by Jill Stewart
American Reporter Correspondent
November 18, 2004
A SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT IN 2008? DON'T MAKE ME LAUGH
SACRAMENTO, Nov. 16, 2004 -- All the caterwauling by talking heads who insist the Democrats can win the presidency in 2008 with a religious Southerner has me laughing - well, chuckling painfully, anyway.
The view from The New York Times and so many others that "moral values" jumped to new prominence, driven by ardent churchgoers worried about gay marriage, sounded right to me at first. But then I peered closely at the vote in California and other spots, and was reminded how absurd conventional media wisdom can be.
Many seized on exit polls showing that 22 percent of voters said "moral values" were paramount. But as national Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin noted, President George W. Bush increased his support among occasional churchgoers more than among regular churchgoers. That speaks to support untethered from intense religiosity. The same exit polls showed the economy and terrorism roughly tied with "moral values" as a voter concern.
I am fascinated by results in places like Sacramento, Ventura and San Diego counties in California, where the locals split nearly 50-50, a microcosm of the national election.
Their exurbs - booming areas well outside cites - are the new hotspot, jammed with swing voters who are joining the Republicans but are still up for grabs. Kerry won by roughly 10 points in California, but Republican pollster Stephen Kinney sees a continuing struggle even in our "blue" state.
"California is ... one of those states that doesn't like people who show their faith openly, no matter the faith, and that helped Kerry and other Democrats tremendously," says Kinney. Yet "the Democrats' depressing message for the last several presidential election cycles - of a glass half empty, and of more taxes - -has let Republicans get a foothold with swing voters here and elsewhere."
In California, he notes, Bush improved with swing voters: white Democratic men, Republican working women, Latinos with children. Nationwide, women split between Bush and Kerry. Just four years ago, Al Gore won an 11-point female advantage, thanks to a 20-year trend in which women went Democrat
The vanishing gender gap and other major trends cannot be blamed on Kerry's failure to pray. In truth, over the years the Democrats' outdated worldview has gradually put it on the skids with voters nationwide
Two Americas? Job hopelessness? Most Americans believe that if you stay in school and work hard, you can become a middle-class homeowner. It happens to be the truth.
Even in California, the Democrats have a problem. In heavily Democratic but overtaxed Los Angeles County, Measure A to hire more cops failed. Voters don't think more taxes are the answer to poor government services. Taxes also lost in the Bay Area. Yet Kerry ran on raising taxes on anyone earning more than $200,000 a year, dismissing this group of often hardworking business owners as "the wealthy." Bad message!
I think the media is having problems coping with the mathematics born of the Democrats' badly aging message. Many journalists now claim "abortion" was a driving issue in Kerry's loss. This unsupportable opinion was touted as a fact in a news story the other day in California's largest newspaper.
It's simply untrue. Polls showed less than 2% of Americans cited "abortion" as a major issue (1% in California). It wasn't on the voters' radar, in part because fewer Republican candidates ranted about it the way they did in the 1990's. But also, voters have grown more skeptical of Democrats' hysterical claims of "backroom" abortions around the bend. Voters can't help but notice that choice is alive and well after four years under a born-again president and conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
Distraught media is also commiserating over "voter polarization." But half-blue and half-red counties, like Sacramento and Ventura, are places of lively debate - not icky "polarization." Californians backed stem cell research but not a dramatic rollback of "three strikes, you're out" because most voters are not hardcore party ideologues, either here or nationwide
Gay marriage was an issue, but not in the way some media breathlessly claim. It didn't drive an evangelical bump at the polls. As several top data analysts have noted, evangelicals did not make up a greater percentage of voters this year than they did in 2000. That fact may surprise, because the media generally aren't prominently reporting it. That would ruin their absurd and inaccurate twist on the 2004 election.
Instead of creating an evangelical tide, Pat Caddell, former pollster for President Jimmy Carter, issued a very different warning about the ego-on-a-stick move by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Caddell turned out to be right when he warned that the fame-seeking Newsom and the Massachusetts court would hurt gays with almost every voter group.
"I am so damn mad," says Caddell. "Gay leaders' only chance of winning rights for civil unions was by incrementally building a consensus. But Newsom and others decided to jam their urban-left view down voters' throats."
The real story is Bush's victory with big voter groups like college graduates. U.S.A Today analyst Paul Overberg notes that 150 million people live in red counties - the exurban, suburban and rural places Bush won. Just 103 million people live in the blue, urban counties Kerry won. Bush even made inroads with union households, compared to 2000
Despite attacks on Kerry by enraged lefties like Arianna Huffington, he didn't create these broad trends. Bill Clinton argued during his presidency that the Democrats needed a makeover: Business is not evil; the poor are not saints.
Bush's inroads with swing voters, even in anti-Bush California, might finally get Clinton's point across. The Democrats' problem isn't the messenger. It's the message.
Jill Stewart is Managing Editor of the L.A. Weekly.