Can Bush be beaten?

By JOHN KELLER  |  November 14, 2006

Bush has hedged on the subject of overturning Roe. And his skittishness is evident in his administration’s reported efforts to postpone any Supreme Court consideration of the issue until well after the election. Bill Weld showed in his 1990 gubernatorial campaign how a pro-choice Republican can steal huge chunks of baby-boomer suburbia away from the right-leaning candidate. The formula is to place support for abortion right in a libertarian context that’s consistent with voters’ suspicion of big, intrusive government.

Stressing freedom of choice positions Bush as an out-of-date, out-of-touch insider who thinks he knows better than American women. It helps hold the liberal states Dukakis carried in 1988 and provides crucial access to moderate swing voters. And it’s these voters, many of them younger independents or Republicans, who could tip the balance in the fast-growing suburban California counties outside Los Angeles or in the baby-boomer enclaves of Cook County, Illinois – two areas the Democrat must carry to reverse the 1988 outcome.

Run Against Washington
It sounds so obvious. But the fact that Bush intends to lean heavily on Congress-bashing to shore up his support points out a basic GOP supposition – that the Democrat won’t be capable of convincingly repudiating the Beltway, at least not to the extent that Jimmy Carter did in 1976.

Surprise them. Lump Bush and Congress together by denouncing their 1989 pay-raise deal and vowing to tie any future congressional pay hike to the percent of increase in factory workers’ wages. (This could be a problem for Tom Harkin and Bob Kerry, incumbent senators who both voted for the midnight pay raise.) If the Democratic nominee is a member of Congress, he should seriously consider a widely publicized resignation.

Don’t shun all outside partisan assistance, as Dukakis did. But after winning the nomination, avoid “obligatory” association with unpopular Democrats.

In the most recent California poll, voters, asked which party does a better job handling the state’s problems, split evenly, with “none of the above” running a strong third. A large part of the parties’ poor image is the perception that they swim around in a special-interest fishbowl, feeding on goodies and bickering over details while the common man and woman go unheard an ill-served.

Rarely has there been as quintessential a creature of Washington as Bush. But to establish the credibility needed to make Bush choke on that image, the Democrat must be ready to run as the ultimate outsider.

Forget About Willie Horton
So what if it still stings? Every time Democrats try to Mau Mau the Republicans over their exploitation of the Horton issue, they merely remind Americans of how much they hated and feared Dukakis’ furlough policy. As for Democrats’ obsessive moral indignation over alleged Republican race-baiting, “that’s to be used in very select audiences, when the media’s in your pocket and the cameras are in the truck,” says Darden. “When Democrats gear their pitch toward racial issues and denounce everybody as racist, that stuff registers in Bubba’s mental computer real well and has a long shelf life.”

Substitute “Reagan Democrat” for “Bubba,” and you can see the predicament for the Democrats. Many lower-income white voters in key states are suffering from the recession and are susceptible to a Democratic attack on Bush’s handling of the economy – as long as the candidate doesn’t help the Republicans play to their racial fears. Instead of lecturing the voters on why their own instincts are politically incorrect, Democrats should just change the subject.

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