GOP AIMS TO DOMINATE
Dan Balz of WaPo has an interesting feature on President Bush’s desire to effect a GOP realignment in 2004.
Republican strategists see the 2004 election as their best opportunity in a generation to construct a durable governing majority, and they have set in motion a systematic and coordinated strategy designed to leverage President Bush’s popularity and break the impasse that has dominated the country’s politics since the mid-1990s.
The president himself established the ambitions behind the 2004 strategy earlier this year, when he authorized advisers to begin planning for a reelection campaign that began in earnest last week with a series of fundraising events. According to several GOP strategists, Bush told his team: Don’t give me “a lonely victory.” Said one top Bush adviser, “He said, ‘I don’t want what Nixon had. I don’t want what Reagan had.’ ”
Both President Richard M. Nixon in 1972 and President Ronald Reagan in 1984 won landslide reelection victories, but neither victory produced the lasting benefits to the party that Bush is seeking in 2004. “He [Bush] was explicit about that,” a GOP official said. “He doesn’t want to [win] with 55 percent and have a 51-49 Senate. He wants to expand the governing coalition.”
The strategy is to leverage Bush’s popularity and a huge financial advantage expected because of the McCain-Feingold restrictions and the fact that any Democrat opponent will have to spend a sizable amount of money winning the nomination, whereas Bush is running unopposed.
What’s particularly interesting is that Bush’s team is well aware that re-election is far from assured, let alone a major coattail effect. The strategy is to coordinate Bush’s reelection campaign with stumping for GOP candidates lower on the ticket in a way that is unprecedented.
Bush advisers also say there is more acceptance of the Republican label than there was in Nixon’s or Reagan’s time. One strategist, after scouring internal GOP memos from earlier presidential campaigns, said, “In ’76 in particular, even in ’84, there is an absolute fear of mentioning the word ‘Republicans.’ ”
Both Republican and Democratic pollsters have detected evidence that the party’s image — if not party identification — has improved during Bush’s presidency. “That’s new and would be debilitating [for Democrats] if it were to remain,” Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg said.
Democrats, however, see signs of GOP erosion since the 2002 elections. Greenberg said such indicators directly challenge White House assumptions about Bush’s ability to expand the party. For example, Bush used the issue of education in 2000 to neutralize a once-powerful Democratic advantage and to cast himself as a compassionate conservative. But Greenberg said his most recent polls show the Democrats again with a clear advantage on education.
Republicans made inroads among female voters, a core constituency of the Democrats, in 2002. Bush advisers say their real target is married women, and they claim that part of their recent success is because the soccer moms of the 1990s have become “security moms” since Sept. 11, 2001. But Greenberg said his polling shows that women were far less enthusiastic about the Iraq war and that those attitudes could make it more difficult for Bush to continue to attract female support.
The Bush team’s strategy for realigning the country is both demographic and geographic. Bush strategists plan a major effort, building on the president’s popularity among younger white men, to break the Democrats’ grip on the upper-Midwest states of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which have been solidly Democratic since 1988. They also see opportunities to pick up states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon and perhaps Washington, all of which Bush lost in 2000.
They also think they can leverage Bush’s popularity and the renewed emphasis on security policy to chip away at the Democratic coalition:
The Bush team’s plan to create a governing majority includes calculated efforts to lure swing voters and elements of the Democratic coalition — Latinos, married women, white union workers, Jews and what GOP officials call the growing “investor” class — to the Republican Party, according to interviews with many Republicans familiar with the planning.
Alongside this strategy, the Republican National Committee (RNC) has launched the most organized effort yet to build and reshape the party at the grass roots, by recruiting candidates who share Bush’s agenda and style, registering voters and winning the turnout battle in November 2004.
The piece concludes, however, with an obvious problem: California. While the GOP’s dominance in that state was once assured, leading to a so-called “Electoral College lock,” no Republican has won the the presidential race there since 1992. Without being competitive in the biggest electoral prize, the GOP can not become a dominant party.
That problem, however, pales compared to what the Democrats are facing. According to a campanion WaPo piece, that party is still searching for a unified message and a rationale for replacing a popular president. And wondering if they can field a candidate who can win a single southern state.