Hearts & minds: the fight for the Democratic Party.
The nine Democrats running for President in 2004 could be forgiven for wondering if anybody is listening. Despite having crisscrossed the country giving speeches, participating in debates, and even knocking on the doors of voters in key states, no one has pulled away from the pack. Only two months before the caucuses and primaries begin, the party seems divided on major issues ranging from Iraq to the economy to global trade.
But of possibly greater significance than differences over particular issues is the party's continuing struggle to define itself. The party seems to be torn between its heart and its head: On the one hand Democrats want to speak, clearly and without apology, about their beliefs. On the other hand, in a nation evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, Democrats want to put together an electoral majority that can defeat President Bush.
Such conflicts over the soul of a party are not unusual before elections, especially for the party out of power. But this is an old struggle in the Democratic Part> It has resurfaced with each new generation of activists and strategists since the New Deal coalition built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt came unstuck in the 1960s: Should the party move to the center, muting its liberal edge on cultural issues, economics and foreign policy in order to win? Should it promise to roll back just part of the tax cut, for example, and not the whole thing?
Or does that kind of thinking lead to a watery me-tooism, too careful, too calibrated, too uncertain of what it believes to rouse voters or to make a difference if its proponents actually win office? Let Democrats be Democrats, is the thrust of one argument. Speak to the great American middle, not to each other, is the counter. Hearts and heads at war.
Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant now advising Representative Dick Gephardt, describes it as "the age-old question--some elections, Democrats in the primary cycle vote their passions; some elections, they vote their heads."
So far, the passions have been winning. The primary campaign has been largely framed by the powerful anger at the Democratic grass roots--over the 2000 election and a President elected without a majority of the popular vote; over three years of conservative policies; and concern over a sluggish economy and a war unpopular with Democratic voters from the start. For many of those voters, Democrats in Congress were too reluctant to challenge the Bush administration.
It took the off-beat campaign of former Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, who got a lot of attention for saying that he represented "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," to shake up the race early on. Dean's speeches were bracing affirmations of old-time Democratic values and beliefs; his audiences were moved. He soon led the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the states whose votes in January could be decisive in determining who the Democratic candidate will be in November.
But Dean, for all his charisma and momentum, provoked worried questions inside the party. Is an antiwar Governor from a tiny state--Vermont ranks 49th in population--really the strongest candidate to defeat Bush? If not, then who?
It seems that for some Democrats, the answer is General Wesley K. Clark, the former commander of NATO forces under President Clinton. Clark joined the race in September and almost immediately challenged Dean for the lead in some polls.
For some Democrats this was a hallelujah moment. In Clark, they saw a retired military commander who was a critic of the war with Iraq; a decorated hero from the South who could not be dismissed as outside the mainstream, yet was willing to confront President Bush on foreign policy. Here was a man who many Democrats thought was not only the right candidate, but maybe, just maybe, electable.
But Clark is a latecomer, largely untested in politics. His fellow candidates quickly made him a prime target of attacks, alleging that Clark, a registered Independent who had raised money for Bush at a Republican dinner early in the President's term, was a lukewarm Democrat at best.
And so the questions remain: Will Democratic voters consider the demands of the electoral map when they cast their votes? Will they choose a candidate with the best chance of winning in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Michigan--rich troves of electoral votes that can swing Republican or Democratic? Will they, in other words, use their heads?
Senator John B. Breaux, the Louisiana Democrat and a leader in the Democratic Leadership Council, a group formed to push the party to the center, is worried. "The people who go to the caucuses and the conventions tend to be people who are focused first on who's most closely aligned with what they believe in," he said, "and only secondarily on who can win in November."
Not surprisingly, Republicans are optimistic about their candidate, but say they don't under estimate the opposition. "We expect it to be a hard-fought, close election in a country narrowly divided," says Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser.
The Republicans have some clear advantages: The President is leading a unified and disciplined party. He is methodically raising money for the big battle next year, while carefully avoiding the impression that he is actively campaigning. But Bush faces his own political problems, as an economy that's been slow to produce jobs and continuing hostilities in Iraq have dragged his poll numbers down from their former lofty heights.
The strength of the Bush campaign is helping to concentrate the minds of Democrats, but the party remains deeply uncertain about strategy. There is a fundamental divide in politics now over how best to win the presidency: by galvanizing the base--the voters who make up the party's core--or by reaching out to swing voters, which calls for a more centrist message.
In the end, many liberals cling to an old dream: finding a candidate who appeals to both the base and the majority, argues Michael Kazin, a political historian at Georgetown University. "They [liberals] think that Americans, in their heart of hearts, really agree with them on education, on the environment, on some kind of national health insurance," Professor Kazin says. "And they feel they're completely right about the war in Iraq."
So, the Democrats want to fall in love with a candidate. And they want to win. The question is, can they do that with the same person?
In 2000, the winners were ... popular vote BUSH 47.87% RALPH NADER & OTHERS: 3.75% GORE 48.3% electoral vote * BUSH 271 GORE 266 * A District of Columbia elector abstained SOURCE: FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION Note: Table made from pie charts.
RELATED ARTICLE: 'Generation dean' signs on.
By Jodi Wilgoren
Howard Dean's youth-friendly, Internet-oriented campaign and antiwar message are striking a chord with normally apathetic young voters
Ryan Simpkins, a 25-year-old TV producer, gave up on politics back in student government. Yet he's donated $300, so far, to Howard Dean's presidential campaign, monitors its Web sites daily and has been luring peers to political rallies.
Calling themselves Generation Dean, Legions of hip young people have helped catapult Dean, the former Governor of Vermont, into the top tier of the crowded Democratic presidential field, despite their age group's notorious apathy toward electoral politics. In the last presidential election, a record-low 30 percent of voters under 30 turned out.
Many of the new political converts say they are attracted by Dean's antiwar message, or his promise of free health care for everyone under 25. "Maybe it's the ignorance of youth or whatever, but it feels like we can actually make a difference," Simpkins says. "'I know it's cliche. I know it's the campaign motto. But I think it's true."
Then there is the way the campaign is being run, with its youth-friendly bottom-up brainstorming and aggressive use of the Internet. Online fund-raising has been key to Dean's success and the Web site Meetup.com has helped organize more than 4,00,000 Dean supporters around the country. "The top reason that he is resonating with young people is because he's talking to them," says Jehmu Greene, executive director of MTV's Rock the Vote.
At the University of Oklahoma in Norman last month, Dean told students: "You are not the foot soldiers of our campaign, you are leading this campaign. This is about young people taking, now, the responsibility for changing our country."
That's a message that resonates for Jenifer Ragland, 27, who quit her job as a reporter to volunteer for the campaign: "These people get it ... You feel like you matter."
* Do you think political candidates speak from the heart on the issues, or do they tailor their positions to appeal to particular audiences?
* If you think that candidates tailor their stands on issues to please different groups of voters, who is at fault, the candidates or the voters?
To help students understand the struggle the Democratic Party faces as it looks for a candidate who can beat President Bush next November.
CRITICAL THINKING/VOTING: "Hearts & Minds" raises one of the core questions about politics mad government: Should candidates tell voters what they think about key issues (e.g., taxes, foreign policy and the economy) or what they think people want to hear?
Put students to the test on one issue the article lines to liberals. How many believe government should take the lead in guaranteeing health insurance? How many think health insurance is an individual's responsibility? Ask students to do some homework research. How do the Republicans and Democrats differ on this issue?
POLITICAL RESEARCH: Assign students to research candidates' stands on issues. Log on this Democratic Party site--www.democrats.org. Click on the candidates' photos for links to their Web sites. Have students find information about each candidate's stand on Iraq, education, health care or other issues.
BACKGROUND 2000: Discuss the difference between electoral and popular votes.
The Electoral College was a compromise between a popular vote for President and election by Congress. States have as many Electoral College votes as they have Representatives and Senators. (The District of Columbia gets 3 votes.) Whoever wins a state generally gets all its electoral votes. In 2000, Al Gore received 50,999,897 popular votes to George W. Bush's 50,456,002, but Bush won the electoral vote and the election. Electoral votes also determined the winner in 1824, 1876 and 1888.
FLORIDA: On Dec. 12, 2000, in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to stop Florida recounts. The Court ruled the recount unconstitutional because of differences in counting methods. The Court also said the recount had to stop that day, as required by Florida law. At that point, Bush led Gore by 537 popular votes in Florida, giving him Florida's 25 electoral votes--and the election.
Upfront QUIZ 3
DIRECTIONS: Circle the letter next to the correct answer.
1. Which is the best characterization of the balance of political power in the United States today?
a Republicans are the majority party.
b Democrats are the majority party.
c Most people are independents.
d The country is about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
2. Democrats have squabbled about their party's direction since the breakup of a coalition forged by President
a Harry S. Truman.
b Bill Clinton.
c Franklin D. Roosevelt.
d Jimmy Carter.
3. Many Democrats are angry with President Bush for a number of reasons, including his
a becoming President without winning the popular vote.
b frequent trips abroad.
c original unwillingness to use military force in Iraq.
d commitment to raising taxes.
4. Many Democrats welcome the candidacy of Wesley Clark, but some warn that he has liabilities. For example, he
a is from the South.
b has not had political experience.
c spent most of his career in the military.
d criticizes President Bush's handing of the Iraq war.
5. One criticism of activist Democrats--people who attend party conventions, for example--is that they
a focus more on candidates who believe what they believe and only then on who can actually win elections.
b don't contribute much money to the party.
c don't pay attention to issues important to young people.
d are too concerned about the problems of big business.
6. Howard Dean supporters, who call themselves "Generation Dean," say they support him in large part because
a he's talking to them and about their concerns.
b of his experience as governor of a small state.
c he's younger than the other candidates.
d he has not served in the military.
1. (d) The country is split between Democrats and Republicans.
2. (c) Franklin D. Roosevelt.
3. (a) becoming President without winning the popular vote.
4. (b) has not had political experience.
5. (a) focus on candidates who believe what they believe and only then on who can actually win elections.
6. (a) he's talking to them and about their concerns.
Robin Toner is a correspondent in the Washington bureau of The New York Times. Additional reporting by Peter Vilbig.
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|Title Annotation:||National; 2004 presidential candidates|
|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Nov 17, 2003|
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