Bush Campaign Seeks Solid Support Before Wooing Swing Voters
By Dana Milbank and Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 15, 2004; Page A01
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Bush won a whopping 65 percent of the vote in this suburban
Rosemary Metzdorff, after cheering her way through a speech full of references to abortion restrictions, tax cuts, caps on jury awards and other conservative favorites, could not decide which part she liked best. "Every part -- I'm such a Bush fan," she replied, adding that the president probably did not change many minds here.
Therein lies an important key to understanding Bush's reelection strategy. Although age-old campaign rules dictate that the general-election candidate must emphasize moderate "swing" voters and political independents, Bush strategists are predicting that this election, more than previous ones, will be determined by the turnout of each side's partisans. Although not discounting swing voters, Bush is placing unusual emphasis so far on rallying the faithful.
"In close elections in today's environment, the old political strategy of focusing just on independents won't work," said Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist. "Campaigns have to motivate supporters at the same time of appealing to swing voters."
There is evidence to support the Bush theory.
A study by the nonpartisan
Still, Pew reasoned, "the swing vote, while smaller in relative terms, is still substantial and certainly large enough to propel either of the presidential candidates to a big victory."
"It's a new way to run for president," said James Carville, the strategist behind Bill Clinton's 1992 victory.
Whereas "usually you quietly shore up your base and aggressively court the swing voter, Bush is aggressively shoring up his base and quietly courting the swing voter."
Some Bush allies say it is more efficient to boost turnout among partisans than to sway the fence-sitters, who the campaign believes may be 10 percent of the electorate or less. "How much time and energy do you give to picking up the 10 percent, who are disengaged from politics, and how do you communicate with them even if you want to?" asked Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "You can go to the 45 percent [who already support Bush] and ask them to bring a brother or a sister or a friend to the polls."
Without question, Bush's choice of rhetoric and audience represents a more overt appeal to conservatives than he made in the 2000 race. Then, he scolded conservatives who had a "leave us alone" philosophy, and he regularly referred to himself as a "compassionate conservative" -- implying that other conservatives were not compassionate.