Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 16, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

NEW VOTERS....Nick Confessore writes today that Howard Dean is basing his campaign on the idea that he can attract new voters, rather than enlarging his share among people who already vote. He's not impresed:

Let's recap. Democrats not registered to vote are slightly more pro-Dean, but the non-voting masses are not -- in part, it would seem, because they are actually more pro-war than registered voters. So that doesn't exactly net out to Dean's benefit. And although you see a lot of media coverage about Dean's capacity to excite young voters, that group isn't exactly coming out in droves for the guy -- again, probably in part because they are relatively pro-war.

This should not inspire hope among Deaniacs

Not sure you agree? Ask yourself this question: when was the last time a presidential candidate won office primarily by rousing the base and running a red meat ideological campaign? Goldwater and McGovern rather famously got trounced trying this, and among recent winners Reagan appealed to disaffected Democrats, Bush Sr. was a moderate Republican to begin with, Clinton won with "third way" politics, and Bush Jr. presented himself as a compassionate conservative.

And it's pretty obvious that Bush is doing the same thing for 2004. Sure, Karl Rove is trying to get the Christian right revved up for November, but take a look at how Bush himself is preparing for the election. A Medicare bill to attract the senior vote. An immigration proposal to appeal to Latinos. A Mars mission to make him look visionary. And all of them designed to take the hard edge off of 2003's divisive war rhetoric and emphasize the "compassionate" side of his conservatism. He understands that he has to appeal to the middle in order to win.

Any winning candidate will try to both energize the base and appeal to the middle, and it would be foolish to abandon either of these. Still, while an energetic base helps by contributing time, money, and passion to a campaign, the hard truth is that in the end it doesn't bring many genuinely new voters to the polls (a far different proposition than simply getting your natural base to turn out in larger numbers). Bush is smart enough to know this and tack toward the center for 2004, and we should expect our candidate to do the same.

Bottom line: let's not eat our babies. The hard fact is that fervent liberals and Bush haters just don't make up 50% of the electorate, least of all among those disaffected enough that they don't usually vote in the first place. This means we have to win support from a good chunk of the middle that does vote.

Unless you want four more years of George W. Bush.

Kevin Drum 5:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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