Published on Friday, January 30, 2004 by The Nation
Bush Slips -- Among Republicans
by John Nichols
The record-high turnout in the New Hampshire Democratic primary -- 219,787 Granite State voters took Democratic ballots Tuesday, shattering the previous record of 170,000 in 1992 -- is being read as a signal that voters in one New England state, and most likely elsewhere, are enthusiastic about the prospect of picking a challenger for George W. Bush. And the turnout in the Democratic primary is not even the best indicator of the anti-Bush fervor in New Hampshire, a state that in 2000 gave four critical electoral votes to the man who secured the presidency by a razor-thin Electoral College margin of 271-267.
Many New Hampshire primary participants decided to skip the formalities and simply vote against the president in Tuesday's Republican primary. Thousands of these Bush-bashing Republicans went so far as to write in the names of Democratic presidential contenders.
Under New Hampshire law, only Democrats and independents were permitted to participate in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary. That meant that Republicans who wanted to register their opposition to Bush had to do so in their own party's primary. A remarkable number of them did just that.
One in seven Republican primary voters cast ballots for candidates other than Bush, holding the president to just 85 percent of the 62,927 ballots cast. In some parts of the state, such as southwest New Hampshire's Monadnock Region, a historic bastion of moderate Republicanism, Bush did even worse. In Swanzey, for instance, 37 percent of GOP primary voters rejected Bush. In nearby Surry, almost 29 percent of the people who took Republican ballots voted against the Republican president, while a number of other towns across the region saw anti-Bush votes of more than 20 percent in the GOP primary.
Few of the anti-Bush votes went to the 13 unknown Republicans whose names appeared on GOP ballots along with the president's. Instead, top Democratic contenders reaped write-in votes.
U.S. Senator John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who won the Democratic primary, came in second to Bush in the Republican contest, winning 3,009 votes. Kerry name was written in on almost 5 percent of all GOP ballots. Who were these Republicans renegades for Kerry? People like 61-year-old retired teacher David Anderson. A Vietnam veteran, Anderson told New Hampshire's Concord Monitor newspaper that he wrote in Kerry's name because the senator, also a veteran, understands the folly of carrying on a failed war. "I feel a commander, the president of the United States, ought to be a veteran," explained Anderson, who says his top priority is getting U.S. troops out of Iraq
Kerry wasn't the only Democrat who appealed to Republicans. In third place on the Republican side of the ledger was former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who won 1,888 votes, more than 3 percent of the GOP total. Retired General Wesley Clark secured 1,467 Republican votes, while almost 2,000 additional Republican primary votes were cast for North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
In all, 8,279 primary voters wrote in the names of Democratic challengers to Bush on their Republican ballots.
That's a significant number. In the 2000 general election, Bush beat Democrat Al Gore in New Hampshire by just 7,212 votes. Had Gore won New Hampshire, he would have become president, regardless of how the disputed Florida recount was resolved.
The prospect that Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters in New Hampshire, and nationally, might be developing doubts about whether Bush should be reelected is the ultimate nightmare for the Bush political team. White House political czar Karl Rove begins his calculations with an assumption that Republicans will be united in their support of the president's reelection. But the president's deficit-heavy fiscal policies, his support for free-trade initiatives that have undermined the country's manufacturing sector, and growing doubts about this administration's military adventurism abroad appear to have irked not just Democrats and independents, but also a growing number of Republicans.
The Bush White House is taking this slippage seriously. U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, who beat Bush in the 2000 New Hampshire Republican primary, was dispatched to the Granite State before Tuesday's primary, in order to pump up the president's prospects, as were Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and New York Governor George Pataki. And Bush, himself, jetted into the state on Thursday, effectively acknowledging that state Republican Party chair Jane Millerick was right when she said, "What we have recognized is that New Hampshire is a swing state."
But can the president pull independent-minded Republicans, and Republican-minded independents, back to him? That task could prove to be tougher than the job of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
No one doubts that Democrats in New Hampshire, and elsewhere, are angry with the president. Indeed, if there was one message that has come through loud and clear during the first stages of the race for the Democratic nomination, it was that Democrats in the first-in-the-nation primary state -- like their peers in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa -- have proven to be less interested in ideological distinctions between Democratic contenders than they are in picking a candidate who will beat Bush.
Exit polls conducted on Tuesday in New Hampshire did not merely sample the opinions of Democrats. They also questioned independent voters, who make up almost 40 percent of the New Hampshire electorate. A Democratic primary exit poll conducted for Associated Press and various television networks found that nine in ten independents were worried about the direction of the U.S. economy. Eight in ten told the pollsters that some or all of the tax cuts pushed by the Bush administration should be canceled. Forty percent of the independents questioned in the poll said they were angry with Bush, while another 40 percent said they were simply dissatisfied with the president.
Bush aides are quick to dismiss the polling numbers.
But how will they dismiss the results of the New Hampshire Republican primary, where every seventh voter cast a ballot for anyone-but-Bush?
John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. He is currently the editor of the editorial page of Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times. Nichols is the author of two books: It's the Media, Stupid and Jews for Buchanan.
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