 nomination.

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 days afterwards.)

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).

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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 2000.

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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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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