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May 28, 2003

the 2004 election will be close

A report for Washington: I know many Democrats, and they all seem highly pessimistic about 2004. They think that Karl Rove is a genius, that Bush will coast to re-election because of the Iraq war, that Republicans have enormous advantages in money and media support, that the country is moving rightward, that the Democratic leadership is weak and divided—in short, that we are headed for a landslide.

I dislike political prognostication and am generally not good at it. (It seems to me that the important question is not who will win, but what policies we should want to prevail.) Nevertheless, I cannot resist observing that the future is completely unpredictable and that a Democrat could be the one to win by a landslide in '04. The economy will need to improve quickly to get above the level that usually re-elects presidents (3% annual growth). Surveys show very little support for the Bush economic strategy if it is separated from his personal popularity. The stimulative effects of the new budget are likely to be small, and the expected postwar bounce has been modest. Iraq represents a genuine victory right now, which no one should gainsay—but unfortunately for all of us, it could still easily turn into a momentous disaster. Cutbacks at the state level are going to remain a huge issue, and state leaders will have justifiable reasons to blame Washington. If governors start accusing Bush of cutting taxes at their expense, it could create a serious political problem for him. (The $20 billion in aid to states that Congress just passed may inoculate Bush against charges that he abandoned the states, so it very lucky for him.) The Republicans are planning to use Sept. 11 politically, even choosing New York City for their convention—a strategy that will backfire if New Yorkers effectively protest the way that they have been mistreated since 2001. (Or if, God forbid, we are attacked again.) The demographic trends in states like Florida point the Democrats' way, and they start with a 2000 base that was bigger than Bush's. The absence of serious third-party competition from the left will help too. Even the media may be neutralized if reporters shift, pack-like, from adulating Bush to criticizing him once his popularity starts to slip for other reasons.

In short, this is a nonpartisan blog, but I wouldn't bet a lot of money on a Republican victory, even if I were a Republican.

May 28, 2003 10:54 AM | category: none


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