A GOP Realignment or an Emerging Democratic Majority?

The Democratic Party nominating process has completed the stage of retail politics and personal appearances. Only in New Hampshire and Iowa, can a reasonable percentage of those who vote for a candidate claim to have met him. Next week there will be seven races. The nomination is John Kerry's to lose. If he beats Edwards in South Carolina, Edwards, already almost out of money, is gone. Wesley Clark could pull an upset in Oklahoma, but would anybody pay attention?


Howard Dean is now running a leaner campaign. The former Governor boasted of his string of balanced budgets in Vermont, but seems to have been a major league spender with his campaign money the past few months. Some Deaniacs are wondering where all the money went. Dean promises to soldier on to states that vote in the weeks after Feb. 3: Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan, and eventually California and New York.


Money will probably prove decisive. Dean , who as reported in the New York Times today has generated almost all of his money from gifts of $200 or less, has enormous potential fundraising strength remaining, but it will  not actualize without some victories, and new momentum. Edwards, who has raised more money as a  percentage of his total fundraising from the maximum $2000 gifts than any other Democrat, seems to have tapped out on his trial lawyer base. Few Democrats will contribute to the likely second place finisher.


John Kerry opted out of the public finance system, and this enabled him to pour millions into Iowa and New Hampshire from loans to his own campaign, and break the state spending limits imposed on those who are in the public finance system. Kerry would have been gone by now without this transfer of personal funds. Now, as the all—but—certain nominee, Kerry is beginning to tap other people's money and without any state spending limits, he can easily overwhelm other candidates the rest of the way. It must be particularly galling to John Edwards that his narrow loss in Iowa will likely prove decisive in determining the nominee this year. Had he finished first and Kerry second in Iowa, Edwards would have been the newsweekly cover boy, and been in a similar position as Kerry today. 


So unless Kerry becomes much less cautious, and starts sounding like Dean or Clark on their worst days, he can continue his message, which is to attack Bush, and ignore his opponents. This is what the Democratic Party establishment wanted: a safe nominee, decided early. Kerry may not sell well over time. I think he is like Bob Dole in many ways, another former soldier candidate, but probably less appealing (certainly less humor, and never self—directed).  No—one ever called Dole haughty.


Can Kerry beat Bush?  If you believe that the country is still very evenly divided, then he can. As a result of redistricting, the states Bush won last time now equal 278 electoral votes, rather than the 271 in 2000. That is like adding another small state or two. But there are juicy targets for the Democrats from the states that Bush won narrowly last time.


Cliff Schecter and Rudy Teixeira lay out a reasonable strategy for a Democratic victory: focusing on winning Ohio and a few southwest states (Nevada plus Arizona).  Teixeira, co—author of a recent book with John Judis on the emerging Democratic majority, believes that the rapid growth in the number of Hispanics, and very well—educated professionals is a boon for the Democrats.


President Bush seems to recognize the Hispanic numbers, and his new immigration program is clearly aimed their way. Recent polls of Hispanic voters show Bush trailing a Democratic opponent by only 10% among Hispanics. In the last election Bush lost the Hispanic vote by 30% nationally. A ten point win among Hispanics would spell disaster for the Democrats in some closely—contested states. Will John Kerry have the same appeal to Hispanics as Clinton or Gore? I doubt it.


Jewish voters went about 4 to 1 for Gore and Lieberman last time. They are unlikely to vote in these kind of numbers for Bush's opponent this time. Assume Bush wins 30 to 35% of the Jewish vote. This would result in a net pickup for Bush of over 100,000 votes in Florida alone. Without Joe Lieberman on the ticket (and he spent almost all of his time in Florida) and with Bush's strong record of support for Israel—region>, it is highly unlikely that nearly as many Jews will passionately be pulling the Democratic lever this time around.


The growth in the professional class and the creation of new towns Texeira calls ideopolises, is also more complicated than they suggest. Ramesh Ponnuru suggests that the most significant new trend in American politics is the growth of the investor class. Polls of voters in recent elections show that investors are more likely to vote Republican among every ethnic group, and in every income group.


The Democratic candidates for President using a populist 'us against them' theme, notably John Kerry and John Edwards, have nevertheless both obtained about 60% of their money from $2,000 gifts. They should be concerned that 29% of the population now has an investment portfolio of $100,000 or more, and that 52% of the nation's voters are now stock investors.


A trend that has been evident in recent elections is the movement of white voters to the GOP. This is particularly true in the South and among men. As I have pointed out in a previous article, the large numbers of abortions since 1973 have probably had a role in the voting patterns of new younger voters, who seem to be more conservative and Republican than previous generations of new voters. If abortion serves to change the relative voting strength of Republicans and Democrats among those not aborted, that too could be a factor favoring Republicans.



My sense is that we are seeing several new trends at work, and that they are contradictory in their impact. It is not clear that any general realignment is underway in either direction.  Some trends do seem to favor the Democrats, and some others, the Republicans. Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon also suggest some caution is needed in terms of those confident of an emerging GOP moment.

They argue that a Kerry candidacy, in particular is likely to be less easily caricatured than some Republicans may believe.


All of this suggests that events in the next nine months will be very important in determining whether the President wins a second term. If there is a decent jobs recovery, and 4 to 5% economic growth, that helps Bush. If 30 or 40 American soldiers continue to get killed each month in Iraq—region>, that hurts Bush. Most Americans seem happy that Saddam is gone, even if no weapons of mass destruction are ever found.


But it is also true that the Democrats' constant nagging about the Administration's 'deception' and 'overselling' of  the case for war, might require Bush to make some concessions and investigate the intelligence failures that occurred to preserve his reputation for integrity and clearly shift the failure from the White House to the intelligence services.  I think this issue could weigh on Bush the rest of the year, which is why he might be better off dealing with it quickly and letting the chips fall where they may (perhaps with a report not issued until after the election in any case). Tony Blair took the investigation route and came out unscathed, with a huge political victory over the ultra politicized stridently ant—war BBC.


One final factor that could affect the outcome if the election is close is third parties. The Libertarians always run somebody, and he will take a few hundred thousand votes, mostly from the GOP. The Libertarians have cost the Republicans Senate seats in South Dakota, Washington, and Nevada in recent years.


The Greens will likely nominate somebody, though maybe not Nader this time. This is where the Dean factor could come back to haunt Kerry and the Democrats. The longer Dean stays around, and the longer his supporters believe he has a chance, the greater will be their unhappiness with the eventual nominee, probably Kerry. If Dean gets nastier to Kerry, as he certainly will the next few weeks, it makes reconciliation less palatable for Dean's hard core supporters. 


Dean is not going to run as a third party candidate, but his supporters might sit out the election, or vote Green anyway, if they think the establishment locked them out of the party they were trying to 'win back for the people' (the Dean theme). Bush supporters should hope that Dean hangs on for a while, and wins here and there, before finally bowing out. Dean supporters will not vote for George Bush, but they may not vote for John Kerry in the end either.