August 30, 2004


Strategist focuses on president's devotees (Anne E. Kornblut, August 30, 2004, Boston Globe)

Despite an expected showcasing of the ''softer side" of the Republican Party at the convention in New York this week -- an attempt to win undecided and moderate voters to the GOP cause -- the heart of the strategy is to drive up the turnout of hard-core believers.

Bush spends a striking amount of time in Republican-leaning areas of swing states, seeking to ratchet up enthusiasm. His campaign has run advertising on cable networks tailored to such Republican-friendly viewers as golfers and fishermen. To Rove, an obsessive number cruncher, it all boils down to a simple empirical fact: There are more potential Republicans out there in battleground states than undecided moderates. Get the Republicans to show up on Election Day and the race is won.

But the approach breaks from conventional wisdom, and it is, by all accounts, a gamble -- one that could cement Rove's reputation as a political legend and shift the paradigm of future elections if it succeeds, as it apparently did in the congressional midterm elections in 2002, or offer an embarrassing indictment of Rove's master plan if it fails. [...]

Ralph Reed, a conservative strategist and a Bush campaign adviser, would not characterize Rove's approach as divisive, but did agree that the Bush campaign has shed the conventional wisdom that reveres moderate swing voters.

''I think not only Karl would say, but a lot of people would say, that the number of true independent and swing voters is actually very small," Reed said. ''Over time, as we get more precise in the polling and in identifying them, there is a consensus emerging that the swing vote is not what it was 20 years ago -- and may not have been as large as we once thought it was."

Rove and other Bush campaign advisers vehemently deny that the divided electorate is their doing.

''American politics over the last decade has become increasingly polarized by party," Rove said in an interview with the Globe. ''You don't want to read too much into that, but you don't want to read too little into the fact that the pool of true independents has been shrinking. And even more than that, if you step back, the two parties are now at parity, which is not the way it has been through most of our adulthood."

In other words, Rove said, there are now as many Republicans as Democrats, liberating the GOP from the need to pick off sizable chunks from the opposition.

Asked whether it is now mathematically possible to win a presidential race without any swing voters, Rove did not skip a beat. ''Yes," he replied.

''But I think that's a very risky strategy," he quickly added. ''You have to be persuading people who are for you, as well as driving up turnout."

Rove describes his focus as ferreting out ''suspected Republicans" -- people who live in predominantly Republican areas and are predisposed to vote for the president, but are either unregistered or unmotivated to go to the polls. These, Rove argues, are the voters who are most capable of tipping the balance in a narrowly divided race, comprising an arguably more potent bloc than the meager few who have not yet made up their minds.

To that end, Bush often visits Republican-leaning pockets of battleground states, traveling to places he won by comfortable margins -- such as the western panhandle of Florida or York, Pa. -- rather than devote himself exclusively to evenly divided counties, or venture into hostile territory, as Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, often does. Over the weekend, traveling in Ohio, Bush visited Miami County (which he won in 2000, 61 percent to 36 percent), Allen County (which he won 65 percent to 32 percent), and Wood County (which he won 53 percent to 44 percent).

Democrats revel in the Rove strategy, frequently arguing that if Bush is tending to his conservative base, he must be worried about defections.

But there is no evidence to suggest that trend, and Rove scoffs at critics who would misread the Republican strategy in that way.

''Karl does not believe there's a true 'middle,' " one Bush adviser said. ''Everyone is a 'leaner,' and the leaners are affected by the actions of the base, much like an earthquake. If the base is excited, the closer you are to the epicenter, you're going to have a pretty strong shock."

Which certainly seems to be supported by this--Battleground Poll August 2004 - The Growing Conservative Majority (Bruce Walker, August 29, 2004, Mens News Daily)--and suggests the possibility that an FDR type transformation has already taken place in the electorate, which would usher in several decades of GOP dominance.

MORE (via Kevin Whited):
Republicans working to reinforce conservative base (Dave Montgomery, 8/30/04, Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Flower Mound describes constituents in his staunchly Republican district as hard-working Americans who "believe in their God and believe in their country."

Those conservative North Texas voters overwhelmingly support President George W. Bush, says the freshmen Republican congressmen, but there are fragments of discontent. Some are angered by the president's immigration policies. Others worry about the direction of the war in Iraq, or that Bush hasn't done enough to limit federal spending.

The mood in the 26th district -- which includes Denton County and part of Tarrant County -- is reflective of national sentiments among conservative Republicans as President Bush prepares to receive his party's nomination for a second term at the Republican National Convention this week in New York.

From the outset of his presidency, Bush has worked diligently to shore up his party's conservative base, particularly among evangelical Christians who make up an estimated fourth of the electorate. Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, has estimated that 4 million social conservatives sat out the 2000 election, and much of the Republican strategy has consequently been aimed at drawing them into the fold for 2004.

While Bush is coasting toward re-nomination on a wave of partisan euphoria that characterizes national political conventions, he nevertheless faces a bit of restiveness from the right.

This is the kind of misreporting you get if the journalist doesn't understand what Rove is up to.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 30, 2004 10:19 AM

There have been countless of these articles about Bush having a restless base (of course they are merely wishful thinking). How many articles have there been about how Kerry has essentially no one who really wants him to win, but the alleged "unity" of the Democrats is purely a function of Bush hatred? Not many. As Kerry implodes the press will of course get out their knives and shred him beyond all recognition.

Posted by: brian at August 30, 2004 6:59 PM

Right. And when Kerry goes to Texas, he campaigns in River Oaks and North Dallas. And when he goes to Pennsylvania, he campaigns in Sewickley and Lower Merion and Fox Chapel (where Teresa maintains the family estate). And so on.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 30, 2004 11:19 PM