September 16, 2003

Will the Media Let Bush Lose?, the Parry site, is one of the
most powerful bastions of the Internet information
rebellion…Here is another excellent hard-nosed,
clear-headed analysis of electoral college and media
monopoly realities…You are not alone...
""The bigger question relevant to the national election is whether the Republicans, with their powerful media machinery ranging from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh, can smear the Democratic nominee as effectively as it did Al Gore in 2000. There is no telling what tactics the Republicans will use to denigrate the Democratic "fresh face" in 2004."

Will the Media Let Bush Lose?
By Sam Parry
September 16, 2003

The U.S. news media may soon face a dilemma: Can
pundits keep calling George W. Bush "the popular
war-time president" – a favorite stock phrase – if his
poll numbers sink much further? For two years, the
phrase has been a media cliché for Bush often
delivered with a pleasing smile from an agreeable
talking head. Or it’s used like a club against some
critic who is out of step with the American people.
Click here for printable version

ABC Evening News used the phase to describe Bush both
when Howard Dean announced his Democratic candidacy in
Jaune and when John Kerry announced his in September.
To a degree, the "popular war-time president"
repetition has created a self-fulfilling reality,
especially when reinforced by generally fawning news
coverage, laudatory books like "The Right Man," an
action-figure doll in a flight suit, and even a
hero-worshipful Sept. 11 docu-drama (which put brave
words into Bush’s mouth though he spent most of that
awful day sitting frozen in a Florida classroom or
fleeing to Louisiana and Nebraska).
Similarly, the U.S. news media has framed next year’s
election around the repeated question, "Is Bush
Unbeatable?" – again suggesting that Bush is next to
invincible. But the latest polls suggest that Bush’s
voter support is fading fast in the face of job
losses, a worsening deficit and continuing violence in
Though the poll results have varied in their details,
the overall trend lines are ominous for Bush and his
political advisers. The declines have tracked with the
continuing death toll in Iraq more than four months
after Bush donned the flight suit, landed on the USS
Abraham Lincoln and posed before a banner pronouncing
"Mission Accomplished."
Red Ink
The need to spend $87 billion more for the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan and the lack of a credible exit
strategy from Iraq have connected the wars with Bush’s
record budget deficits, now estimated to exceed $500
billion. Americans are beginning to worry that Bush
was, as described by his critics, a shallow
n’er-do-well whose temperament was a hazardous mix of
cockiness, inexperience and incompetence.
The polls also suggest that Election 2004 has changed
from an easy political glide path toward an inevitable
Bush second term to a turbulent flight that could
divert to any number of unexpected destinations. While
it is conceivable that Bush and his lavishly financed
campaign will win the previously expected landslide,
it also is possible that his campaign could encounter
a political disaster unthinkable a few months ago.
Privately, some Republican strategists are discussing
the possible need of a drastic mid-course correction,
possibly easing Dick Cheney off the ticket to be
replaced by Secretary of State Colin Powell or some
other political figure who could give the Bush ticket
a friendlier appearance.
But it may be that the electorate’s assessment of Bush
is growing so negative that cosmetic political
adjustments won’t help. With Bush’s tax cuts opening
up an artery of red ink while simultaneously failing
to stanch the bleeding of U.S. jobs, many Americans
appear to be growing nostalgic for the up-beat
economic days of the Clinton-Gore administration.
A recent Zogby poll found the electorate almost evenly
split when offered a chance to re-run Election 2000
between Al Gore and George W. Bush, with Gore getting
46 percent and Bush 48 percent, a difference within
the poll's margin of error. That almost half the
voters still favor Gore, who has rarely been in the
public eye, is not good news for Bush, especially
after two years of rally-round-the-president,
united-we-stand political rhetoric.
Between the gaping hole in the federal budget and the
record job losses, key battleground states such as
Ohio could be ripe for the picking if a Democrat can
credibly describe a return to Clinton-Gore economics.
Ohio, a state that Bush carried in 2000, has lost more
than 160,000 factory jobs, about one-sixth of its
total. Nationwide, about 2.7 million manufacturing
jobs have disappeared in three years. [NYT, Sept. 13,
For now, most polls show Bush still leading a generic
Democrat in the presidential race, but the numbers
suggest that many Americans are looking for a Bush
exit ramp.
A CBS News poll taken before Labor Day found that only
33 percent of registered voters would "probably vote"
to reelect Bush while 27 percent preferred an unnamed
Democrat and 36 percent were undecided. A Zogby poll
in September reported that 52 percent said it's time
for someone new in the White House, while 40 percent
said Bush deserves a second term.
Many analysts now expect Election 2004 to be another
tight race. The electoral battlefield could again be
the blocs of red and blue states of Election 2000 when
Gore defeated Bush in the national popular vote but
lost when five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court
stopped the recount in Florida giving Bush those 25
electoral votes and a narrow victory in the Electoral
Green Party candidate Ralph Nader also could influence
the outcome of 2004 as he did in 2000. Some Democrats
have noted bitterly that Bush carried New Hampshire
and its four electoral votes by just 7,211 votes while
Nader garnered more than 22,000 votes. That meant that
if one out of three Nader voters had gone for Gore,
the Democrat would have won New Hampshire and the
White House by getting 271 electoral votes, a majority
in the Electoral College. The Florida recount would
have been irrelevant.
Looking Ahead
In 2004, however, it won’t be so simple for a Democrat
to simply hold Gore’s states and pick up New Hampshire
to win. The redistricting that followed the 2000
census has eroded the Democratic position by shifting
seven electoral votes into Bush’s red states from
Gore’s blue states.
So, today, Gore’s blue states plus New Hampshire would
leave a Democrat six electoral votes short. That means
a Democrat will not only have to surmount Bush’s
advantages in campaign cash and friendly news media
coverage, but the nominee will have to turn at least
one other state that was counted among Bush’s red
states three years ago.
A county-by-county analysis comparing presidential
vote totals for 1996 and 2000, and factoring in other
recent voting patterns, suggests the most likely
Democratic targets are Florida, Ohio, West Virginia
and New Hampshire. A second tier of possible pickups
includes Missouri, Arkansas, Nevada, Louisiana and
These states plus two others, Kentucky and Tennessee,
were carried by Bill Clinton in 1996 and by Bush four
years later. Combined, these states represent 116
electoral votes.
Of these possible Democratic pickups, five alone have
enough electoral votes to put a Democrat over the top,
assuming Gore's red states stay in line. Florida now
has 27 electoral votes, Ohio 20, Missouri 11,
Tennessee 11, and Arizona 10. The Democrats would need
more than one of the other target states to secure a
majority in the Electoral College. Louisiana has nine
votes, Kentucky eight, Arkansas six, Nevada five, West
Virginia five and New Hampshire four.
Besides the census-driven shift in electoral votes to
Bush's red states, there is other encouraging news for
Republicans. Based on the results in 2000, Bush was
closer to picking up extra states than Gore was. Of
the five states won by less than one percent in 2000,
Bush only snared Florida. But he was very close in New
Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa and Oregon.
Together, these four states, representing 29 electoral
votes, will be top targets for the Bush campaign.
Depending on how the campaign shapes up, Bush also
might look to add Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Maine,
Michigan, and Washington – all states Gore won by six
percent or less. If Bush holds his red states and adds
these Gore states, he would win in a landslide.
Media Spin
As in 2000, the attitude of the national news media
could prove decisive. A critical point that is often
overlooked in assessing the 2000 election is the
extent to which Bush’s campaign – with the media's
help – depressed Democratic voter turnout for Gore by
smearing him as untrustworthy and prone to
According to a post-election survey conducted by
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, the top reason
voters cited for not voting for Gore was his perceived
exaggerations, a supposed problem that was identified
by 29 percent of those surveyed. [For more on the
media's handling of Campaign 2000, see's "Protecting Bush-Cheney."]
In the swing states in particular, given their
demographics and political leanings, Gore’s inability
to turn out Democratic voters cost him. Out of the 721
counties in 11 states won by Clinton in 1996 but lost
by Gore in 2000, Gore’s turnout was lower than
Clinton’s in 442 counties.
Gore lost 354 of these 442 counties, and in total Gore
lost these 442 counties by more than 760,000 votes.
Had Gore simply matched Clinton’s vote total in these
442 counties, he would have won 139 additional
counties. This would have been enough to give Gore
Arkansas and Florida, and he would have come within
just a few hundred votes of winning Louisiana and West
By contrast, Bush succeeded in turning out the
Republican base in 2000, increasing GOP vote totals in
714 out of the 721 counties in these 11 states. Bush
improved over Bob Dole’s 1996 vote total by 2.7
million votes in these states.
Taken together, the 11 battleground states also
present the Democrats with complicated political
calculations. To start with, the states are spread
across the map, from New Hampshire to Nevada and from
Ohio to Florida. So there is no simple geographic
formula for Democrats to address.
Another challenge for Democrats is that these swing
states are either traditionally Republican or they
have trended Republican in recent years. In the three
national elections in the 1980s, for instance,
Democrats only won West Virginia, which they did twice
in 1980 and 1988.
The states also have trended Republican for different
reasons, meaning no single strategic shift will
suffice for the Democrats. Western states like
traditionally-Democratic Nevada and
traditionally-Republican Arizona represent a form of
Western Conservatism where voters are skeptical of
Washington, particularly as it relates to the
regulation of federal lands.
With issues like strengthening environmental standards
and promoting gun safety near the top of the national
Democratic agenda, Democrats will be challenged to
compete in these two states in 2004. Political
strategists predict that these states could trend
Democratic in future elections as their Hispanic
populations grow. But today, they are more
Goldwater-Reagan than Clinton-Gore.
On the other hand, states like Tennessee and Kentucky,
once thought to be pillars of the New South and
traditionally in the conservative Democratic camp,
have become part of the Christian Conservative South
and appear if anything to be trending more Republican
with each election. Last year, for instance, the
Democratic Senate challenger to incumbent Republican
McConnell lost by 28 points. Bush won Kentucky by 15
points in 2000.
To Gore’s embarrassment, Tennessee went against its
native son in 2000, giving Bush a four-point margin.
In 2002, Tennessee elected Democrat Phil Bredesen to
the governor’s mansion, but the state has conversely
elected Republicans to the U.S. Senate in six straight
elections by wide margins.
Deficit Conscious
In contrast to Tennessee and Kentucky, a thousand
miles to the north New Hampshire finds itself tucked
between liberal and mostly Democratic New England
states Vermont, Massachusetts and Maine.
But New Hampshire’s aversion to taxes and its
traditional Republican streak hold the state in the
Republican column in most statewide elections.
Republicans won back the governor’s seat in 2002,
control both houses of the state legislature by better
than two-to-one, and hold the two U.S. Senate seats
and the two U.S. House seats.
Still, the Granite State has been tough on Bush
candidates in the past. Bush’s father had to fight
back stiff competition in the New Hampshire primaries
of 1988 and 1992, from Robert Dole and Patrick
Buchanan respectively. The younger Bush lost the New
Hampshire primary to John McCain in 2000 by 19
percentage points.
Also, since New Hampshire is traditionally a fiscally
conservative state, the prospect of historic and
structural national deficits as far as forecasts can
measure, coupled with the tough economy, could turn
New Hampshire voters against Bush again.
Traditionally-Republican Ohio and
traditionally-Democratic West Virginia favored Clinton
in 1992 and 1996 by wide margins. But, in 2000, Bush
improved GOP performance in all of the 143 counties in
the two states to win both states by relatively narrow
margins. Despite of the 2000 outcome, voting trends
suggest that both West Virginia and Ohio should remain
at the top of the target list for Democrats.
West Virginia was one of 14 states where Gore’s voter
turnout was lower than Clinton’s. In fact, Gore was
the first Democratic candidate since 1928 to earn
fewer than 300,000 votes in West Virginia. Merely
improving Democratic turnout in West Virginia could
win it back in 2004.
Prospects in Ohio are potentially even better for
Democrats. Ohio’s 20 electoral votes also make it the
most lucrative battleground state outside of Florida.
Ohio demographics suggest it should be competitive for
Democrats. The state boasts several large metropolitan
areas, from Cleveland and Toledo in the north to
Cincinnati in the south to the capital of Columbus in
the center of the state. Based on voter turnout in the
counties that comprise these metropolitan areas,
Bush’s gains in the state over 1996 GOP performance
were almost entirely centered in these counties.
Democrats could, therefore, win Ohio back by simply
focusing voter turnout efforts in these urban and
suburban areas.
Also, Ohio’s traditional Republican streak is not as
ideologically driven as it might seem on paper. Ohio
is not like the Bible Belt of the South nor does it
have the strong anti-Washington sentiments of the
Rocky Mountain states. Even though Ohio Republicans
control the governor’s office and both houses of the
state legislature, only 19 percent of registered
voters in Ohio are registered Republicans, compared
with 14 percent who are registered Democrats. A
surprising 66 percent of registered voters, more than
4.6 million people, are unaffiliated.
A large Democratic turnout among these unaffiliated
voters, particularly in the counties comprising the
major metropolitan areas of Ohio, could swing Ohio
back to the Democrats. Targeting Ohio would have the
added benefit of helping in Ohio border states:
Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.
All will be targets for both parties in 2004.
Southern Strategies
The Mississippi River states of Missouri, Arkansas,
and Louisiana could be in play in 2004, but probably
only if Bush's fortunes continue to worsen. Bush
carried these states by 3.34, 5.45, and 7.67 percent
respectively in 2000.
Arkansas and Louisiana are traditionally Southern
Democratic states, while Missouri is the
quintessential swing state. Judging by recent
elections, all three states are swing states, but with
conservative streaks, particularly on social issues.
Then there’s the Sunshine State. Of the battleground
states, Florida obviously stands out as the biggest
prize and, given the 2000 fiasco, represents a real
target for Democrats.
Historically, Florida has been a swing state and has
tracked closely with the national elections. With the
exception of going for George Bush I in 1992 over
Clinton, Florida has gone with the winner in every
election since 1960. It has also tracked closely with
the national election voting trends, giving Carter a
five-point margin in 1976 and Reagan a 31-point margin
in 1984.
Clinton carried Florida in 1996 by just over 300,000
votes to earn a 48% to 42% margin over Dole compared
with Clinton’s 49 to 41 percent margin nationwide.
Though Gore improved Democratic turnout by more than
365,000 votes in 2000, Bush was able to increase GOP
turnout by nearly 670,000 votes over Dole’s support
from 1996.
With Nader earning 97,488 votes statewide and with Pat
Buchanan scoring an unlikely 3,400 votes in
heavily-Democratic Palm Beach Country due to the
confusing butterfly ballot (triple the number of votes
Buchanan earned in any other Florida county), the vote
was close enough for Republicans in the U.S. Supreme
Court to hand Florida to Bush. His artificial victory
margin of 537 votes represented less than one
hundredth of one percent of the total vote in the
While Democrats will have their eyes set on a Florida
breakthrough in 2004, there is a great deal of work to
do. To start with, Florida is a state that has drifted
Republican over time. In 1976, 67 percent of Florida
voters were registered Democrats. Today that figure is
down to 42.6 percent with 38.7 percent listed as
registered Republicans and 18.8 percent unaffiliated.
In the 2002 race for governor, Bush’s brother Jeb
easily put down a challenge from Democratic hopeful
Bill McBride, winning by a 56-43 margin. Bush’s
victory came after the Democrats pulled out the stops
to support McBride’s campaign, which showed early
signs of threatening Bush before falling out of
contention a couple of weeks before Election Day.
Early 2004 presidential polls show George Bush ahead
of every Democratic candidate in the state, including
Florida’s most popular elected official Bob Graham,
whose presidential campaign has been struggling to
gain traction outside of Florida. Graham has never
lost an election in Florida and after five statewide
races, two for governor in 1978 and 1982, and three
for senator in 1986, 1992, and 1998, he is well known
in the state. Graham’s failure to out-poll Bush might
be a warning signal for Democrats.
At the same time, Florida is a diverse and rapidly
growing state, which makes its politics unpredictable
and volatile. Recently, solidly-Republican Cubans in
South Florida have expressed dissatisfaction with
Bush’s Cuba policy, which could cause Bush serious
problems if the dissent grows.
Many political analysts predict that as the non-Cuban
Hispanic and Caribbean populations of Florida grow,
the state will shift into the Democratic column.
Whether that shift will begin in 2004 is hard to say.
But Democrats still have every reason to pour
resources into the state.
Media Power
The bigger question relevant to the national election
is whether the Republicans, with their powerful media
machinery ranging from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh, can
smear the Democratic nominee as effectively as it did
Al Gore in 2000. There is no telling what tactics the
Republicans will use to denigrate the Democratic
"fresh face" in 2004. But there is no doubt Bush's
supporters will try.
Already, the conservative Manchester (N.H.)
Union-Leader has poked fun at former Vermont Gov. Dean
for warning about the dangers of sparklers, a mocking
theme that has been picked up in the national press,
including the Washington Post. [Sept. 14, 2003]
As Democrats learned in the 1990s and in 2000, these
"joke themes" are crucial for reaching millions of
Americans who have only a modest interest in politics.
One of the most effective disinformation themes about
Al Gore was his supposed claim to have "invented the
Internet" – a quote that was widely ridiculed by major
news outlets including the New York Times but was
never actually spoken by Gore.
Still, given Bush’s shaky record and his growing
reputation as a sneaky politician, it is possible that
it will be Bush, not the Democrat, whose credibility
and character will on the line. If violence continues
in Iraq and Iraq's supposed weapons of mass
destruction don't materialize, Bush could find himself
and his exaggerations on the defensive.
Much will depend on whether the national news media
holds Bush accountable for his lengthening pattern of
deceptions – or whether the press corps continues to
present Bush to the American people as "the popular
war-time president" no matter what the polls may show.
Back to front

Posted by richard at September 16, 2003 02:27 PM