2004: Vote for Bush or Die
Getting Up to Speed
In January 2003, eager to repeat their success, the Republicans decided to hold their convention in New York City in late August and early September of 2004--the latest date a convention has ever been held. The move insured that Ground Zero would be their backdrop on the eve of the three-year anniversary of 9/11.
And it did not stop there. The Bush team's first political ads featured grisly images of firefighters carrying flag-draped coffins out of the rubble of the World Trade Center. But the spots backfired after firefighters and 9/11 victims' families accused the campaign of seeking to exploit the attacks for political gain.
Republicans were forced to adopt alternative tactics, this time through mythmaking. In the spring, Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma told a group of Republicans that "if George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election." He was echoed by the right-wing media. One nationally syndicated columnist wrote, "Which candidate does our enemy want to lose? George W. Bush." Fox News pundit Monica Crowley similarly observed, "America's adversaries want to see John Kerry elected." Later that month, Republican political operatives commissioned an "independent" poll that purported to find that "60 percent of registered voters believed that terrorists would support John Kerry in this year's presidential elections." The poll was so suspect that only the right-wing media reported it. But it helped advance the story.
By May, CNN Justice Department correspondent Kelli Arena "reported" that there was "some speculation that Al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House."
The Bush campaign, meanwhile, sought to bolster this speculation with a new barrage of campaign advertisements distorting Kerry's voting record on defense and intelligence issues. All this despite Bush's January 2002 promise that he had "no ambition whatsoever to use the war [on 'terrorism'] as a political issue."
But the images, partisan attacks and myths were not improving the President's poll numbers fast enough to counterbalance damage brought on by violence in Iraq and a sluggish economy. On May 16, a new Gallup poll showed the President's job-approval rating had fallen to 46 percent. Days later, as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was taking its toll on the White House, the media uncovered new information suggesting that responsibility for the scandal reached to top Administration officials.
In short, more was needed.