Going into an election year, the incumbant always has the advantage. In Bush’s case, he has always felt safe because, as pointed out in the January ProudLiberal opinion (click for opinion), Republicans tend to be organized while Democrats and Liberals tend to be more free spirit and not as organized. Bush is counting on his conservative base to re-elect him. But it may not be that easy (click for story).

Seems that I’m not the only person who’s hearing conservatives grumbling about Bush and talking of defecting. This seems to be a pretty common story. Many conservatives, and the ever wanted Independent seem to be questioning Bush. If the New Hampshire Primary is any indication (click for story), looks like we’ll have a great deal of crossovers going to the Democratic nominee.Politically Speaking
By Linda Wertheimer

President Bush and the Republican Vote

President Bush

President Bush speaks to reporters at the White House, Feb. 29, 2004. Reuters Limited

“I’m going to step out on a little twig and say that I have been a bit startled by the number of Republicans I’ve met in the last month or so who are also very critical of the president.”

NPR.org, March 1, 2004 · I find it incredible to think that by very early March, the Democrats have finished their fights with each other and are ready to move on to the real struggle against President George W. Bush.

In days gone by, primaries progressed across the country from New Hampshire in late winter to California in late spring. The Golden State voted in June, and I loved that first glimpse of Los Angeles, with drifts of lavender blue Jacaranda trees in bloom. Those trees won’t bloom for quite a few weeks now, but the new primary schedule puts California on the first Tuesday in March, and that’s all there is to it.

I also felt more comfortable, back in the day, that after several months of visiting with voters, I had a pretty good idea of where the campaign was headed. Now, the primary season is so compressed that it seems to happen all at once. And I feel far less secure making judgments about the future based on voters’ downright sudden exposure to the Democratic candidates.

It’s common wisdom right now that as voters have listened to these Democratic candidates, they’ve heard a lot of criticism of the president — causing the president’s approval ratings to drop a little bit. He is now below 50 percent in approval for the first time in his presidency, crossing a line closely monitored by the mavens of politics. Over the past half century, presidents who stayed above that line in their fourth year in office (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton) won re-election, those who fell below it (Carter, the first George Bush) did not.

We’ve all been warned not to take that drop too seriously, because when the main event begins, the president will be answering those critiques with lots of advertising. He will also be making good use of his famous “bully pulpit” — when the president speaks, of course, the nation listens.

However, I’m going to step out on a little twig and say that I have been a bit startled by the number of Republicans I’ve met in the last month or so who are also very critical of the president. Clearly the president is right to be speaking directly to the social conservatives who are his base of support. They are the voters most likely to tell me they are firmly committed to President Bush. Almost every one of this group I’ve talked to is also a strong opponent of abortion and cites that issue as a major reason for approving of the president. But the president will need support from people who are not as conservative as this base.

I have met a number of other Republicans with concerns about President Bush. Some talk about deficits, some say they feel the president is getting bad advice on foreign policy. Many say guardedly that President Bush is doing the best he can under the circumstances; that any president would have difficulties in a post-9/11 world.

Management of the economy is another area causing problems for Republicans right now, especially in states such as Ohio, which has a seen a net loss of 200,000 jobs since the end of 2000. The president has promised that his tax cuts would revive the economy and so reduce federal budget deficits. That promise is accepted in many parts of the country, but it does not seem credible to many Ohioans — including some business people.

The voter who must be the most worrisome to the president would be the Republican or independent who talks about being misled. I have heard this mentioned with different degrees of distress, and with all kinds of variations on the theme. The missing weapons of mass destruction are part of it, but the reasons for going to war in Iraq in the first place are a bigger part.

More than one disappointed voter has cited the president’s last campaign and his vow to restore honor and integrity to the White House. People have told me that even if the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, the president should have been clear with the American people about his reasons for going to war.

This may represent an opportunity for the Democrats, although it remains far from certain they will be able to seize it. In 1980, voters had big problems with President Carter on the economy and foreign policy but needed a good look at Ronald Reagan before they were ready to make the change. That’s the kind of long hard look voters of all kinds will now begin taking at the presumed Democratic nominee, John Kerry.

By walterh

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