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Jewish World Review June 22, 2004 / 3 Tamuz, 5764

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Get ready to rumble ... 10 minutes with Michael Barone | JWR contributor Michael Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report, appears on Fox News Channel and "The McLaughlin Group" and is the principal co-author of "The Almanac of American Politics," an indispensable guide to and who's-who of every state and congressional district in the country. 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.) To find out how this fall's Bush-Kerry heavyweight bout is shaping up, I called Barone at his offices in Washington.

Q: What's your pre-fight analysis of the Bush-Kerry contest as it stands now?

A: This looks like a very close election, like the election of 2000. Both parties have a large number of dedicated, solid supporters. It's as if we had two armies in the culture war lined up in trenches against each other, and the question is, "Who's going to get the most voters to the polls?"

Q: Is Iraq going to be the big issue on which the election turns?

A: Iraq certainly seems to be a central issue right now, and I expect it will continue to be an important issue, at the least, up through the election.

Q: Has Bush blown it with Iraq, in terms of maybe holding out too long for the goal of making Iraq a democratic state?

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A: Well, the American people have shown themselves willing to support very large numbers of military casualties — literally thousands of times larger than we have sustained in Iraq — if they feel that we are on the road to victory or the road to success.

I think that George W. Bush obviously wants to show voters that we are on the road to success, so events on the ground in Iraq will be important to determining whether voters believe we are on the road to success. Voters' perceptions of those events will be important.

Q: Has Bush alienated or annoyed or disappointed his conservative base with high deficits and his prescription drug plan to the extent it won't turn out in large numbers in November?

A: Some people think that deficits, the prescription drug bill, Bush's proposals on immigration will sap the enthusiasm of some conservative voters, or even cause them to vote against George W. Bush. My reading of the polls is that there has not been much in the way of this effect at the present time. Support by Republicans, at least, of George W. Bush is probably even higher than support by Republicans for Ronald Reagan when he was running.

Q: What does John Kerry have to do — get the black vote to turn out?

A: Both sides have to get their voters turned out. The Bush campaign is putting on an organizational, people-to-people campaign, the likes of which the Republican Party has not seen in many years. The Democratic Party, and the 527 groups supporting the Democratic Party, are also putting on significant organizational campaigns, as are the labor unions, which have done so in the past.

In the 2002 election, I think the Republicans probably out-organized the Democrats, just as in 2000 the Democrats out-organized the Republicans. This campaign in many ways is a campaign to turn out your backers.

Q: The key battleground states this year — which ones should we be watching?

A: We should be watching all of the 17 states that went for one candidate or the other by 5 percent or less in 2000. That's where most of the political advertising is being run. It's where the candidates are making most if not all of their appearances. We all pretty much know what those states are.

I think both sides are looking to see if some other state may be closer than it was last time. The Kerry campaign has been running campaign ads in Virginia, for example. There's one survey at least that shows Virginia being considerably closer than it was in 2000. Polls are showing New Jersey to be significantly closer.

Q: How about Pennsylvania? We had a lot of attention in 2000. Is it in play?

A: It's very definitely in play. I think George W. Bush has visited it more than any other state, unless you count his visits to Camp David. John Kerry has spent plenty of time and money in Pennsylvania. Absolutely, Pennsylvania is a "ground-zero" state.

If George W. Bush can carry Pennsylvania, it's going to be awfully hard for John Kerry to win. They're also spending a lot of time and effort in Ohio. George W. Bush carried that by 5 points last time. Some of the polls there have shown John Kerry ahead. That's going to be very seriously contested too.

Q: Democrats are talking about maybe having a shot at winning either the House or the Senate. Are they dreaming?

A: I think they have a chance to win a majority in the Senate. The Republicans are seriously contesting six Democratic seats. The Democrats are seriously contesting four Republican seats. If one party wins all or most of the close races, they can materially improve their standing in the Senate. It is within the realm of possibility for the Democrats to win a majority in the Senate. It's also within the realm of possibility for the Republicans to significantly increase their majority.

In the House, with the Texas redistricting adding four to six Republican seats, I don't think Democrats can win a majority of seats, barring some significant shift in public opinion which I've not yet seen.

Q: You new book splits the country not into red states and blue states, but into "Soft America" and "Hard America." What's your 60-second sound bite to describe your book?

A: Hard America is the part of American life where you have competition and accountability. Soft America is where you don't. Americans from 6 to 18 live mostly in Soft America in the softness of our schools, although they've recently become a little bit more hardened.

From ages 18 to 30, Americans live in Hard America — competitive universities, the community colleges, where Latinos and blacks learn things they weren't taught in high school, the American military and, of course, the private sector. It becomes apparent to people that what happens to you depends to a large extent on what you do.

That helps to explain why American 18-year-olds are more incompetent than 18-years-olds in many other countries, but American 30-year-olds are the most competent 30-year-olds in the world.

Q: Is there any political ramification to this? Are Democrats all "soft" and Republicans all "hard"?

A: George W. Bush's major programs have all been in the direction of hardness — tax cuts, which allow you to spend more of your own money and you're accountable for the results. The education bill had considerable Democratic support as well, with more accountability and standards. ... He's pretty consistently hard on policies. The Democrats, however, are not consistently soft. The lines between Hard America and Soft America are not necessarily the lines between the two parties.

Q: If you had to guess right now who's going to win the White House in November, what do you say?

A: If I had to bet $1,000 on who was going to win the election in November, I would bet on George W. Bush, but I wouldn't spend any of the money.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald